Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Halloween Special

Firstly we have a picture of our neighbours' small ghoul en route to a haunting.....at 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 less.....it'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.