Mud and compost, Sussex-style

I found out the other day that there are over thirty words for mud in Sussex. Although the local dialect is rarely used now, some of these beautifully descriptive words still occasionally pop up.

Ike – a mess or area of mud
Clodgy – muddy and wet, like a field path after heavy rain
Gubber – black mud of rotting, organic matter

And these were all behind my house. Here are a few more: –

  • Gawm – especially sticky, foul-smelling mud
  • Pug – a kind of loam, particularly the sticky yellow Wealden clay
  • Slab – the thickest mud
  • And my personal favourite: Sleech – mud or river sediment used for manure

I find this really interesting – a bit like the 50 or so Inuit words there are for snow such as: –

  • Qanik – snow falling
  • Aputi – snow on the ground
  • Aniu – snow used to make water
  • Maujaq – the snow in which one sinks

We seem to multi-name things we experience a lot. It makes sense.

But it’s not just naming. How often have you seen a painted road sign like this one?

My favourite thing about Lockdown Sussex so far: a Compost Drive Through. This genius set-up allows you to buy compost, that absolute essential for gardening and mental health, in a minimal contact, Covid-safe environment.

Here’s how it works: Simply follow the signs, stop your car by the entrance to the Compostium (an invented word – I might apply to have it Sussex-approved), stop your car, consult the list on the wall and decide on your compost. This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s a kind of drive-through compost EMPORIUM with so many piles of dfferent compost that, when we arrive, there are two men up ladders trying to balance them. There are literally towers of compost.

Once you’ve made your choice, you wave at the men and one of them climbs down his ladder and comes to the window of your car, socially distant of course. You indicate your compost of choice (Richmoor Organic Garden, 4 for £12) and Ladder Man puts it in your boot.

Then, even though there is no one else there, you drive round to the kiosk by the barrier on the other side (if planning to roar away into the sunset with a boot of free compost, think again.) Ladder Man becomes Kiosk Man and you pay him on his little machine. After the transaction has been approved, he walks away and you have one of those what-if-the-barrier’s-stuck? moments. But he’s activated it. Slowly it rises, and you and your compost are free to go.

The whole thing is absolutely brilliant and I am full of admiration for the garden centre for organising it. But who would have thought a year ago such a thing would exist?

Mud, compost – they both represent the outdoor life, that place where I stop worrying about the Covid stats, the family, and which body parts feel they’re about to drop off. I choose instead to remember: the quiet company of birds and trees and growing things. The slow suck of mud; branches mirrored in water ; sky.

Back in the garden, I tidy the path, the pots, a fall of leaves. A few still cling to the trees in hope. I look at them over the top of my glasses and remind them it’s inevitable. The slow, wandering fall may even be pleasant, their chance to become gubber . In the mud, they will live on, become, in time, beautiful again. But I do not precipitate their fall.

I try to equate this with a time of Covid, which despite walks and gardens and turning off the news, still howls from the bleachers. On good days, I know we will grow in strength, prevail and live on (I do not doubt this). I can see that, despite the suffering of so many, there is a gleam of hope, a rising. I pray the world will become, in time, beautiful again.

On bad days, I just want to walk with my friend, through the mud, and photograph sheep. This one has lost his head and found someone else’s. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s too busy enjoying the sleech, methinks…

2 thoughts on “Mud and compost, Sussex-style

  1. My, that was a superb read! Funny and thoughtful and in beautiful prose. I love the pictures, too. I think you deserve an award for writing about compost in such a way. Surely there’s a compost-writing competition out there somewhere?

    Liked by 1 person

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