Friday, March 31, 2006

Guys and Dolls! Hmm.... A trip last evening with my new WI chums to see the Newtown Musical Theatre company's production of Guys and Dolls.

Now, I'm not a fan of musicals but this is the exception and I had worked up a bit of excitement at the prospect of an evening in the company of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Nathan Detroit, Miss Adelaide and Harry the Horse. I've seen the movie, I've read Runyan's short stories, can belt out the tunes. And now I've regreted going to Newtown. I will damn with faint praise.

So, full marks for attempting such an ambitious project. We had a cast of all shapes and sizes - mostly large and with two left feet - but marks for trying. And please, another time Miss Adelaide and Chorus - keep the ballgowns on. We had numerous changes (all handled fairly smoothly) of the same scenery but the lighting remained the same throughout. The cast struggled with a bunch of accents most of which should never have left the voice box. Costumes, OK - but shoes and hair: WRONG WRONG WRONG. Trainers? No.

On the plus side Miss Adelaide was wonderful - exhuberant and blowsy - but was the exception in a cast of 2 dimensional characters. Real live orchestra - excellent. I suppose Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Stubby Kaye in Hollywood's 1955 movie version are really hard acts to follow. Still, as I said: marks for trying.......

Today Alan has gone to Manchester - leaving on the early train. Me, I stayed at home and relished a beautiful sunny morning. Saw lambs frolicking in the little field - a pretty sight. Joys of Spring etc. Went to get camera. Farmer came to get lambs, taking them off to a bigger brighter field even as I clicked the shutter. So no lamb picture. We now have new lambs there, so be forewarned; a picture may be forthcoming.

Did digging instead and finished planting the 'crinkle crankle hedge' which divides the garden from the vegetable plot. What a chore that has been but now, apart from a few spares, all the bare rooted stuff is planted.

There are primroses out in the lane and I noticed Wood Anemones - Wind Flowers flowering today - appropriately enough in a wood. In the last few days leaf buds on the trees are noticably larger.
As I write this a crow is putting the finishing touches to its nest in one ofthe trees down our dingle. Large twigs being brought in by the beakful and sort-of-arranged - crows are not the neatest nestbuilders.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dumb beasts/pampered pets.

Occasionally when I go visiting my Blogger neighbours I find some pampered pet's Own Blog, written presumably by its besotted 'owner'. These frequently cute commentaries worry me slightly more than the ranting of religious and political zealots or nerdy teens. I can't believe any self respecting cat or dog has comment to make on any activity whatsoever - unless it involves FOOD. In which case it's 'eat-up-first-ask-questions-afterwards.' ........And how can any human presume to know what's going on in the mind of any beast.

So for the record: the brown dog just has big ears and the white dog just is.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Some sights and sounds from the Stiperstones

Click here to view the video

This is a bit out of sequence - but that's life. Found this on the camera after the walk on the Stiperstones. The sensible explanation is that my cold fingers turned the camera on - but I think the Devil was jumping about a bit up there. Spooky.

It's also taken me an inordinate amount of time to get this to publish. The learning curve is as steep as the Stiperstones and quite as devilish.

Questions, questions...

Over the mountain last night to the Westbury School PTA "Bangers 'n Mash Quiz Night'!! Which was, in the event, a great deal of fun - give or take the humiliation of not knowing the answers to some quite obvious questions. It was definately an advantage to have watched a lot of TV quiz shows and memorised theme tunes from the 60's - which we hadn't - so points were lost there. Quite good (suprisingly) on Religion. But did you know that the patron saint of dentists is St Apollonia? Hmm, me neither.

Needless to say we didn't win - but, hey, it's the taking part that matters.

A number of our old neighbours foregathered and it was good to catch up with some gossip - just the stuff that makes the world go round, nothing profound. The usual stuff.......holidays families pets. Not so long a go an evening like this would have been as unlikely as a trip to the moon!

Bowled back home across the Long Mountain through pouring rain. There's still a bit of snow left on the roadsides right on the top. Looked across the Rea Valley towards Snailbeach and Bromlow Callow at the lights from the scattered farms and houses twinkling in the distance. Otherwise blackness - and the patter of rain.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Visit to the Devil's Chair

Today to the Stiperstones - A ridge with rocky outcrops having views of the Long Mynd to the east and Long Mountain, the Severn Valley and the Welsh Mountains to the west. On a clear day the views must be spectacular in all directions. The rocky outcrops: Cranbury Rock, Manstone Rock, The Devil's Chair and Shepherd's Chair, punctuate the ridge and are landmarks from miles around. Up close, major rock formations aside, the ridge is boulder strewn. For those of a geological bent this is a fascinating place where all the earth's turmoil is on show. Visit to do the geological stuff . Hints of its historic past may be seen in the cairns which are remnants of Bronze Age burial sites. Myths and legends abound - here Wild Edric and his lady Godda reigned. See this link . And the Devil was said to be have made use of the eponymous Devil's Chair...... It is said that of all the countries in the world, the Devil hates England the most and that if the Stiperstones sink into the earth, England will perish. So whenever the Devil has nothing better, or worse, to do, he comes and flings himself down in his chair in the hope that his weight will sink the hill.

So a really good walk, cobwebs well and truely blown away, with my friend Leslie and her little dog Rosie. Little Rosie had a really good time - covering at least twice the distance of us humans. While most of the snow has gone in the valleys below, up here a few drifts remain and the peaty soil is crisp with frost. A party of walkers from Liverpool were eating their sandwiches in the lea of Manstone Rock - kagouled, scarved, hatted, booted, gaitered, rucksacked, mapped and sticked they showed little sign of flesh and presented a somewhat inhuman sight. The little dog could not be persuaded to approach however many friendly overtures were made. Perhaps they were in the guise of the Devil or Wild Edric?

Around the Stiperstones is much evidence of the area's industrial past - hard to believe now, looking at a rural landscape where sheep safely graze. Beneath the soil lie - or lay - rich mineral seams of lead - galena and barytes, which until the turn of the last century were extracted in huge amounts. The landscape does have a desolate careworn quality though. And here I have some family interest as I have traced my paternal line who lived and worked in the industry during the 19th century. I am able to trace them on paper but am unable to find anything more tangible - no dwelling, no monument. They toiled below ground and above ground and raised large families in what today would probably be described as primitive conditions. All gone. No more. But I think of them as I look down on the bleak cold landscape, wind from the east cutting through my comfortable clothing and ponder on their lives. The cold and the mud and the just keeping warm. The snotty children. The filling of hungry bellies and day after day the wielding of pick and shovel. But certainly sometimes the warmth of love and the beauty of a summer evening. I hope they found that.

Today, as I look down over Stapley and White Grit I will be their monument.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Weather report

It is so, so cold here. The wind is coming from the east and is what my father would have called a 'lazy wind'. It's too idle to go round so it goes straight through you. There has been more snow again to day but it is only dusting the tops of the hills.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

White World

Snow fell overnight and we woke this morning to a white world. Skeletal trees are in stark contrast and hedge and ditch are black ribbons trailing across the landscape. The sky is leaden. Little colour to be found anywhere- the pink of a chaffinch's breast is a bright splash against the sombre monochrome.

Our neighbouring sheep wore not only a woolly overcoat but also one of snow - which shows how well insulated they are. Their lambs picked their way most gingerly through the snow which came up to their knees. As we lay in bed John and Heather came and moved them from the little field and put them in the yard where they can get some shelter. The ewes are protesting vociferously at present as they do not like this arrangement. Someone tell them that It Is For Their Own Good.

PS - and this is open for debate with the Flat Earth Society (if indeed they still exist - and if they don't they should do...). Doesn't it look as if the dog is standing on his own little planet? 'Le Petit Prince' comes to mind. Just substitute bull terriers for aviators.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The writing on the tree

These intitials and the date, 1959, are carved into the larger of our 2 beech trees which stand on the bank at the back of the barn. They were carved, I believe, by Malcolm Trow's Uncle Percy who farmed at Lower House until its sale in the late 90's. Sadly Percy Bowen died on the very day of the sale and thus never enjoyed retirement in the usual sense.

The Bowens must have been quite an extensive family as we are often told about Uncle Percy and Aunt Susan by various nephews and nieces who spent their youth pitching hay and feed in the room which is now our bedroom.

The initials are also those of my son who was not born until 1977 - in 1959 he was probably eeking out an existense in a previous incarnation. Perhaps he was a bird, or a king or a tree. Who knows?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Yet this will go onward the same

The snow has gone, the frost has gone. Today the Weather God has sent us rain. Our new neighbour (see previous post) has been evicted from his cosy bed of straw and with his mother must walk the hills. Admittedly he doesn't look too bothered - let's face it, it's been one hell of an upheaval to get thus far. One moment you're bathed in warm amniotic fluid - the next some son of the soil is hauling you through a tight dark tunnel and depositing you on a dusty floor and then... And then you get licked by a sheep. Mother though looks decidedly peeved and has spent the morning alternately bleating and pacing. That's sheep for you.

I spent the morning in the greenhouse. While the dogs rolled and tumbled outside I made a start planting a few seeds - which is good because it does make out that spring is actually on the way. I planted Sweet Peas, Michaelmas Daisies and Burkheya.

A ribbon of mist trailed between Badnage Wood and our Dingle - wisps like smoke. Thomas Hardy's In time of 'The Breaking of Nations' came to mind; I wondered what momentous things were going on elsewhere: births and deaths and arguments, war and noise and celebrity rubbish. And here on the Long Mountain we have the ebb and flow of the seasons and their activities marking time. This is the way it has been for centuries and probably will be for the foreseeable future. I like to think this place of solitude is here - and always has been - while all is clamourous elsewhere. Even more I am glad to be in this landscape.

This is Thomas Hardy's poem:

In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"

ONLY a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk,
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.

Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch grass:
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by;
War's annals will fade into night
Ere their story die

Friday, March 03, 2006

New neighbours....

This baggy skinned little fella is our new neighbour. He's probably only a few hours old and is scoring highly on the cute-ness scale. He's currently sheltering in the barn with his mum - a feisty ewe. Before too long he'll be joined by many others - the flock on the hill beyond my window is due to start lambing this week.

He's chosen a beautiful day to enter the world. The early morning was white with frost - our bit of Long Mountain hung with cloud which gradually melted away to reveal the forest beyond and a clear blue sky. Driving down to Welshpool the valley below was shrouded with mist, the Welsh Mountains soared up beyond above the clouds, snow covered.

I wondered back in the autumn whether by February I would be thoroughly fed up with the bleakness up here but in fact the ever changing weather and the effect of cloud and sky and light become increasingly fascinating. Add a buzzard or two and the wind in the trees......

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A visit to the theatre

A cultural treat last evening with a visit to Adam's Grammar School in Newport to see an RSC production of The Canterbury Tales. And what a rare treat it was; even accompanying a school party (of admittedly very well behaved young people) didn't diminish my pleasure.

The Company unpacks its traveling theatre from 3 large pantechnicons into whatever space is available (in this case the school gym) and brings performance to the shires. The gym had been transformed - tiered seating, a ceiling-full of lighting and a very simple set. Much was achieved with lighting and a few props.

The Tales were delightfully bawdy - I think the students (all of whom were under 16) were ever so slightly shocked by the earthy humour. Phallic cucumbers (did they have cucumbers in those days?), gropings, fondlings, innuendo and couplings up trees. Enough to give a girl the vapours. There was much laughter and, I think much food for thought. Wonderful to hear the words and enjoy the poetry of the language and to see live theatre after what seems like such a long time. The cast are to be credited with making the Pilgrims well rounded characters - the mincing Pardoner, the Wife of Bath and pious Prioress to name but 3. Each came in turn to narrate their own tale - a small drama within a drama.

'The Wife of Bath' brought memories of A Levels being one of our set books. I wish we had been able to see a production such as this - our study would have been much enhanced - though the likelihood of Miss Hare letting Kings High School girls watch such a ribald perfomance would have been remote. I think we got the edited version.

The Canterbury Tales are well suited to this peripatetic theatre - travellers on a journey telling tales, actors moving from venue to venue. In this case the cast reached their destination, the final act: Canterbury and the shrine of Thomas, took their bows and left the stage.

I drove back home over Long Mountain. The road was lightly dusted with snow and the thermometer crept downwards as I went further south, eventually reaching -4. More snow is forecast too.