Friday, March 30, 2007
I am seriously minded of those dreary afternoons wasted on school hockey pitches; two teams tussling at the far end of a sodden field, lumpen grey shapes groping through a grey blanket of fog, woolly and wet. And me, leaning against the goal post (I was a goal keeper) blowing on my freezing fingers and praying, praying, praying fervently that this interminable afternoon would come to an end. See how this teenage experience haunts my adult life.
But it is nearly April for Heaven's sake. It has been like this for four days now - chill cold air trapped under low grey clouds. This is not the way it should be.
I am going to take comfort in a glass of wine in front of a log fire. Perhaps the weather gods will smile on us tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
We were in Liverpool, in the Tate Gallery on the Albert Dock. What an earnestly arty place it is - I don't think I've ever 'enjoyed' a visit there. It's so like hard work and after such a schlep up from the shires did Chirbury and Marton Art Club want 'challenging' and full-on 'confrontational'? The short answer is 'no' - on the whole they like things they can recognise and which might look 'nice' over the mantle shelf. A cat, a landscape or some flowers - or something by that nice Mr Lowry. Perhaps it was as well that the Chapman Brothers show had finished......
Alan and I, non- members, tagged along for the ride. Alan wanted to see the Lutyen's model of the Cathedral that never was' at the Walker Art Gallery. And me, well I quite like a coach ride and do feel that a little challenge and a little confrontation is a good thing from time to time.
If the Tate with its 'contemporary' collection was hard for a coachload of countryfolk to get to grips with, everyone enjoyed the Lady Lever Art Gallery which was founded by soap magnate William Hesketh, the first Lord Leverhulme, in memory of his wife in 1922. It houses a fine collection of 18th and 19th century paintings, sculpture and decorative arts and furniture. There is the most exquisite embroidery. There were old friends in the form of familiar Pre-Raphaelites and, to the delight of our group, the paintings which were the basis of the original Sunlight soap ads.
The Gallery is in Port Sunlight, the garden village created by the philanthropic Lord Lever to house his workers. He was appalled by the squalid slum conditions in which most of his workers lived and resolved to house them in decent, pleasant conditions and at reasonable rents and provide them with schools libraries and public buildings in order that they could improve themselves - in return, they were to prove themselves worthy of all this by following a life of sobriety, thrift and the desire for self-improvement. It was within his interests to do so; he reasoned as did other social reformers of the age that a healthy and temperate workforce would be a more industrious one which would increase profitability for factory owners such as himself.
Unfortunately Lord Lever's philanthropic principles did not extend to his African workers - on whom he depended for his raw materials (palm oil from the Belgian Congo - and in Tate's case, sugar from plantations in the West Indies). They worked under conditions known as travail force - forced labour. Lever's vast fortune - estates, collections, bequests - were amassed on the back of practises of which we should be and are, less than proud.
......thoughts of which are easily forgotten as one stands in front of a fine piece of porcelain, marquetry lion or waxen 'Ghost'.
Think about it.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I think for a while about the hills while driving home along the spine of Long Mountain (my very favourite journey in The Whole Wide World). Those hills to the east - Pontesbury and Pontesford, the Stiperstones, Corndon, Bromlow Callow and Stapely Common, the Long Mynd behind: how unusually blue they appeared a couple of days ago - I'm seeing Housman's 'blue remembered hills' - although strictly speaking they're a bit south of here.
Inevitably these lines from 'A Shropshire Lad' come to mind:
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
And then, even as I whisper those words - eyes wide, mouth half open - I'm off on an 'away day'. A helter-skelter-brain-storm of poetry and prose; of half forgotten lines ('loveliestoftreesthecherrynow di da di di da etc') and music - Vaughan Williams and Elgar and the young George Butterworth (who set 'A Shropshire Lad' to music), The Song of Songs: 'For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away..... and Thomas Hardy and hymns and birdsong, daffodils, light and thunder - even gloomy old RS Thomas - all come crowding round. Such a glorious muddle. There are frogs and spawn - and buzzards soar hopefully and in anticipation over fields of new born lambs (et in arcadia ego) and mew into the large sky.
This is kaleidoscopic thinking and I'm having a lovely time - there are larks ascending:
Suddenly above the fields you’re pouring
Pure joy in a shower of bubbles,
Lacing the spring with the blue thread of summer.
You’re the warmth of the sun in a song.
You’re the light spun to a fine filament;
Sun on a spider-thread –
You’re the lift and balance the soul feels,
The terrible, tremulous, uncertain thrill of it –
You’re all the music the heart needs,
Full of its sudden fall, silent fields."
From: The Lost Music, Bloodaxe Books, 1996
......I want to meet the green man. I want to find a flint arrowhead, press seeds into the warming soil, feel heat and light upon my wintered cheek - feel part of this new awakening season and stay connected with the old. These are exhilarating days. Spring's magic must be working - I'm sure it's not just some chemical imbalance in my brain.
Friday, March 23, 2007
I want to keep it that way and thus do all the 'breast aware' things one's meant to do. But when I was invited the other day by 'Bron Browf Cymru' to be screened at their mobile screening unit (in the car park by Somerfield in Welshpool) - I did think 'Hang on - I've done all this fairly recently in Shropshire - in England.'
So I called the number on the 'invitation' and mentioned this to the surly dragon who'd got the job of snarling down the phone and put my case - I'm attached to an English medical practice, I've been screened within the last 2 years etc etc etc... But oh no, these breasts are now Welsh breasts - they are destined to be a Welsh statistic and a Welsh target met and they will be screened in the car park by Somerfields in Welshpool, in Wales. I meekly agree to keep what is no longer an invitation but an appointment. I suspect secretly that in the worst case scenario me and my 'pups' will receive treatment in England.
Does one authority not talk to another? Is this not unnecessary duplication - of time and resources ?
Please don't misunderstand me - we are so fortunate that this screening is available and 'free' (in as much as anything is 'free') and would urge everyone to undertake it. It's a lifesaver. And of course I will go but wonder if in twelve months time I'll will be 'invited' by my English doctors for what will then be their routine screening.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
His face is restored. It's OK. I have a new-found admiration for sculptors, especially those carving in marble, stone and wood. What vision, what skill to take a solid block and reveal the inner form. Once those chips of marble have been chiseled away they can't be replaced - building a form up in clay must be an easier process. (Indeed this little putti would have originally been created like that and then cast in bronze.)
I do quite fancy sculpting something.....saw a life-size sheep the other day 'crafted' from plastic carrier bags and it did (fleetingly) go through my mind that there was a huge and untapped resource right here in my own kitchen.....fortunately the moment passed and I went shopping instead.
I shall be sticking to 'broken legs' for Young Farmers for the time being.
But remember: Verrochio. Respec' innit.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
And winging in via cyber space comes a very special card from the Eyechild:
Thanks all. xxx
We had a lovely evening with friends - a sort of belated Christmas get-together - snug before the fire, well fed and wined. All gossiped out. Thanks J & B for your wonderful hospitality.
The fierce wind which crashed against the house all night, rattling the sash windows followed us home and now carries flurries of snow across Badnage Wood. Nearly a white-out. There is not a sheep in sight. They've tucked themselves down into the dingle and out of the wind. Alan has lit the woodburner and we are snug and warm indoors, again.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Here at the end of the Long Mountain peach and nectarine break bud - creased papery petals unfold. They are comehithersugar-pinkdelicious. We're about to plant a row or two of peas, cast a clout.....
....but what is this? The weather forecast? Snow? And frost as well?
Hah. Ah well.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
This 200m stretch is a triumph of hope over experience. The saplings in the long neglected hedge line have been slashed, bent and woven into submission. Give it 12 months and it'll thicken up. Note how the brushwood side is to the field - to deter any beast with an ambition to escape.
There is, believe it or not, a National Hedge Laying Society - and they really are trying to stop things getting out more.....
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Fortunately my spam filter does a reasonable job - correspondence and such goes one way and rubbish the other (a bit like getting on a plane: turn left = comfort zone, turn right = the 8th circle of hell.) Every once in a while I scan through the spam folder before pressing 'empty' just in case something's slipped through the wire. And vice versa - occasionally some ostensibly innocent mail drops into the inbox with some resistible offer. ''Di$cOunt Meds Shipping world-wide' - nope, 'Penis enlargement' - err no. 'Cheap Meds - beat these prices', 'adult pay per view', 'NEed software', no, no, no, not for me. Have I got sucker stamped on my forehead? Don't answer that.
Then there are those mails whose very phrases are so poetic and beguiling that one might almost forget they mask some scam or other. I read 'add candlestick to sugar' or 'in it unicorn' and I am reminded of Edward Lear, nonsense poet extraordinaire, and want to read on. 'Be purveyor in Madhouse' was followed by the cryptic message: 'Somebody Knows Something.' Indeed.
And then there are those heart-rending letters from some bereaved unfortunate, frequently in Nigeria, wanting your help (but mostly your bank details) to unlock the fortune that is awaiting them in some account or other. For your help, paying a few fees and such, a share of that bounty will be yours........ They are always a good read; usually a plane/car crash or civil war, untold millions and maybe a terminal illness too. I do find it hard to believe that there are people out there gullible enough to fall for this ruse. It's known as Advance fee fraud or 419 Fraud (419 relating to the section of the Nigerian penal code that prohibits such activities).
'Gilbert' took the fraudsters on: 'Having received a number of advance fee fraud emails, I decided to do something in retaliation. It’s a small gesture, but I decided to try and waste the time of these scammers as much as possible: to give them less time to defraud other people. I decided to scam the scammers: to string them along with bogus stories just as they string along others. I decided to try to get them to waste their time attempting to access money I said I’d transferred to them, attempting to contact me, or attempting to meet me in pre-arranged locations. And as you will read, it’s worked.'
In these scambusts, a variety of different personas (all called “Gilbert Murray”) string along a number of advance fee fraudsters with increasingly ridiculous and unbelievable stories, attempting to lead them on and embarrass them as much as possible. This website presents the email dialogues that Gilbert has carried out with the fraudsters. It's a very amusing read. Wish I'd thought of it.
So - delete it or deal with it.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Anyway it has served its purpose - an injured hen has spent a couple of weeks 'cooped up' in there, recuperating. We'll gloss over the 'why' but all's well that ends well and she's back on home ground now in The Henhouse on Wheels. (Only suffering moderate bullying - or hen pecking as it's known in poultry circles - as she re-establishes herself in the natural order of things.) I parked the hen hospital out of sight behind the greenhouse.
The next time I carry out a check another bird is definitely on the receiving end of some nasty treatment. The convalescent is cowering on a perch, another is traumatised in a corner and the other two have suspiciously bloody beaks. They are systematically pecking bits out of the bird on the ground. This is truly gross. She has a flayed patch two or three centimetres in diameter on her rump which I suspect started out as a bit of feather that looked like a grub but is now is a nasty wound.
I catch her and remove her from her cannibalistic sisters. The horrid hen hospital re emerges and the next patient is installed.
*A noteworthy exception to this rule of incongruity is the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick but it has been there since the 14th century and doesn't have to accommodate either the general public or horrible hens.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Wallpaper paste with dots in it, garnished with pond weed? Yum. Not.
I digress......turn up the volume for this little picture show:
Thursday, March 08, 2007
How we came by this cast I can't remember. No doubt Alan had picked it up along the way; a discarded remnant of some Grand Tourist's travels, or perhaps a refugee from some art school plaster room when drawing from 'classical' casts fell from fashion and such castings became cast-offs. The Winged Boy's head had found a home with us and regularly if not frequently, holding his baby-weight plaster head in the palm of my hand, I would dust his sweet soft face. Such cherubic cheeks. A snouty little nose. In those days no one said 'bless'.
.......We also had our own small putti who, lacking wings, was discovering legs and the variety of objets now within reach of his little fingers. All was a voyage of discovery. Such delight to be found in such ordinary things - a crumb from the carpet, a cat's tail, a loudspeaker, a funny sort of head thing.......which after it had been under the heavy orange thing (which might have been a ball) was never to be quite the same again. The heavy orange thing - a very solid piece of ceramic fruit - slipped from the little star-fish fingers and in disastrous short seconds effected a very efficient nose-job. The Boy with a Dolphin's nose had gone. Cue for some shouting. Probably some wailing.....
We've all moved on since then of course. The Boy on a Dolphin has come with us, nose-less, through a few house moves; sometimes wrapped in tissue, other times in the newspaper of the day. We've untucked him and fondly announced his soubriquet 'Ah, Verrochio's Boy with a Dolphin', before putting him back in a box. He is after all an old friend.
This last move, all boxes were unpacked and the curators of the family treasure trove assumed an unaccustomed ruthlessness; 30 years worth of bric a brac was sorted and sifted. It was In. Or it was Out. And yes! To the sound of faint applause our "Boy with a Dolphin' made it out of the box and onto a shelf in the dog/laundry/mud room.
I catch those blank plaster eyes as I go about the day's mundane tasks. I think: how sweet you were........I remember I made a broken leg for a Young Farmer. I remember that we have kilos of casting plaster. I think Hey! This is the stuff of which plaster casts are made! I catch the dull eye of my 'putti' and I mutter: 'I'm going to make you a nose....'
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Is it? Here I was plodding along thinking 'End of winter - spring's around the corner, not quite yet'.
Ok, we're nearly there: the lambs just 'loosed' from the shed onto our field are doing archetypal lamby things in the late afternoon sunshine - springing into the air, all four feet off the ground, wagging their little tails - full of the joys of....not being in a shed. (You wait 'til tonight babes when the next band of rain rolls in....)
There are daffodils and and some early blossom: buds are swelling. Birds are singing.
But we're not there yet - I don't feel that thrill of anticipation, that soaring of spirit as the earth heaves into life, the quickening of the pulse that surges through man, beast, bird and maybe even flower.
I wondered if I could describe this 'ante-room' to the season as 'in Just spring' after ee cummings poem of the same name. It's quirkiness never fails to put me in mind of that excitement that is the season. And not a daffodil or cliche in sight.
in just-in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle-wonderful
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
Sunday, March 04, 2007
So whatever, we foregather. Last evening it was on rows of chairs beneath the primitive electric bars that heat Marton's ailing Village Hall. (They're on - you fry. They're off - you freeze.) In front of us The Big Screen - for last night the cinema came to us. The lights dimmed and with only the slightest rustle and munch the audience settled down to watch 'The Queen'.
Last week Los Angeles, today south Shropshire courtesy of 'The pioneering Flicks in the Sticks project (which) uses the latest in digital technology to take films to local venues throughout Shropshire and Herefordshire. By working with local promoters, using existing venues and using low cost technology, Flicks in the Sticks is able to bring BIG screen films, classics and blockbusters, to those who live in rural area and do not normally get the opportunity to see such films. And that's about it. Our promoter, Maureen, booked the film and instead of the 20+ mile drive to the 'local' multi-plex we got to see in in our own surroundings. And there was fizzy pop. And crisps and pop corn too.
And the film was a good choice - not very challenging and with a familiar storyline. The anachronistic House of Windsor and Mr Blair's brave new modernising world collide in those strange days following the death of Diana when the public came over all touchy-feelie and grown men wept in the streets. 'Twas all beautifully observed with both poignancy and wit.
And was Helen Mirren's Oscar deserved? Probably - I'm no expert. But with quiet authority she brought to life that familiar figurehead whom we all assume we know - but in fact know not at all.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
We look up into the vast foreverness of the sky, shiver a little as the cold night air settles on our shoulders and come back in to Google prosaic explainations.
Give me the mystery and magic any day.
Friday, March 02, 2007
We really should get out more....
Here at the end of Long Mountain the tranquility remained unstirred; no outpouring of national pride discernable in or around in our 6 Welsh acres (or beyond as far as I could see). No public holiday. No male voice choirs. No lava bread, no cawl, no leek broth. No national dress or bardic speke. Did Dewi Sant pass unnoticed here? Possibly. Welsh nationalism seems only to take the form of bi-lingual road signs and government propaganda. Otherwise it's English with a smattering of Polish. The rugby mght be the exception.
But today the ever vigilant Radio 4 with its eye on The Regions, brought us a programme from St David's far down in the south west of the Principality. Here is the Healing Well that sprung from the place where Non, mother of Dewi Sant gave birth. The place behind the legend of this patron saint who brought Christianity to the Celts - whether they wanted it or not. It was one of those good programmes to listen to in the car.
I wondered which national plant would be preferable in the buttonhole: Daffodil? Leek? Leek? Daffodil? Did I waste moments even considering the options? Of course. With an eye to design, style and originality my vote for buttonhole of the day went to The Leek. But then I got to thinking of the leeks in our garden (still there and waiting to be eaten) and wondered how on earth would I fix something the size of a small log to my lapel? And the smell.... And the daffodil - wasn't that something of a Lloyd George-ish innovation? And then which variety? 'King Alfred', 'Thalia', 'Tete a tete' or 'Tenby Daffodil'?
....Which complicated thought brought me to the top of our lane; a short drive which now requires some concentration - the ruts and pot holes are becoming deeper by the day. Dangerously so - small sexy cars and little children could get lost in them - and what with Powys County Council's mega Highways deficit (££Millions since you ask) our small works will be right at the bottom of the maintenance list. Dream on. Print fewer sheets of paper in 2 languages, save trees, save money. Invest in tarmacadam is what I say. (Are there are more Welsh votes in good road surfaces than ancient tongues I ask myself?)
So home at last. And look, the daffodils are out by the door. That's celebratory enough isn't it?