Sunday, December 31, 2006

Almost done...

We're on the cusp of this year and next - always moments filled with anticipation.

2006 is roaring its way out - a gale is crashing through the trees as I write adding to the sense of excitement. Let's hope tomorrow is a bright new day.

So, 'Happy New Year' to all who pass through both my cyber world and that plot of land I call home. I wish you all a peaceful 2007.

Friday, December 29, 2006

My new Christmas Hat.

Stuck in that no-man's land otherwise known as 'Between Christmas and New Year' a girl can go stir-crazy. The sky's been down on the ground. Visibility nil. We've eaten. We've drunk and loafed around but now the novelty's wearing off. So yesterday when the sun appeared for the first time in days I dusted off the boots and gaiters, applied my NEW hat and headed for the hills.

And what a fetching but practical creation it is - perhaps not as elegant as my neighbour's gorgeous fur-trimmed model - but when the clouds are down and the wind chill factor's heading for the minus figures I'll be snug, smug and warm with those flaps over my ears. A pratt in a hat almost certainly. But a toasty one.

Off I went, over the hills and far away - well, the 4 miles it takes to do a circuit from door to door. Blue sky and fluffy clouds. Only sheep and birds for company. A farmer feeds his sheep. We wave and go our separate ways, two figures moving in a landscape.

Pheasants bask in the warmth of sunny banks and shriek with alarm at my approach. (Ugly birds but I wish them no harm.) Fieldfares flock in holly trees, gorging on the abundant berries. Starlings seek worms in the damp pasture then rise in a flock as one bird, turning and swooping to land in a skeletal tree all a-twitter. The sheep barely look up from their grazing.

Great to be out. Good for body and soul.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Remaining unconvinced.

After enjoying our neighbours' hospitality at the 'Big House' - an event which is fast becoming a Christmas Eve tradition - I think it was curiousity more than anything that took me to our little church across the fields for Midnight Mass. It's the stuff that rural idylls are made of; a beautiful place to gather at midnight on Christmas eve. The small squat building sits on a lonely hillside amongst huge yews and was now bedecked inside for this most special of seasons. Through the rood screen's tracery we saw ivy, fir and red-berried holly arranged behind the altar lit by flickering candles. The congregation wedged themselves into pews of polished pine under venerable beams. Beneath our feet ancient flags, some indicating their former use as memorials to long-dead parishoners. (Beautiful and naive calligraphy incidently.)

The church was full and we late-comers stumbled in out of the darkness to take our seats at the back. The curtains were drawn across the door against the night and the service began.

But I'm afraid my scepticism remains and interior decor aside my visit left me unmoved - no that's not entirely true - left me sad that this was not a more uplifting occasion.

The liturgy was dreary - where was the poetry, the majesty of the words? The vicar could have been reading out a supermarket receipt - the facts were there alright but the awe, the passion.....the celebration? Is it sufficient to preach to the converted - who no doubt were satisfied with this offering? The unconverted were unlikely to be moved by this dull, dry offering. Except in the direction of the nearest door.

And the carols? Oh dear. Dire.

So it was a long hour on a bench until we spilled out into the night - the communicants feeling spiritually uplifted presumably. Next year I'll stay home.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Thomas Hardy

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Earlier this evening, 6 o clockish - John frightened the living daylights out of me, looming as he did out of the darkness and asking for the loan of a torch. Of course. Certainly. Straight away.

It seems that he'd come to collect a cow that had calved, to take her and her calf back down to the farm at Woodmoor. But now in the dark he couldn't find the cow in the shed. I guess she'd be one of the black ones too. Then having found the cow; the calf was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, in the dim beam of our somewhat domestic torch it came to light - hidden, hunkered down amidst the straw the other side of the rails.

So there's another myth dispelled. We think that farmers have most eventualities covered; the contents of the average farm vehicle would certainly include baler twine, oily rag, sheep drench, spanner, wrench, crisp packet, receipt from Wynnstays, dog, calving device, mud, dust, diesel, grain and assorted bits that have fallen off tractors and sheep. All essential kit. But apparently no torch. Hmm.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I suppose we should have realised that Shrewsbury, 2 days from Christmas, would be shopping hell. Frantic, mad, crowded and cliched - and curiously, in spite of all this retail frenzy, the mounds of gift-related tat did not seem diminished one iota.

It was possible to walk from one end of the town to the other, from shop to shop and never miss a beat of 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.....' Definitely the tune de nos jours. Definitely ad nauseum.

We have the makings of our Christmas dinner - as it says on the box: a goose 'Produced on a REAL farm in Shropshire'. All sorts of thoughts occur. What other sorts of farms are there? Could a fantasy farm rear a tangible goose - a flock of tangible geese even? When is a farm a real farm as opposed to an unreal farm? Or, to distill the arguement down further - what is a farm? What is real?

Anyway here's a view of the clear blue sky over 'downtown' Trelystan:

I think the small white blob on the LHS of this picture might be Stevie, our neighbours' pony. The village church is amongst the conifers towards the centre. (Ancient site. Why there. Don't know.)

......and then bounding over the frosty field is Wilson.
Full of the joys of being a dog on a field.
Full of the joys of just being.
A dog.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Shortest day

It may well have been....

......but it was also the quickest way to empty one's purse - go to Costco and do some bulk buying. Now have cupboard full of such mis-matched items as coconut milk, kitchen rolls, pop-corn and pancetta. Some sandwich that'll make.

Drove home into the sunset - seemingly only a few moments before 15.30pm - rosy sun in milky sky. The fog, which apparently paralyses the country is nowhere to to seen.

The Long Mountain is in sharp relief, a few lights twinkling on its flank as we drive round and up to Trelystan. The temperature gauge reads 1 degree celsius. The sky is clear and we are looking out for a skinny new moon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fog blog.

Here at Lower House we're in the clouds today - from down in Welshpool, Long Mountain looked less like a mountain and more like a crouching white cat. The temperature has dropped to a chilly 2 degrees celsius. Brrrrr. Not long now until the winter solstice on the 21st and the days will start 'drawing out' - imperceptably, but 'drawing out' nonetheless. Hoorah.

Today a combination of fog and diminishing day length has meant a particulary claustrophic atmoshere. The landscape is barely revealed, ghostly shapes and skeletal trees emerge as the mist ebbs and flows. At one point the sun almost burnt through the cloud and we were lit by a glorious pearly light. But for too short a time, the sun lost the battle and gloom descended once more.

In the dying light at the end of the afternoon - the dogs and I went down to check on the hens. They were still scratching around after the last of the worms and grubs before going to roost. The dogs raced around the dingle - Chester in pursuit of pheasants which were coming to roost in our trees out of reach of Charlie's tooth and claw. They are, of course, slightly brighter than a galumphing dog and perch high above his head where he can't see them. His hyper-sensitive nose tells him they're there alright and he stands below the tree whining and yelping.

Our Christmas tree stands down the dingle too - waiting to be hauled indoors. It's a Scots Pine - which one day will be planted out - not a conventional tree, but quite a dramatic shape which will look well draped in simple white lights. If we can get it in that is. It's quite tall. The sort of tree you might find a squirrel in. That would be sport for dogs.....

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An observant bird flying en route 'twixt Shrewsbury and Montgomery yesterday afternoon would have noticed a pungent and seasonal aroma wafting up from the villages of Trelystan and Marton - and no, not the usual pong we usually associate with this agricultural landscape but something fragrant, sweet and spicy........

........The village ladies had fired up their Rayburns and Agas and slammed oven doors shut on tray after tray of mince pies in preparation for the evening's jollifications - the switch-on the of the first-ever Village Christmas Tree and Christmas Music.

It was to be another of those 'Am I really doing this?' evenings.

A scratch choir had been formed for the event - basically anyone who could open their mouth was welcome to join - and sang a medley of Christmas songs. The Young Farmers foregathered, adorned themselves in what, to the untutored eye looked like Maureen's old curtains, and sang a medley of Christmas songs. The Vicar in a racy festive pullover played the piano accordian to accompany an audience which sang with gusto......a medley of Christmas songs. A sketch (because in this neck of the woods people still perform sketches) by two 'Old Farmers' was a welcome diversion, involving lots of local names and the exchange of groceries. The audience was in stitches. How we laughed.

Mulled wine was glugged and mince pies munched. Silence fell as the raffle was drawn and tickets were retrieved from pocket, purse and bag. The wise didn't find their tickets until the 'major' prize had been won - this being an enormous knitted snowman 'mascot' - Mr Jolly Jingles. In another place, another time it would not have gone amiss in some post-ironic show at Tate Modern - I wondered if, with a few inappropriate embellishments, Grayson Perry or the Chapman brothers might have approved. Alan won an amaryllis - a prize of seemingly such low status that it remained on the table long after the shower gel, the Santa tea-light holder and the box of Matchmakers had been claimed.

Eventually the hall emptied and, leaving the lights on the Christmas tree to twinkle, we made our various ways home, some more steadily than others - that mulled wine was a potent brew.

Our neighbour wondered as we sat eating a late-late supper, why it had been such an inexpensive evening. Why hadn't more money been raised? But I think the whole point was on this occasion just to get together, be a community and not dig deep into one's pockets again. There'll be plenty of opportunity for that in the future for sure.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Wanted - fairy godmother....

Marton Village Hall is an unlovely place. Over a hundred years old now and never built to last it stands against the odds. There's not much in its favour - expensive to heat and maintain, dusty and hard to keep clean. Whilst it has both kitchen and toilets neither would gain many marks out of 10. It is, as they say, past its sell-by date.

Over the years its walls have resonated with plays, pantomine and song. Societies have formed, met and disbanded here. There have been countless extravaganzas, bazaars, fairs, fetes - spring, summer, autumn and Christmas, and functions both public and private too numerous to mention. Venue for wake and wedding feast, for laughter and tears, the gamut of emotions has run here.

Despite its decrepitude it's still well used; most days of the week it provides, in its way, a hub for this small rural community. A foot clinic, an exercise class, acupuncture and a youth club bring services to the community and an opportunity to meet and chat.

Plans are in place to build a new hall on the site - purpose built, user friendly, cost effective. All those things that right now Marton can only dream of. Fund-raising is underway - and though I understand that grants are available and will (hopefully) provide the lion's share of the money villagers are pulling out all the stops to make this new building a reality in the near future. So much commitment and so much hard work is going into this project I do hope they succeed and soon.

I wonder, does it irk to see so much money going into a project such as (dare I say it?) the London Olympics which are unlikely to have any tangible effect on our lives here on the borders? Our small project needs but a small fraction of the costs involved to bring the Games to fruition and yet its fulfillment would so enchance this community. I do wonder.

In the meantime we'll hold onto the dream and keep selling the raffle tickets.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

netlag world webcam map

This is (and I quote): 'an impressive reality video of 1609 different webcams positioned around the world. specially developed software called 'picksucker' saved an image of each camera every ten minutes (from 29-01-2004 until 30-01-2004 18:40 GTM), which are placed on a geographical world map & become animated according to time. created by pleix, a community of digital artists (graphic designers, 3d artists, musicians...).'

Techie stuff? Just another way to watch the world go by? Quite mesmeric.

Also for those who enjoy flying dogs - click on 'Birds'......

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wet Wednesday

I suppose looking at these three sombre pictures it's easy to see why one might lose the will to live or start chewing one's limbs off in desperation.........indeed, the light levels were about as low as could be and the wetness was not only descending but wicking up from the grass as well.

But the devil's in the detail - the roar and woosh of the wind - its suck and flow. Silvery droplets on every blade of grass, on every twig.

A mysterious lichen - whole universes on a mossy branch. And the vastness of sky hunkered over this sullen landscape. And the things we cannot see that send a dog careering back and forth, quartering and turning, nose into the wind. So much.

There is no such thing as bad weather apparently - only bad clothes. Get out there. Keep dry and warm. Enjoy.
I'm sitting here gazing out of the window, trying to summon up the enthusiasm to go down to Welshpool for a newspaper - oh, and a tube of Smarties, a large bar of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut and a fork handle. (Don't ask, you really have better things to think about. I wish I had.)

I imagine that from a distance Long Mountain will be swathed in cloud. Rain is certainly sweeping across Badnage Wood. Great sheets of it. We're having Big Rain. Crazy wind too, pushing the trees. And roaring.

All the colour has gone from the landscape. A muted palette of grey and green remains - such complex colours though, and difficult to describe - perhaps those wordsmiths in the paint-naming department at Dulux can help me out.

OK. Enough inertia. Time to come down from the mountain. I'll pick up a paint chart too.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Barn Owl

Home late this afternoon after a pre-Christmas drinks party at a village a few miles from here.

Along the narrow winding lanes of the Rea Valley we head towards home. The Long Mountain rises to the west and the craggy Stiperstones are a black shape in the east. Tiny lights twinkle in ones and twos through darkness on the hillsides. A day of sunshine has given way to yet more rain - the windscreen wipers slap slowly and rhythmically.

The final part of our journey takes us back up Long Mountain, up Marton Hill. A lane which twists and turns, has sharp bends and is deeply incised, bounded by tall banks and leafless hedges.

And there ahead, in the hedge, pale and ghostly, sits the owl. Staring, unblinking, unbothered by the headlights' glare it's black eyes watch us watch it. Huge eyes in white face. Then off with a sweeping swoop, great white wings outstretched and away through the canyon of the lane. We creep forwards and follow the bird's passage. Before us - spectral in the lane's darkness - there is no colour; dipping and flapping and soaring.

For too short a time we follow this beautiful bird through the lane 'til finally it rises, clears the hedge and is gone from view. What a privilege these few moments have been.

This is a link to a Barn Owl site with a live web-cam. Be patient. See owls.

Thank you Sir Christopher

Suddenly I have so many new friends at BT that we could hold quite a party. It looks as if Sir Christopher says the word and these guys jump. I have numbers to call and people to ask for by name. I will receive calls at times to suit me - and then more calls to ensure that I've been called. What?

It's a bit of a shame that this level of service wasn't around last weekend when steam was hissing from my ears - well, any level of service would have been good.

And, as is fairly obvious, I've got a broadband connection again - which kind of indicates to me that my kit's fine and that something out there in our puny exchange is at fault. (And maybe I'll get somebody to admit that that is the case. If I can get that sorted then all this ranting will not have been in vain.)

Enough of this. Time to change the subject.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. Blue sky and birds are singing etc. The hens have laid two eggs already. I have had a broadband connection for 24 hours non-stop.

Ever-such-a-nice-man has phoned from the BT Complaints Dept. - undoubtably as a result of my letter to Sir Christopher. He listened patiently to my tale of woe and promised to liaise between myself and a UK based technical support team. So we have a bit of positive movement there too. Just to be listened to makes an enormous difference. My experience of the last week has shown that for a company whose very remit is communications, BT's lack of ability to communicate with its customers is somewhat ironic.

Even as I put the phone down from talking to my new friend we were visited by a man trawling the highways and byeways to recruit support for a local radio based broadband service. Basically a signal bounces (for lack of a better word) from building to building and any need for BT exchanges and lines is done away with. It seems that his connection issues are more dire than mine - i.e. he has none at all, ever. Needless to say we'll support his campaign.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Broadband moment..

I don't want to go on about it but....I don't think the BT Broadband issue is entirely resolved - and neither have I had a reply from Sir Christophor Bland.

Tuesday pathetic. Yesterday the connection came and went. But today - fine. Just fine. Tomorrow? Who knows.

My new, close friends from BT Technical Support can insist that all's fine and dandy and that the fault's down to my wiring and equipment, but me, I'm convinced it's all down to how many logs the engineer's thrown on the boiler down at our local 'steam driven' exchange.....Get it stoked up. Get it running to speed for heaven's sake.

We're remote and rural but we shouldn't have to put up with a second class service. What happened to inclusivity?
Just because I've not mentioned the weather recently doesn't mean we haven't had any. We've had it in buckets and gales for the past week - a strong wind from the south west bringing torrential rain. On a personal note, as I write it's crashing against the front of the house and I'm praying the roof is firmly attached. Locally the River Severn has broken its banks, closing a couple of roads on the outskirts of Welshpool and flooding surrounding fields. In Shrewsbury too water is surging through the town but flood defences erected a few years ago must surely have prevented even greater ingress. Ducks are having a great time bobbing on their new-found territory and oblivious of the tarmac beneath their webbed feet.

This is how some motorists found their cars when they returned to the Frankwell car park after late night shopping. ( Photo by Gareth Griffiths.) Oh dear.

Powerful stuff water, not to be underestimated.

We are thankful to be living on high ground.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jedi meatballs

Roast Guinea Fowl and Jedi meatballs - worth getting out of bed for Harry?

Planting a hedge

Just when I thought my days of sounding like Joyce Grenfell in her school teacher mode were long gone, it's time to go and help plant a hedge with the children of Leighton Primary School.

My heart sank when I saw the 300 odd assorted 'sticks' that needed planting. But I had forgotten what a power-house an enthusiastic child can be - especially when armed with a spade. And I had, over the course of the afternoon, about 50 helpers of various ages, shapes and sizes. In the twinkling of an eye (almost) holes had been dug, worms examined and the hawthorn, field maple and hazel tucked into the ground more or less where they were meant to be. This has the makings of a good hedge - these things, like children, are programmed to grow and by the spring will be off to a flying start.

The school is creating more space for nature and wildlife in the school grounds. Its setting is amongst some of the most unspoiled countryside in the British Isles and the pupils are mostly from rural backgrounds. In addition they also have lessons at a local 'Forest School' - which is exactly what it sounds like - erm, lessons in the middle of a forest about foresty things. They are not strangers to the countryside and the natural world, lucky things. I am minded of the phrase 'taking coals to Newcastle'. This is a project that I would love to take to an inner city school where a hedge between the children and the constant roar of passing traffic would be a welcome relief.

I'm sure somebody will remember how hard Mr Comer looked for the only wildlife to be found alongside the busy A6 in Heaton Chapel- mini-beasts - a motley collection of earwigs, beetles and woodlice. But they did look scary under a magnifying glass, didn't they children? And those sea gulls - moonlighting from their day job at the corporation dump - which came and snatched crisps from the hands of children at playtime? Those were the days.

On Friday I received this card from my little helpers in the reception class - isn't it the sweetest thing?

If you look carefully you'll see a picture of Charlie. Charlie spent the entire session sitting in the soil (and I do mean 'in') digging with his hands. Apparently that's what he does. By the time we'd finished there was almost more mud than boy. Everybody else spent the session saying 'Charlie, don't do that.' Charlie, No.' But as with Joyce Grenfell's naughty boy George all words fell on deaf ears and Charlie continued to follow his own obscure curriculum. Anyway, what's a little mud between friends?

No change.

This is not much fun.

BT Broadband continues to be a pain. So far today we have had 3 minutes of 'on' followed by 2 hours of 'off'. (Damn the router's flickering light.) Appreciably better than the past 48 hours when there has been nothing. See what an optimist I am?

However, and this is a BIG FINGERS-CROSSED MOMENT, that green light has stayed contant now for at least 4 minutes so perhaps I'm winning. Frankly if it's down to talking to Mumbai again I might as well stay in bed with the sheets over my head.

Gone. Again. Back soon?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A BT rant. Sorry.

I’ll bet Sir Christopher Bland never loses his Broadband connection and enters that strange ‘Groundhog Day’ loop known as BT Technical support and as a result almost loses the will to live. The problem’s no nearer getting resolved either and oh, was that more money leaving my bank account for 3 days service not received? Again.

So here at the top of my low mountain I’m not a happy bunny tonight. My initial frustration, that of inexplicable loss of Broadband connection, is now compounded by my dealings with so-called BT Technical Support. I can just feel the steam coming from my ears – automated calls – press button this, press button that, wait 20 minutes, listen to the jangly music. Change the micro-filter. (We all have a spare micro-filter lying around don't we?) Try the master socket, remove the cover (find screwdriver) and try the test-socket. Get cut off. I want to talk to a person not hear platitudes. This is not service. This is rubbish treatment. (I'll guarantee that the Sales and Payment options aren't as alienating as this.)

Three lengthy telephone calls to ‘Technical Support’ have resulted in nothing, ‘nada’, ‘diddly squat’ and ‘sod all’. Subsequent calls to various UK customer services, much button pushing, several long waits, rants and explanations later I get to talk to another Ranjeev – who tells me that my ‘issue’ has been marked as ‘cleared’. Not. Basically I’ve been lied to. Three times. He promises to take action and get me an engineer. I wish I believed him but have now entered such a sceptical mode that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if nothing happened.

Which is why I should like to hold Sir Christopher to account. I wonder if he is sitting in corporate state at BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street, London EC1A 7AJ in smug confidence that all is fine and dandy, confident that the profits are rolling in and the bonus is assured for the coming financial year? Wouldn’t you just like to kick the ass of some fat cats? I considered getting some of my agricultural chums and a load of slurry - just so he'd know what it was like to feel like shit too - but decided that was too much like harassment. And I'm not that sort of person.

But I shall be writing to him, with little hope of a reply. His address is above if you also feel the urge to tell BT what you think about them.

I’m writing this up with the hope of pasting it in at a later date, and in the meantime hoping that the connection will miraculously and inexplicably reappear.

Let’s face it - a miracle will probably be quicker than waiting for the man in the van from ‘Open Reach’. At this point my frustration at dealing with this lying, button-pushing, ineffectual oranisation is greater than that caused by the loss of service.

PS. The connection did miraculously reappear - QED. No thanks to BT at home or abroad. Some dusky maiden from 'BT Fault's Department' phoned and we went through the identification, plugging and unplugging ritual. She then cut herself off and has not reappeared since.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I probably don't want to know the answer to this.

Funny place Welshpool.

I found myself today in Boots - and as the store had been completely rearranged I had to wander round most of it in order to locate the one thing I needed. And there in front of me, and occupying a fantastic amount of shelf space, was the most comprehensive selection of nail care requisites - a display maybe nearly 3m long by 2m high. Files, rasps, buffers, creams, lotions, potions, pushers, prodders, cuticle thingeys, removers with acetone and removers without, scissors straight, scissors rounded. Cotton wool. Glass fibre nail wraps (what?) And false nails of every length, size - for flat and for 'regular' nails - and colour; pink, pale, shiney, matt (I sound like a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins) Some with flowers on. Some beglittered. I could go on with this catalogue of artifice.

Not only was one's every manicure need anticipated but also those of your feet - behold a range of false toe nails......'with easy-apply tab'. God help us.

I was transfixed. Somebody must buy this stuff along with the polishes found on the cosmetics aisle - it seemingly occupied more space than the soaps and showergels.

And all this in a small shop in a small town. What do the inhabitants of Welshpool and its environs do with all those false nails? Most of Welshpool's inhabitants appear to be strangers to both soap and washing machine, let alone French manicure. The soft and dainty hand is little in evidence - more the podgy paw clutching fag, pie and pushchair.

Shelves stacked with packs - 25 to a pack and only 10 fingers to a hand. Hundreds, thousands, millions..... I can't make the numbers add up. And the thought of all those falsies coming unstuck in sandwiches and passionate moments is too gruesome to contemplate

So no, I don't really want the answer. In this case ignorance is probably bliss.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


There's a empty place on the perch in the henhouse-on-wheels tonight. One of the Mrs Browns has gone to her final roost. She had become increasingly lame over the past fortnight until she was essentially a one legged hen and confined to quarters. Scratching for worms and grubs - an instinctive and reflex action for a bird had become impossible. The poor thing just fell over. Sounds funny. But no, not really.

So we did what I like to think was the decent thing (or rather Alan did) and ended her life. Don't we disguise our actions, especially when they are unpleasant, with comfy phrases? You can insert any euphemism you like for what we did - and lots of phrases come to mind, none of which actually involve the word kill or dead. 'Put her out of her misery' - I don't think 'misery' described her condition. 'Put to sleep' - hmm, not really. And has she gone before to 'A Better Place'? (see below)*

Two things: 1 -We didn't do it lightly and 2 - I think we made the right decision. Any thoughts?

And finally by way of eulogy: 'As hens go, she was a good 'un. Red of comb and wattle, bright eyed and glossy feathered. Never guilty of pecking her fellows. A good layer. RIP'

*Quite possibly - clucking amongst the 'choir invisibile' even as I write - but her mortal remains are at rest in the deep freeze.

Friday, November 24, 2006

We're back home now - having arrived yesterday afternoon at dusk. A characteristic Welsh drizzle was falling as we left the train. (And don't even get me started about trains.....) On the 8 mile drive across Long Mountain to pick up the dogs from kennels we met only a solitary rabbit which ran this way and that in front of the car, startled by the headlights. On the return trip we met maybe 4 cars. Busy for that stretch of road. The previous evening a short journey across town from Bloomsbury to Battersea had taken an hour in nose to tail traffic. I guess if that's the way you choose to live your life then you get on and do it, gritting your teeth. For me the bright clear air, the silence and sense of space on our return was overwhelming and very welcome.

But it's good to get away once in a while - I return with a head full of ideas and images. We've had a good week in London - and if my connection hadn't gone down and lost my first draft of this blog I could have bored you with reviews for this and for that. (Thank your lucky stars!) Suffice to say:

.....we ticked off everything on our to-do list: Dinner at Moro in Clerkenwell, Velasquez, Hockney, La Boheme, a crab salad at Bibendum's Oyster Bar, Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, walking 'til our feets were sore etc etc.

Time for a bit of shopping too - including this light modelled on the famous Onion who has her own website. She is gorgeous - go and look at her - and certainly more so-operative than our white dog.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

In the Diary....

I just look at this page and come over all excited. It is so full of promise.

Much as I love moo-ing and baa-ing and birdsong - oh, and the wind through the trees and the mew of a buzzard....There are times when a girl's got to get operatic. I knew the moment I opened the mail shot from the ROH - which they had cunningly made interactive - and heard 'Che gelida manina' from La Boheme - that my credit card would slip effortlessly from the purse and into purchase mode and tickets would be bought. On Tuesday night I shall wallow in what is essentially a very soppy story and just enjoy this feast for ears and eyes.

We're off for a few days r 'n r in London which will be a treat for us both. Shops, exhibitions, a couple of meals with friends. The excitment builds. Neighbours are briefed in the hen care department, dogs have cases packed for kennels. I've only got to switch my rustic persona for one of cosmopolitan sophistication and we're ready for the off.

........Places to go, people to see!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Remembering Auntie Louie

There probably aren't many people left who'll remember Auntie Louie - Louisa Coultman; my brothers and aged Aunt Isobel are the only ones that come to mind. However as a result of a little late night digging on I've unearthed a rich seam of Coultmans and subsequently a correspondent with whom I share common great great grandparents. So out there somewhere there may be someone who can bring this plump little figure to life again for me.

Of course, that cannot literally happen. She hopped off this mortal coil in 1965 leaving my mother a sweet little oak side table which was handy to put the telephone on. I wonder what happened to the rest of the estate?

Probably the lives of one's parents are always something of a mystery - (unless you're Royal Family in which case there's an embarassment of information) - and as children we are so egocentric we never think much about the lives of others until it's too late.

So Auntie Louie was a figure from my mother's mysterious past who would visit us on our regular holidays in Yorkshire. She would arrive in Cropton, alighting from the small bus which plied for trade in the villages between Pickering and Rosedale and which carried farmers' wives to market and home again. She and our mother would share names and places and reminiscences, their conversation over cups of tea slipping into the Yorkshire twang my mother took elocution lessons to lose. Occasionally our aunt Isobel would appear too and they would for a short while be Libby, 'Belle and Louie - like in the old days. We were excluded from this tittle-tattle - as was our father - but it didn't matter. We children wanted to be off and out during those endless summer days. And out we went, romping and bowling along through the lanes, woods and fields.......but that is a story for another time.

Which is why I can't remember what they talked about and only recall a stocky little woman, her long thin grey hair plaited and wound around her head - not disimilar to Gertrude Jekyll in her later years. Always neatly dressed in plain dark clothes she carried a capacious handbag from which a sensible boiled sweet might be produced for a sensible child. I was 'Topsywopsy'. Robert was 'Robbity-bob-bity' and Anthony was 'Antypanty'. Cringecringecringe....... I guess that was about as a) affectionate and b) frivolous as she got. She did seem old too, but in reality was probably only in her 60's. She also owned a quarry on the road from Swainsea Lane to Cawthorne - that interested me then and interests me more now. You don't expect old ladies to own holes in the ground.

Because I was the girl, and in theory better behaved than my two brothers, I was often taken to Auntie Louie's house for tea. Her house on Swainsea Lane on the outskirts of Pickering was big, old, quiet and cold. Quite unlike our own. Clocks ticked away the hours loudly; otherwise time seemed to have stood still. In the kitchen - white tiled - a gleaming gas cooker stood proudly in state where a range might once have stood. An airer suspended from the ceiling was hung with laundry. Big baggy drawers - we didn't look at those.

Tea was always ham salad and bread and butter. A good Yorkshire tea. Perhaps a piece of cake or some bread and butter with jam to follow. And cups of tea, always cups of tea. And chatter, chatter. Would they never stop? I'd swing my heels ('Stop fidgetting'), listen to the clock and look at the big painting of cattle frozen in the act of drinking from a moorland pool. Perhaps I'd take a peak in the drawer in the hall - there were always coins in there, for the milkman perhaps. My father once said - with amazement - that they were sovereigns. I never got a chance to go back and look. Things moved on. I grew up, Louie died and that chapter closed.

And that's about it- this elderly woman was the little girl born at Keld Head in 1893, the youngest of the 12 children of John and Hannah Coultman. I wish I knew more. Perhaps I will.
And here, for what it's worth are two pictures of Keld Head.

Yawn, other people's family history is soooooo BORING...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A day 'oop north

A bit of a detour today and a trip 'oop north' with Penny's Art Group. I'm a bit of a ligger when it comes to a day out - I'll join anyone's party. Just show me a coach and I'm on board. (I'm also quite useful when it comes to Making Up Numbers.)

Our destination was Salford Quays and The Lowry; the L S Lowry exhibits in particular. The small group, of which I am not a member, meets on a Wednesday morning to do things artistic. (Not being a member I'm a bit vague about what things in particular - but suspect, knowing our local community, the motives are social, tea drinking, art and Art. In that order.) Penny's suggestion of a trip to see Lowry's work was taken up with much enthusiasm and thus we found ourselves trundling northwards - in my case towards a very familiar landscape and in the case of my fellow passengers into the unknown.

Salford Quays look very slick now - the days when dead dogs and supermarket trolleys floated in the murky docks are long gone. Now we have culture, heritage and commerce and some exciting architecture in a waterfront setting. We'll gloss over the mundane speculative housing that has unfortunately gone up in its wake....

First stop the L S Lowry exhibitions - and for me a first. Because for nearly 30 years I've managed to avoid coming into close contact with any of his works. Well, I'm breaking family ranks here in saying that I liked them. They had a lot to say - about the teeming life in his northern landscape and about the artist himself. And what we learn about both is not pretty. He seemed a lonely and troubled voyeur painting the desolate hills, the filthy cityscape and its ant-like workers. He became increasingly fascinated by down and outs, cripples and solitary misfits. He said, “I feel more strongly about these people than I ever did about the industrial scene. They are real people, sad people. I'm attracted to sadness and there are some very sad things. I feel like them". I blame his mother.....

Plenty of food for thought there.

We crossed a bridge and took a quick look at the Imperial War Museum North designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind.

Libeskind, to quote Wikipedia, 'rocketed to fame in 2003 after receiving a commission to create the master plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. His architecture uses a language of skewed angles, intersecting geometries, shards, voids and punctured lines to communicate feelings of loss, absence and memory whilst addressing the immediate situation. Most of his works are museums and galleries.'

A great building. Appropriate. Devoid of colour; grey, black, steel and white against a slatey sky. Not a blade of grass. Bleak but powerful. Not a wasted line.

And then there's our bus, it's time to head for home. My friends from the shires have been suitably impressed by The Lowry. The ladies' toilets have been particularly popular as have the sweeping curves and the vivid colours of wall and carpet. Mr Lowry too has made his mark - although the group are wondering what Penny has in mind as a project to follow up this visit.

We head south to Shropshire through busy late afternoon traffic. The light has almost gone by the time we see the low bulk of Long Mountain to the east. A few lights are twinkling out there in the gloaming but otherwise all is darkness.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The nation, and I, remember.

At 11.00am this morning the busy shoppers in Welshpool's Morrisons Supermarket stood and remembered those who have died in conflict since 1914.

An eery silence fell, broken only by a child's whimper and the air conditioning's steady hum. We stood, frozen to the spot. (The shelf stacker holding his case of tins. The mother with her hand in the freezer's chill.) I thought, foolishly that our postures were not unlike those found in the ruins of Pompeii. Except we, unlike the dead and maimed, had the fortune to move on after a couple of minutes. That serene peace we shared was broken and a busy morning resumed. Did we spend those few moments remembering the dead or did we weigh up the Sauvignon, the cheese or cut-price veg? For we are on the whole, lucky - few of us have suffered the consequences of war and it is perhaps hard to appreciate the relevance of this Remembrance Day.

Alan said this morning it's about time it was all knocked on the head. I think I would have agreed once. But now, I don't know. I don't think so. As years go by I find it increasingly poignant. (Perhaps it's being the mother of sons and having the priviledge of seeing them achieve manhood and realising how easily their lives could be snatched away.) It's not about jingoism or the celebration of war. It's the pity, the anguish, the loss, the grief and above all, the waste of something so precious as life. So, all in all, I think it's fitting that we stand for a while and pay our respects to those whose lives were, and still are, so brutally cut short. And in the end how tragic is it, knowing all that has gone before that we still ask and expect young people to be prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

John McCrae 1915

Saturday, November 11, 2006


We've had some stunning weather over the last few days. Shirt-sleeve sunshine to start with, then white-over frosts as the week drew to an end. Crisp and dry, leaves on the trees have turned a rich palette of yellow, orange and gold.

So last night when a farming neighbour dripped into the kitchen with an invitation to that evening's Young Farmers' Bonfire 'Extravaganza' we were a little miffed to see torrential rain. That's Sod's Law for you.....

Believe me, an evening on a muddy field in driving rain is not my idea of a Big Night Out. However here was a neighbour who's not going through the best of times at present and we both agreed we should turn out and show our support - as did our immediate neighbours and their small son. So suitably booted and weatherproofed we made our way through the driving rain up the lane and across a field.

And there, through the rain in our headlights, is the bonfire - as big - no, bigger - than the average house. Every scrap of combustible rubbish from hereabouts has been piled high. Malcolm dowses it liberally with splashes of diesel, throws a match in and WOOSH! It's away. It takes hold. Flames race skyward, thrown this way and that by the wind. The primal magic of fire casts its spell and for a while we forget the rain. We are in its thrall. We feel its warmth on our faces, conscious that our backs are chilled. We hear its roar and spit and crackle. Gazing up into the inky sky, millions after millions of sparks are flying - like shoals of skinny orange fishes caught in invisible currents they dart and turn this way and that 'til spent. They die in darkness.

The Young Farmers have pulled a collection of stock trailers, tractors, horse boxes and sundry agricultural vehicles into a rough circle around the fire - wagon train style. (This is the Wild West of England after all!*). So here we have the bar - lager and beer, and the 'chuck wagon' - burgers and hot dogs, both doing a roaring trade. Slurp, slurp. Munch, munch. Very fine burgers.

There are fireworks too - only a modest display - but the usual array of fizzes, pops and bangs, fountains, chrysanthemums et al. We ooh and ahh. Small children stand enraptured their faces golden in the fire's glow.

We are wet. Our faces run with water as, upturned to watch the display, they have caught the weather. I am aware that the bits of me not covered by coat, hat and boots are sodden. And cold.

So we turn for the warmth of home, leaving the Young Farmers to the beer and burgers and the fire on the hillside to burn the night away.

*We are in England - the border is about 200m away, behind us - marked by a hedgeline and a change in road surface.

Rural Crafts, No.1 - Fencing

A fine example. Nice.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dappled things

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Take from this poem what you will - but most of all enjoy the words.

.......and in case you're wondering, from L to R:
Guinea Fowl (last seen on a bird in Westbury)
Pheasant (deceased, last seen disappearing down Wilson's throat.)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (last spotted flying over the dingle)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Moonlit thoughts

We've just slithered down from a late, late lunch with our neighbours. The time is 9.00pm. That's how late lunch was. But that's what they call lunch and after such good food and company who am I to argue?

All around us is silvery bright - everything seems in such sharp focus. Monochrome. Silent. The big full moon is hanging in the north east - over Stapely Common I think, where the stone circle - Mitchell's Fold - is. This is day come to night. If I think this is strong mysterious magic what did my predecessors think?

A little over two kilometres to the north of Mitchells's Fold is another stone circle, 'Hoarstone,' which barely rises above the height of unmown hay. Indeed in the summer months it is the patch the mower avoids - we do not see stones, only grass. I learn that it might also be called Black Marsh Circle and recall from my trawls though the archives that my lead mining ancestors lived here. Very close to here. Now it is something of a desolate place, unkempt, on the fringe of neat agricultural practice. Perhaps this was always the case.

But here they were. Big teeming families living, I imagine, in some cobbled shanty, blessed with a little land, fresh air and a miner's wage. And sharing sometimes a moonlit landscape such as mine.

I hope on a night like this they too saw trees silhouetted and skeletal; and reflections and the moon on water and the vast foreverness of the sky, felt the comfort and love of now and wondered, just for a moment, about 'them' - 'Them' that moved stones into a circle and for whom this was a scared place. And why? And did they see this moon too? And did they too wonder: why?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


We found ourselves today, unexpectedly, some 2,000 ft over Shropshire. Strapped securely into the seats of a small and insubstantial plane - and humming soto voce 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines....' - we took off from Welshpool Airport for the wide blue yonder.

And what a wonderful day it was to take to the skies, clear, crisp and blue. Beneath us we saw, in Gerard Manley Hopkins' words, 'Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough'. It was both familiar and strangely revealing from this unaccustomed perspective, like discovering the depth of wrinkles on the face of an old friend.

How neat it all looks. How many sheep there are. Water glints and flashes. There is no time to study anything before we have soared away. And there is so much to look out for - field patterns, earthworks, woods, lanes, dingles. Where we used to live. Where we walked the dogs. This magnificent empty landscape flowing beneath us, spreading, rising, creasing into folds and gullies, sheltering clusters of houses, cottages and farms. Hidden mansions amongst the trees. One could surely never tire of this.

Over Long Mountain, via Trelystan and up the Rea Valley to Westbury, spotting familiar landmarks below. On to Shrewsbury - the sinous curves of the Severn clearly visible. Over Pontesbury - Asterly with its windmill in the distance - and Minsterley, to the Stiperstones. Then turning west across Long Mountain we head towards Middletown and the Brieddens. We take a close look at Rodney's Pillar. (Erected in 1782 by the grateful Montgomeryshire landowners whose oaks were bought by Admiral Rodney to build his fleet.) The walker enjoying a solitary stroll at the summit must have thought we were going to join him...Finally we turn south passing Powis Castle and take a look at Castle Caereinion where Alan shoots. Then all too soon with barely a hiccup we are back on terra firma. Mid Wales Airport. Welshpool. It's been noisy, bumpy, draughty and brilliant.

Here's a view of the barn and its environs - our field is across the centre. The teeny dots in the 'triangular' field are 3 cows and two calves.

Next, Westbury where we lived while waiting for the building works to be completed. Jubilee Mews and "Bob's pub are slightly to the left of centre, at the top.

Then over to Shrewsbury where the old town can be seen in the loop of the Severn. The Abbey is a third of the way down and two-thirds of the way across to the east - by the English Bridge.

And finally over the Stiperstones, looking north.

Thank you Russell for an exhilarating morning's flight. When can we go again?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Halloween Special

Firstly we have a picture of our neighbours' small ghoul en route to a Westbury Village Hall. That beedy eye is ever so slightly disturbing.

...and secondly, from the residents of the hen-house-on-wheels - 5 beautiful eggs. The dark one has been laid by Mrs Black (as opposed to Mrs Brown, Mrs Brown, Mrs Brown or Mrs Brown). Only yesterday did I complain that she was a bit of a passenger, doing nothing to earn her keep. Today - result. Apologies all round.

Monday, October 30, 2006

White dog blog (and other things)

Never let it be said that I'm not even-handed. This dog is entitled to as many bytes as the other one, although I'm quite certain that dogs don't do either 'fair' or 'share'. Anyway, here he is looking about as handsome as a bull terrier can look. They're the sort of dog you think are either supremely gorgeous or incredibly pug ugly. You can probably guess where I stand.

We've been enjoying some mellow autumn days, the trees are changing colour around us and leaves beginning to fall. This is the view from my window (and another looking down the dingle at the light on the trees beyond). I wish I could truly capture the richness and intensity of the light. This is short-sleeve weather - it's made the garden's autumn tidy-up a much more pleasant task.

I'm feeling very virtuous having emptied, swept and washed the greenhouse prior to moving the tender plants indoors for the winter. Plenty of jobs still to do, weather permitting. I think a cold front is threatened later this week - and we've all forgotten what 'cold' is like.....

Alan has today planted 1,000 bulbs of our native daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus. This beautiful little flower, hardly more than 20cms tall, is far less blowsy than its cultivated, over-bred and now more common relative which dominates gardens and roadsides the length and breadth of the land. What it lacks in stature it makes up for with simple charm. It is the daffodil immortalised by Wordsworth, and the Lent Lily in 'Tis spring; come out to ramble' from AE Houseman's 'A Shropshire Lad'. I'm resisting the temptation to include the latter poem - will wait 'til spring. A treat in store, for me at least.

His task was not an easy one. Planting anything on our land, owing to the stoney nature of the soil, generally demands a pickaxe, and today's bulb planting was no exception. They don't tell you that in the gardening books do they? Anyway, come spring, when those little pale yellow heads are nodding in an April breeze it will all have been worthwhile.

Friday, October 27, 2006


How about this for a dramatic start to the day?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New calf

Squeezed out of mum's belly; leaving warm amniotic soup and slipping onto chilly grass just before a flaming dawn. Licked roughly into life. A long day in the rain. A rough introduction to life at the end of Long Mountain

Wet hen and one dog blog

Just to set the scene a little - we're amongst the clouds today. The first picture suggests a reasonably fair day - a bit of cloud drifts decoratively across the conifers of Badnage Wood. The reality is more like the picture to the right, mist winds between the trees and hangs heavily amongst the branches. Strangely I don't find it in the least bit oppressive - the ever changing swirls and eddys are mesmeric. The picture is never the same.

However it is wet out there and the driving rain which accompanies this atmospheric landscape urges one to seek the comforts of Inside By The Fire.

Hens, of course, do not think like this* - they're out there getting on with being hens and today they're getting wetter by the hour.

Rain has transformed their normally plump be-feathered bodies into scrawny torsos. Their urgent scratchings have made a muddy patch out of a grassy pen. Mud oozes through boney feet. But, hey, these girls don't mind! 4 eggs today. Cluck! Cluck!

Indoors, dogs have taken to their beds or loll with backs against the Aga. This brown one would quite happily be Out, nose to the wind. Weather? What's weather? 'Out' is the thing. Scenting, drawing in the stories told by the breeze and snuffling down amongst wet grass. Scents that are mousepheasantmolevole and racing into the rain with a long and elegant stride. There is joy in running and thrill in the chase.

But today is for by the fire - and fires are for feeble humans who also wish this cursed rain would stop.

* Do hens think? Discuss.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cowboys and Injuns - part 2

The night of the party finally arrived. And here we are in all our finery.

Firstly we have the best read cow-poke in Trelystan - note that glasses' case in the vest pocket - ready to be whipped out at the turning of a page. A man's got to view what a man's got to view...

And moi? Well the saloon girl look got the elbow - the frock I ran up was so voluminous that I looked like a mutant tent - a row of mutant red tents in fact. So I visited a neglected corner of the wardrobe and got together a 'Rhinestone Cow Girl' costume. A vision in pink with twinkly bits. Dolly Parton? Not quite, but veering in that direction. Bit tight too - but hey, we can all breathe in!

We foregather in Westbury Village Hall - transformed for the evening by the Phillips' nubile daughters into the Saloon at 'Broken Tooth'. (Their father Neil, who will shortly be suprised to discover that the party he's been dragged along to is in his honour, has a business making and fixing dentures. I wonder how many people will present him with an amusing set of wind-up teeth)

There is much hilarity and delight in each others' costumes - the gamut of Wild West society is there; Medicine Man, Cow hands, hustlers, squaws and chiefs, banditos and a gaggle of good-time girls straining the seams of basques and bustiers. Those who have enhanced their costumes by wearing a wig will soon be regretting doing so. Far too hot and itchy. Toy Story's Woody's head - a huge foam-padded affair spends the evening stuffed unceremoniously under a table.

Our host is suitably astonished as he trots into the 'Saloon' on an inflatable bull. (Imported from the US, kept inflated by a small battery driven fan - those damned Yankees think of everything!) So with hoots of laughter and a chorus of Happy Birthday the evening is off to a good start. The drinks flow. We are fed chilli and rice, meringues and brownies. There's line-dancing and a hoe down - all good for working off those calories. I don't think I'm a natural dancer - even all those years of country dancing at Moreton Morrell and King's High Schools haven't prepared me for this chaos! The music was mostly easy-listening C & W, which made for a most unusual disco. And then, having reached that stage of the evening when you realise you're just sitting, with eyes glazing over, it's time to go.

So we leave, out into torrential rain to drive home across Long Mountain. The rain and wind crash against the pickup and we plough through puddles, meeting nothing on our drive back to Lower House. With much relief prise myself out of the costume and retreat to the comfort zone of night attire. Phew. Can breathe at last.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


The last of the spring bulbs went in today - an exercise involving much weeding and defoliation just to get to ground level. So much promise in so many wizened corms.

Last week I put in daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. Today it was the turn of allium and fritillary. I should have learned by now not to be so beguiled by plant catalogues. I order with much enthusiasm: 'We'll have a drift, a wave of 'Purple Sensation' - at least 250, at least, no'll look sensational, and daffodils, and tulips - green and white - we'll not see less than 100...such a welcome sight after winter's gloom...' etc etc. I buy into a dream.

The order is despatched. They arrive. The man in the white van heaves a heavy brown box through the gate and drives back to civilisation. I'm quite suprised to discover that the contents are bulbs, as by now ordering them is history and I was hoping for a case of wine. A check through the box reveals hundredsHundredsHUNDREDS of bulbs. OhMyGod! where am I going to plant them? There was a plan once but that was in August........

The bulging box is put in the utility room where it sits, eyeing me reproachfully each time I do the laundry. Question. Can a box 'eye reproachfully'? Possibly.

Of course, eventually and without much enthusiasm bulbs do get planted. And it's always worth it in the end. Sense of achievment, wonderful spring display blah, blah etc etc.

It's good to think, as these days get shorter and colder, of stirring life beneath the soil in springtime and the force that draws the shoot to the warmth and light of the sun. And petals. Petals unfolding and colour again after winter's grey.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Do you think history matters?

For me, it does. I like old stones and a bumpy landscape and the prospect of finding something last held by ancient man - just to hold it. Just to hold it and think. I've watched too much Time Team....

On a personal level I spend a lot of time trying to unravel where I've come from and what made 'me'. What were my forefathers like? What shaped their lives? Which of their genes have influenced the way I look, think and behave? So understanding 'me', means a need to understand 'them', their lives and times. And they, of course were influenced by events national and international - wars and slumps and times of plenty. So on a larger scale, to understand society now, we need an appreciation of what has gone before.

It's how to make it come alive that's the perennial problem - those lists of dates and battles that were on the curriculum for me didn't inspire at all. Later the GCSE syllabus seemed to offer snapshots ('The War', 'Chinese Medicine') in isolation which also seemed a bit inadequate. So what is the answer - apart from casting Lara Croft as Boudicea or Simon Callow as Attila the Hun?

Today the nation is asked to contribute a diary entry that will be archived in the British Library as a sort of collective snapshot of October 17th. If you're interested you can contribute by clicking Make Today History. I did that - a somewhat weedy contribution - best illustrated by the photo of the view from our window this morning and might be outlined thus:

'Got up. Let out hens. Ate toast. Dodged rain. Shut in hens. Ate stew. Went to bed.'

I wonder if - circa 1880 - my predecessors not far from here might have noted:
'Got up. Let out hens. Ate gruel. Dodged rain. Mined lead. Shut in hens. Ate stew (hen). Went to bed.'

Hmm, bit more productivity in there somewhere but otherwise much the same.....

Saturday, October 14, 2006


During the night our end of Long Mountain was shrouded in mist - as dawn approached the moon hung spookily overhead and trees across the lane were but lumpen shapes. It seemed as if every owl in the parish had gathered there too. By 8 o'clock though the mist had evaporated, the sky was a clear blue and the day as beautiful as can be imagined - the lawn and fields heavy with silvery dew twinkling in the low morning sun. These autumn mornings, dank and chill, a hint of decay in the dying vegetation, will forever remind me of the trudge back to school after the summer holidays - except now those sensual reminders jolt my memory in October rather than September.

These Amelanchier leaves are some of the first to show their autumn colours and were stunning with dew on them this morning.

The sheep were lying at the top of the field making the most of the sunshine as I went down the dingle to let the hens out. With me I had a bag containing a heel of bread - and we all know what a sheep magnet a plastic bag is. Pretty soon there were 56 sheep baaing, bawling and jostling for a share of the crust. What optimists those sheep must be - 56 sheep into one piece of bread equals not-very-much-each.

I do think sheep have rather sinister eyes, there's nothing cute about them at all.

We had friends from the north staying overnight so took advantage of the beautiful weather to show them something of the Shropshire countryside. We ended up, once again, on the Stiperstones overlooking Wales to the west and England to the east. It's not easy walking up there - the tracks are boulder strewn and uneven - but the view from the top is spectacular and the air fresh and clean. (Unfortunately today visibility was poor and it was hard to make out any familiar landmarks - we usually can pick out the church across the field from the barn)

Back at Lower House, Huw and Millie have been muck spreading - having scraped out the shed on the other side of our garden wall in preparation for housing some beasts over winter. They started just as our guests drove away up the lane - a lucky escape I say. (Thanks lads, brilliant timing) It doesn't actually smell too good round here at the moment. I expect it will pass.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

All These I Learnt

This link to a reading by HRH for Thursday's National Poetry Day was forwarded to me by my brother. Anthony was reminded perhaps of our father who loved and treasured the myriad details of the natural world. His knowledge and enthusiasm was irresistable. This glorious piece of prose sums up with clarity and precision the colourful diversity of the world he so enjoyed. These are the things we learned at his knee and carry with us today. A transcript follows. Enjoy.

'All These I Learnt'

- Robert Byron
'If I have a son, he shall salute the lords and ladies who unfurl green hoods to the March rains, and shall know them afterwards by their scarlet fruit. He shall know the celandine, and the frigid, sightless flowers of the woods, spurge and spurge laurel, dogs' mercury, wood-sorrel and queer four-leaved herb-paris fit to trim a bonnet with its purple dot. He shall see the marshes gold with flags and kingcups and find shepherd's purse on a slag-heap. He shall know the tree-flowers, scented lime-tassels, blood-pink larch-tufts, white strands of the Spanish chestnut and tattered oak-plumes. He shall know orchids, mauve-winged bees and claret-coloured flies climbing up from mottled leaves. He shall see June red and white with ragged robin and cow parsley and the two campions. He shall tell a dandelion from sow thistle or goat's beard. He shall know the field flowers, lady's bedstraw and lady's slipper, purple mallow, blue chicory and the cranesbills - dusky, bloody, and blue as heaven. In the cool summer wind he shall listen to the rattle of harebells against the whistle of a distant train, shall watch clover blush and scabious nod, pinch the ample veitches, and savour the virgin turf. He shall know grasses, timothy and wag-wanton, and dust his finger-tips in Yorkshire fog. By the river he shall know pink willow-herb and purple spikes of loosestrife, and the sweetshop smell of water-mint where the rat dives silently from its hole. He shall know the velvet leaves and yellow spike of the old dowager, mullein, recognise the whole company of thistles, and greet the relatives of the nettle, wound-wort and hore-hound, yellow rattle, betony, bugle and archangel. In autumn, he shall know the hedge lanterns, hips and haws and bryony. At Christmas he shall climb an old apple-tree for mistletoe, and know whom to kiss and how.

He shall know the butterflies that suck the brambles, common whites and marbled white, orange-tip, brimstone, and the carnivorous clouded yellows. He shall watch fritillaries, pearl-bordered and silver-washed, flit like fireballs across the sunlit rides. He shall see that family of capitalists, peacock, painted lady, red admiral and the tortoiseshells, uncurl their trunks to suck blood from bruised plums, while the purple emperor and white admiral glut themselves on the bowels of a rabbit. He shall know the jagged comma, printed with a white c, the manx-tailed iridescent hair-streaks, and the skippers demure as charwomen on Monday morning. He shall run to the glint of silver on a chalk-hill blue - glint of a breeze on water beneath an open sky - and shall follow the brown explorers, meadow brown, brown argus, speckled wood and ringlet. He shall see death and revolution in the burnet moth, black and red, crawling from a house of yellow talc tied half-way up a tall grass. He shall know more rational moths, who like the night, the gaudy tigers, cream-spot and scarlet, and the red and yellow underwings. He shall hear the humming-bird hawk moth arrive like an air-raid on the garden at dusk, and know the other hawks, pink sleek-bodied elephant, poplar, lime, and death's head. He shall count the pinions of the plume moths, and find the large emerald waiting in the rain-dewed grass.

All these I learnt when I was a child and each recalls a place or occasion that might otherwise be lost. They were my own discoveries. They taught me to look at the world with my own eyes and with attention. They gave me a first content with the universe. Town-dwellers lack this intimate content, but my son shall have it!'

A displaced and displeased blogger.

I have a wandering brief at present – my personal desk-builder is putting the finishing touches to the desk of my dreams and I have been relocated.

Which is why I’m installed temporarily in the cosy sitting room with an ad hoc arrangement of computer, router and printer (involving a viper’s nest of cabling), an Ikea step stool and an antique Pembroke table*. I understand the necessity of my temporary home but I am not a happy bunny. I feel much displaced.

In fact nothing is in its place – even the Internet has gone ‘walkabout’ in the past few days. A long conversation with BT’s little helpers in the Indian sub continent was predictably fruitless – we’ve been here before – we’ve done that: the checking, the plugging and unplugging. Pretty soon – in 4 or 5 working days the engineer from BT (or is it now Open Reach?) will be standing in front of me and, in that manner peculiar to all specialists when confronted with an amateur, will shake his head and suck his breathe in wearily. “You’ve got how many phone sockets? Seven? Really? Seven. Blimey’ More sucking and shaking. “There’s your problem…’

Not, Mr Open Reach. Not. Please take your new livery and box of screwdrivers down to our inadequate exchange, twiddle some knobs, open some valves and get our connection up to speed. Just because we live out in the sticks doesn’t mean we should be fobbed off with a second-class service – apparently it’s some sort of miracle we get Broadband here at all. Am I grateful? I pay for it at the same rate as in the city where interruptions to the service were few and far between. Whatever happened to inclusivity?

And that’s about as political as I’m going to get.

*The little table came from my father’s home – he remembered doing his homework at it as a small boy – this would be in the 1920’s. I can’t imagine letting a small boy loose on such a dainty piece these days but presumably the young Martin Arthur Cross was not a threat; he did seem to spend a lot of his childhood learning poetry by the yard - a fairly passive pursuit. The mahogany is unblemished and it still has all 4 legs. Had it been chez nous, the Bouncing Bevanos Brothers would soon have rendered it to matchwood.

On the death of his parents the adult Martin brought the table to his own family home – from where I remember it – standing in the window, always polished, home to a lamp, a cyclamen and a silver cigarette box. There were playing cards in a drawer lined with a page from the Stratford Herald. And now it is with us, in a barn in Wales. And, just for a couple of days, home to a bit of high-tech gimcrackery that would have had old grandfather Cross sucking his teeth and shaking his head.

‘It does what? My goodness! Sends messages and pictures and plays tunes? All over the world? Instantly? You can ask it questions and buy things from it?‘

Well, Grandpa not today you can’t. We’re still waiting for Mumbai to call back to arrange a return visit from Mr Open Reach. And waiting. And waiting.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

'They can put a man on the moon - you'd think they'd invent something to keep your bra straps up'

We all nod sagely in agreement and mentally hoike those recalcitrant straps back into place. Our Speaker - at this stage in full and vivid slap, state of undress and sans wig, winks knowingly and does the same. We laugh and await the next stage in the transformation of mild mannered man to Pantomime Dame.

This was an evening unexpectedly well spent - and amusing to boot. Our Speaker at this WI group meeting was costumier and actor Richard Westcott whose seasonal role of Dame provided the anecdotes for his presentation 'Confession of a Pantomime Dame'.

I have to pinch myself to prove that this surreal experience is actually taking place. (I do find myself in some very strange places watching some very strange things these days.) Am I really sitting here in a creaky village hall, on an even creakier chair watching a man apply bright blue eye shadow and bright pink blusher, wearing a bra that even dear Jordan would struggle to fill? My fellow audience members have an average age of 70 - indeed I have brought oldsters Lily, 74 and Mrs Francis, 91 with me tonight. Mrs Francis has gone to sit at front so she is able to hear. I wonder if she will get involved helping on stage as our Dame plucks members of the audience out to get him dressed - and undressed. This of course amuses the audience no end.

Finally, and rigged like a ship in full sail, our Dame launches himself into his role and the evening ends with a stream of 'Oh No she didn'ts!', 'Oh yes she dids!' One side of the audience competes with the other for the dubious title of who can out-sing the other. Much applause, a Vote of Thanks and it's time for tea and cakes all round.

Nota bene: I forgot the Draw - there's always a Draw and it's de rigeur to buy a strip of tickets. A word of advice: The trick seems to be, after the wine, the chocolates and the basket of fruit - all usefully consumable - to lose your tickets because the prizes can get very dodgy after that. (As it happens none of my numbers came up so I wasn't faced with the agonising decision: 20 2 ply supper napkins or 6 floral melamine plates?)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Autumnal harvest.

It was fairly inevitable that, sooner rather than later, a blog would begin...

.....'it's getting to feel rather autumnal round here, especially in the early mornings.'

Days are shorter, mornings have a pleasant chill and slightly dank air. I couldn't tell you exactly when they left but our swallows have gone in the last few days, off to seek warmth under African skies. While the trees have not yet changed colour their green is dull and dead. In the lanes hedgerows are full of berries; hips, haws and rowan - some say this bounty is a portent of a cold winter to come. (I remember a late spring with no frosts to spoil the blossom.) This will be a good year for holly.

Blackberries have been and gone but there are sloes in abundance and we will be making Sloe Gin soon. I've already got some Damson Gin on the go. (1.5k fruit, washed and pricked, in a stoppered demi-john with 500g of sugar and a bottle of gin. Disolve the sugar, give it a shake every day for a week then store in a dark place for a few months, strain, bottle and glug.) Just the thing for a cold and frosty morning, noon or night. I'll let you know what it is like.

Alan's little fruit trees are laden with fruit too - the orchard, only in its third year - has done remarkably well producing apples, pears and plums. Even the trees we had in pots in Heaton Moor, and which we brought with us, are fruiting well. One, in particular looks like an illustration from one of those catalogues which fall out of the weekend papers where it always looks as if the fruit has been stuck on especially for the camera. See what I mean?

In the background the rest of the vegetable garden is looking somewhat blowsy and tired. The pink and purple patch are Asters - a welcome splash of colour as the light levels drop. If you've keen eyesight you'll see leeks in the background - they've grown well and will see us into the winter - as will the cabbages, sprouts and broccoli - caterpillars and other pests permitting. We've aready harvested onions, potatoes and squash and they are stored for future use. Hopefully we'll have beans and courgettes until the frosts.

And here, for no particular reason, are some of the sheep on our field at present. This bunch of old gals, short of teeth, sore footed and gammy legged, is being given the benefit of the doubt for another season. They're getting extra rations - to them the sight of a human being means only one thing - Sheep Nuts!!!! You can imagine what a disappointment a fool with a camera is.....