Monday, January 29, 2007

Away with the....

I've said it before, but getting away for a few days is akin to launching the Queen Mary and perhaps only surpassed by travelling anywhere with a small child or by packing for a journey into deepest Amazonia. I'm sure though that once we're on the London train it will all be worthwhile. (I don't count boarding the train from Welshpool to Brum - that's way too stressful.)

The usual vital preparations have been made and cases packed. Tickets for train and opera are where we will trip over them. Dogs are going to kennels - but of course they Don't Know That Yet. Their guilty people fed them a tasty last supper of forbidden kitchen scraps (egg mayo, fish skin and v.ripe cheese. Yum.) which went down as well as might be expected. Poor Wilson. Poor Chester. Actually they don't appear to mind going at all and Whitley Crest Boarding Kennels seem pretty good to me. What do I know? I'm not a dog.

A change of scene will be good. We've had a busy few weeks here which have challenged the body and the liver but not, perhaps, stimulated the brain. The most recent event - and yes, it was another of those 'I can't really believe I'm here occasions...' - was a Burns Supper in our local village hall. And anybody who argues about the absurdity of opera and its impenetrabilty would have been speechless in the face of this: crazy tartan extravaganza, incomprensible poetry and song, country dancing and the piece de resistance - the haggis. The sight of our vicar, be-kilted, playing 'Scotland the Brave' on his piano accordian 'piping in' the haggis was surreal indeed. The same vicar proposed the toast to 'The Immortal Memory' - an address so poignant and eloquent that I could hardly believe that the same man had delivered such sawdust on Christmas Eve. Much of the evening I spent safely behind the bar serving drinks. I know my place.

Also - and this has involved no personal effort - we have 2 lambs in the top field. This is an early but a very welcome sight. The weather has been very mild - today no exception. I met Elvet on the lane yesterday - he was up to feed the sheep for his son - and of course we touched on the winter of '47 (We always do whatever the season. It was big round here): 'Couldn't get off here f' 10 weks - corse w'adn't the big tracters thn. Drifts up 'bove - see that hedge bank thure -owre tht twice's high. Down an' oer lane, fill'd oop, cudn't get thru....'

I gather there's time yet for some serious weather.

So London it is - and Carmen on Wednesday night. Talk amongst yourselves.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I've been tagged....

I've been tagged (thanks Eyechild ). 5 less than obvious things about me. Not easy. Why couldn't I get the 'contents of your handbag/purse' tag?

Firstly: The road less travelled. And I don't mean anything philosophical here - I just find myself drawn to the less obvious routes. Crikey, who wouldn't avoid the M6? The lanes, the tracks, the 'no through roads'. Example: for many years my mother drove daily from Banbury to Shipston on Stour and back - and never once in all those years deviated and took that enticing little right hander down the lane and through the trees. Now me, I'd have been onto that like a rat up a drainpipe - curious to find out where it led and what it led to. I have to know what's where and how it fits together. And it's not just a country thing either - I got as much pleasure exploring, dog on lead (wonderful excuse a dog on a lead) the alleys, ginnels, back streets, recs, estates, the derelict wastelands with forgotten streams, the scrubby wilderness of post industrial Stockport. I like maps too.

2. I've read Dodie Smith's 'I Capture the Castle' at least once a year since I was aged 11. I have no wish to see the film. The pictures are in my head and never change and the words are as fresh as ever. (My eye is seeking it out on the bookshelf even as I write.) Be reassured I do read other things; Recently I have been entranced by the work of Isabel Allende and in the case of Brett Easton Ellis, something of an astonished voyeur.

3. The summer of 1971 had shaped up rather well - the agricultural boyfriend had been dumped, school was a distant memory. These were long and sunny days followed by balmy evenings - music was west coat east coast motown reggae hippy folky and the incredible string band. Life was indeed suffused with a golden glow. During this blissful period I went to a party in the grounds of a large mansion - everyone was young, beautiful and so alive (and probably chemically out of it) dress was gauzy, floaty, floral and empire line, trimmed with dark blue satin ribbon. I'd bought it in Dorothy Perkins nightwear department and to this day don't know how I got a. out of the house without parental warnings and b. walked the length of a busy road in what was essentially a diaphanous nightie. I wouldn't do it now - but am so glad I did it then.

4. I once fainted at the feet of my brothers' maths teacher while at a party held by my parents. I think this was my escape mechanism well and truly kicking in...'Get me out of here! Now.' Dreadful party. People in crimplene suits. Maths teachers. Teachers. Cheese and pineapple on sticks - sooo sophisticated. Not. As I said: 'Get me out of here NOW!' Even then.

5. Favourite joke: Name a fish that begins with 'W' and ends with 'W'
'Walthamstow - it's a place.'
Neat. Very neat.

So now I get to do the tagging: over to The Onion, Examcrisis and an Alpine Adventurer - let's have 5 less obvious things about you. My circle of bloggers is even smaller than the Eyechilds. *sob, sob.*

Thursday, January 25, 2007

....middle name - 'Squirrel?'

I don't hoard things like bits of string and general tat (at least I don't think I do...) but I do like a shelf groaning under the weight of jams, jellies and produce, our own vegetables for use over the non-productive winter months and a freezer full of meat and fishes....

The marmalade production line has cranked into action - Seville oranges squeezed 'til the pips squeaked, then de-pithed and shredded. A couple of lemons are added for good measure. Then into the pan with a measure of water for an hour and a bit's gentle simmer - to soften the peel and to let the bagged pips and pith release their pectin. The smell of bitter orange fills the kitchen. This is the smell of January. Marmalade is a seasonal thing.

Later - probably the next morning - sugar is added and dissolved. Over a furious heat the pan eventually reaches a 'rolling boil' - the liquid foams up the sides, spitting and bubbling. It seems to take for ever to get the stuff to reach setting point - always a tense 'will it? won't it' situation for me. But eventually that little spoonful on the chilled saucer wrinkles and we have marmalade. Phew.

Get the lids on quick! Stand back and admire our labours - inhale even more of that sweet, tangy citrus smell. Print up the labels - get the glue pot out and the labels on and we have the finished product. 24 jars of Seville Orange Marmalade.

Then for me - almost the best bit - stacking the shelves. Then standing back to admire our handiwork.

And there it is: Marmalade 2006 - 4 jars yet to eat, 24 jars Marmalade 2007!!!!, Raspberry Jam, Raspberry Jelly, Blackcurrant, Redcurrant and Whitecurrant Jellies, Tomato Chutney, Pickled Damsons, Sloe Gin.....neatly lined up, jars shining, contents waiting for a slice of toast, of ham, cheese, game pie, whatever - the hungry future.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


......Temperature drops a degree or two. Corndon and the Stiperstones are dusted with a hint of snow. And we rush in from a hen-tending dart down the garden, blow on our thumbs, clutch the Aga and pronounce 'OMG it's sooo cold out there'. The other person in the room addresses the shivering wimp thus: 'Don't be so bloody nesh....' You get the picture.

I Googled it:

Being either afraid of the cold or feeling the cold a lot. Used across the Midlands of England and the north.
........"You nesh git, you don't need a coat."

Averse to cold weather; soft, delicate'* 1913:
.........."F-ff-f!" he went, pretending to shudder with cold.
"Goodness, man, don't be such a kid!" said Mrs. Morel. "It's NOT cold."
"Thee strip thysen stark nak'd to wesh thy flesh i' that scullery," said the miner, as he rubbed his hair; "nowt b'r a ice-'ouse!"
"And I shouldn't make that fuss," replied his wife.
"No, tha'd drop down stiff, as dead as a door-knob, wi' thy nesh sides."

— DH Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

(Bit of a pompous speech that last one - but that's DH Lawrence for you. On second thoughts 'self-conscious' would be better) Wikepedia will probably tell you as much about 'nesh' as you need to know.

Anyway, today's been a day for feeling nesh. It's cold. Damned cold. Any daffodil thinking of flowering prematurely should think again.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Wind blog

I imagine that everyone's got a tale to tell about yesterday's wild and whacky weather.....

Me? I went to Shrewsbury and spent a sheltered couple of hours at the hairdressers leaving Alan at the top of our increasingly windswept hill. The lane was running with water and the wind was still gusting strongly from the west. One of the farmer's trees had snapped off in the night and crushed a gate. (It's quite tribute to the man who hung it in the first place that the posts and hinges barely budged an inch.)

It's hardly suprising this old Horse Chestnut fell - it was proverbially 'rotten to the core'. The rest of it came down later during the day.

A strange beauty in its line, colours and texture.

Alan was to spend a portion of his day cutting a way through fallen trees which were blocking the lanes - 2 of our neighbours' ancient apples were uprooted, as was a tree on the road up by the church. Thank goodness for chainsaws heh?

The electricity had clicked off around 6.30 cutting the wind-baggy 'Today' programme off in mid - rant. Funny how silent the kitchen is without the hum of fridge and Aga. The power was restored some 18 hours later - long after we'd gone to bed and long after we'd given up trying to read by candle light. By now calm was largely restored too.

This morning other damage was revealed - not only has our neighbour lost 2 apple trees but his windmills are now 'ex' windmills and, oh dear, the greenhouse has rearranged itself.....
Apart from one of our newly planted trees leaning at a crazy angle we seem to have escaped - we're thankful for that.

And today? As meek and mild a day as you can imagine. Blue sky, fluffy clouds etc. And also these snowdrops - perhaps my favourite flower.

And primroses nestling in the grass - very early, too early, but a pretty sight.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mouse trouble

I think in blog-speak my predicament would go something like this: 'OMG *shriek!* - there's a *mouse* above my head LOL :-( '

Well, sort of.

From where I'm sitting I can hear the scritch-scratch of tiny feet, almost certainly those of a mouse, scampering between bedroom ceiling and studio floor. Above my head. The other sound I can hear - providing I give out a bossy loud shout of 'Stamp now!" - are those of Alan's feet clomping on the floor upstairs. Mouse-wise I figure that's a pretty scary noise. And for the meantime it seems to have worked.

But what I know, and what the mouse doesn't, is that sitting in the kitchen Even As We Speak is a job-lot of mouse traps. And Lindt milk chocolate for bait.

And here of course I have a problem......practicality versus sentimentality. Cute little beady eyes and twitchy whiskers versus scratching in the night chewed wires fire hazard.........

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Eating Cake.

Local history should come with a health warning.......

As part of our project to record the aural history of the village of Marton, Doreen and I - and Doreen's antediluvian cassette recorder - are trawling the highways and byways in search of residents with reminiscences. And today we struck lucky. We were invited to the home of Mrs Trow who has lived at The Villa for over 50 years now, having moved from a small farm at nearby Hendomen some time in the 1950's. Mrs Trow had also invited some neighbours: Mrs Thomas, Mrs Francis and Mrs Price. (I would estimate our combined ages were going on for 500 there was going to be plenty of ground to cover.) We sat around the fire in the room off her kitchen, where brasses and woodwork gleamed most cosily. A clock of some antiquity marked the hours with a melodic chime. Newspaper cuttings and photographs were produced. The tape wound on silently and unnoticed and the elderly guests did as we had hoped - reminisced.

As one tape clicked to its end Mrs Trow offered us tea - which came accompanied by cakes galore. Such temptation. Such choice. We were spoiled. Proper farmhouse baking. Mrs Thomas had brought a Victoria sponge with her - the lightest airiest concoction with a filling of raspberry jam and cream. This was all my sponge cake dreams come true. (As we left I asked if I could take a small slice home - for Alan - and was presented with the plateful you see above.)

A second tape turned while we ate and drank. We have just touched the tip of the iceberg reminiscence-wise. A wonderful tale of horses' heads buried under the hearth at the Hall up the road. Slaughtering and butchering the pig. The Home Guard saying Hitler would have to wait - 'there were cows to be milked first....' The village pantomimes. The shop. The food. The Rebel School. The goose grease poultice on the chest. ('Very good but you did smell a bit, well, goosey...')

We left as the light was falling, 4.30ish - the days are getting a bit longer. Doreen with two tapes to transcribe and me, clutching my plate of cakes, feeling decidedly full. I can see this project is going to be, unexpectedly, bad for the waistline.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lunch today in a pub - The Blue Bell at Churchstoke. (This for reasons I won't bore you with.)

Difficult to say whether the pub is in England or Wales. I guess it straddles the border because, the story goes, back in the days when Wales was 'dry' on a Sunday and alcohol could still be bought in England, customers gagging for a drink would use the door in Shropshire....This tale led to other recollections of 'dry' Sundays; the 'booze bus' that brought customers from neighbouring Welsh towns to our little border villages where the ale still flowed freely. And all this is in recent memory. It's hard to imagine such prohibition now.

Outside The Blue Bell stand a pair of ancient petrol pumps - relics of the days when the landlord pulled not only pints but also gallons. The price on the dial is frozen at 4/3d per gallon - that's about 22p or just under 3p per litre.

PS - In fact 'twas all a bit of a time warp: meal, age of fellow diners and the fact that the sprouts must have been put on to boil shortly after Boxing Day..........but on the plus side a real boozy sherry trifle just like mother used to make - and not the sort of thing to be eaten in Wales on a 'dry' Sunday.
Sorry to admit I had two helpings......

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What a load of old tosh

Did this drop out of your paper today? Hopefully not - perhaps you bought the Guardian, Independant or even The Telegraph.....

'Marked for life: your first name is an extraordinary secret clue to your fate.....'

That unscientific, unqualified statement launches an unbelievable 50 pages of arrant nonsense. Apparently our names are more than just a label - they affect our lives. They position us, define our lifestyle, partners, goods and chattels. (Small example - those named Dennis and Denise are over represented among dentists, while George and Geoffrey are more likely to be published in geo-scientific journals etc. Are thieves most likely to be called Nick I wonder?*)

Perhaps I'm missing the point - but for heaven's sake tell me what the point is. What is this cod psychology all about? Does this stuff really sell newspapers? Apparently The Times has 'mined' its 5 million strong database to come up with what it describes as an atonishing picture revealing the complete extent of our forenames hidden properties.

Well, first up my name's not in there so I'm a tad miffed. I don't know if I should be living at the end of a muddy lane, have 3 adult children, a love of opera and a mighty distrust of BT or not. But I plough on - after all we all know someone with a name. I go through quite a wide circle of friends and associates. There is the odd 'hit' - the only Maureen I know is certainly 'friendly, trustworthy and efficient,' Barbara, appropriately in Lancashire, loves gardening and Heather certainly 'lives in a detached house.' (Oh, and on reflection our neighbour Di is one of the 50% of Dianes to have a conservatory.) But from there onwards it's downhill all the way. I recognise no one and no traits. This is a collection of odds and sods of use to no one save for dinner party chatter: 'Goodness, didn't you know that Timothy's spend the most money on their cars and wouldn't be seen dead in Morrisons.'

I do hope Times Newspapers have planted a lot of trees to make up for this waste of paper........... and if your name is Tom - watch out for someone called Margaret.

* nope - and I quote: 'Nicks are 70% more likely to shop at Waitrose - and more likely to be driving a VW Golf'.' (of course in that case they may well have 'nicked it')

Friday, January 12, 2007

A silly dog.

Scar-face Wilson. If you try to run through a fence this is what happens:

Next time try going round.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

'carpe diem'

It's probably too early to be convinced that normal service has been resumed. There was no apparent cause for its disappearance a week ago, but as of 5.00pm this evening - again for no discernable reason - we're up and online again. So here I am, in the comfort of my own home, tapping away at the keyboard and casting a nervous and suspicious eye on what is, at present, a steady green light on the router. Who would believe that my connection had ever been gone?

It's a bit like the missing cat that on returning home, having spent several days lounging on silken cushions and lapping Jersey cream with the neighbours, gives a disdainful look, an insouciant shrug and mews 'Moi? So?'

(Note to self: must remember that inanimate things are just that - inanimate. This is just a router/computer/microfilter. No amount of shouting, pleading or praying will make a jot of difference. Neither come to that will any number of calls to BT at home or abroad.) Do I despair? Moi?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Hoping that normal service will be resumed....

I'm writing this sitting in the post office at Chirbury and posting this thanks to a wonderful project called 'Switch on Shropshire' because, once again BT blasted Broadband has gone inexplicably awol. So until normal service is resumed or my whole cyber life rethought I shall be haunting this space.

So first off - small news in the shape of the first lamb of the year - tiny crumple-eared and vulnerable. Alone with its mother in a very big field. This is January 4th.

January 5th - Permission to Read….

With my newly acquired ‘Readers Ticket’ to hand I was admitted to the Readers’ Room at the County Archive – and if the general reference room is a hushed and learned place it is positively bumptious in comparison with this. Here is an air of serious study; the sheltered groves of academe.
I had asked to see some manuscripts on which my g.g.g. grandfather's name, William Cross, was mentioned. (I think I have some secret hope that out there, somewhere, is a vast tract of land, stately home, title etc with my name on it – but know in my heart of hearts that someone whose last known occupation in 1841 was ‘ratcatcher’ was hardly likely to have a country estate in his gift.) And indeed this is the case – the aforementioned William Cross was a tenant occupying someone else’s cottage in someone else’s land deal. A pawn in the game. A small fry.

And here is William's name:
But what a document it was. The thick parchment crackled as it was unfolded to reveal a vast and ornate manuscript – handwritten and embellished, sealed and tied. A document to put the fear of God into the common man. It’s language so precise yet also (unintentionally) poetic. As owner of the land, ‘situate in the Parish of Chirbury in the county of Salop’ this is all yours:

‘…and all and singular Outhouses, edifices, Buildings, Barns, Stables, Coachhouses, Dove Cotes, Gardens, Orchards, Backsides, Tofts, Crofts, Lands, Meadows Pastures, Heaths, Meadows and marshes, wastes, waste grounds, folds, fold courses and liberty of foldage. feedage, parks, Warrens, Commons, Commons of pastures, commons of leasing, mines, minerals, quarries, Mills, Fairs, markets, customs, tolls, duties, furzes, trees ,woods, underwoods and the grounds and soil there of - mounds, Fences, hedges, ditches, free boards, ways, waters, Land covered with water, fishings, fisheries, fowlings, court lees, courts Baron and other courts, perquisites and profils of court. View of frank pledge and all that to view of frank pledge doth belong, receipt herein fines, sums of money amerciaments, Goods and chattels of Felons and Fugitives, Felons of themselves, outlawed persons, deedants, waifs and strays, chief rents, quit rents, rent charge, rent sick (?), rents of assize, fee farm rents, boons and services, royalties, Franchises, liberties privileges and easements. profits commodities, endowments heraditaments and appurtenances whatsoever to the said manner Lordships ......farms, Lands, Tenements and heraditaments and premises belonging or in any .... appertaining or with the same or any of them respectively new etc etc etc….’

And it's no good saying you don't want the 'Felons' or the 'Waifs and strays'. They're your responsibility too.

I took a great many photographs with the intention of splicing them together to make a whole - one day perhaps.

A room with a view….

The last time we were in Portmeirion was in the mid 70’s, and we then walked, a pair of starry-eyed lovers, through the deserted streets and squares of Sir Clough William-Ellis’ sugary Italianate creation wondering at the towers and turrets, the ice cream colours and the very tweeness of it all. We even caught a glimpse of the great man himself – then very ancient indeed – resplendent in breeks and yellow stockings, hacking at the undergrowth in some hedge bottom.

It was also the setting for a very ‘cult’ 1960’s TV drama: ‘The Prisoner’ – of which I remember very little save Patrick McGoohan’s repeated attempts to escape the pastel coloured village that confined him. Who remembers: 'I am not a number; I am a free man'?

It was somewhat ironic then that on our return this weekend – over 3 decades later – to stay at the Portmerion Hotel, a security barrier had to be raised to let us in. In fact I was unable to shake off the feeling that for the duration of our very short stay we were indeed prisoners in this very, very strange place.

A long tramp through over-heated corridors to the furthest reaches of the hotel brought us to our room, elegantly furnished with antique oak and an iron half tester bed draped in dun-coloured voile. The view from the window was dun-coloured too in the afternoon’s fading light. But it was quite a view; a broad panorama of the estuary and wooded hills beyond. In the foreground the receding tide had left an expanse of glistening rippled mud. Closer to hand were some of the architectural whimsies and eccentricities for which Portmeirion is known. This view was something of a bonus as when it comes to views from hotel bedrooms we are rarely blessed. We’ve come to appreciate throbbing air-conditioning units, service ducts and blank grimy brickwork or learned to crane our necks to take in whatever delight is tantalisingly just around the corner. So here what wonders would be revealed by the morning’s light?

We drew the rather theatrical curtains on the darkness and went downstairs to party. And what a good party it was too - excellent to see Nigel and his family back on a brief visit from Australia. And Nigel, you only looked a day over 50!

Come the dawn and all is swathed in fog. There is no view, no distance. All is grey – the estuary now full of water over which the odd gull sweeps now and again. The pretty pastels of the village are jewel-like in the mist, glowing in this most dreary setting. The village now has quite a commercial air - ice cream parlours and tea shops, gifte shops purveying gimcrackerie to the tourist trade, chalets set amongst the wintery trees and in this season (admitedly not the best) a little run down, a little worse for wear. I wonder if this is what its creator had in mind - considering his views on beauty and things of beauty?

The security barrier was raised so we could drive out - through the winding tree-lined lane to the coast road south and home.

This was a very strange place. I must try and discover what if any purpose Williams-Ellis had in mind for Portmeirion when he embarked on the scheme.
This chest was of particular interest:

So it's thanks once again to 'Switch on Shropshire' and to the kind lady at Chirbury Post Office for her hospitality and 'nul points' to BT. I'm heading for home.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Who did this to me?

Close on the heels of The Season of Goodwill comes The Season of Coughs and Colds and Sneezes. Look! There are its adornments; the soggy balled up tissues, the Lemsip and the gaily coloured Strepsils.

All that camaraderie, hugs and kisses - seemed like a good idea at the time. But three days later - feeling like a plague victim, bug-eyed, sore-faced and snivelly - in retrospect a distance of arm's length or complete isolation would have been a better one.

I'm afflicted and it is not pleasant, although I have gained a voice that is deep and sexy. I lack both the energy and inspiration to go and chase the pheasants from the garden where they are pecking at the brassicas - in truth they are now so tame that they merely hop over the fence when Chester races by and hop back when he's passed to continue their grazing. I'm not much of a threat either - they know they're safe with me. There are 3 beautiful multi-stemmed birches to be planted too - but that's a job for another day.

Stop being pathetic woman! Get out there. On the field. Get some fresh air. Into your lungs.

Monday, January 01, 2007

It's 2.34am. It's 2007.

At something like 12.01am and with a crash of thunder the power went down.

Champagne, kisses and best wishes all by lantern light. If you're where you want to be how lovely is that?