Monday, June 30, 2008

Inspiration for would-be writers?

Up in the triangular field adjacent to the barn things are quieter now. The little Welsh Black cow whose keening rent the air a few days ago has settled down - she has been given another calf to suckle. (We'll call him Calf A.) Her maternal instincts are satisfied perhaps.

Should writers of soaps ever seek inspiration, maybe they should lean over a field gate for a while and gain inspiration from therein. Calf A is now suckling on Mrs W Black whose own calf was born with a growth on its jaw and thus unable to suck. It has been taken into care (a.k.a is being hand-reared elsewhere.) Calf A's mother did not survive a traumatic birth and Calf A was first offered to a cow at a neighbouring farm and then to Mrs Ginger Cow whose own calf had died at birth following another difficult calving. Mrs G Cow is now finding it hard to recover from her ordeal and could not feed the infant A. So Calf A was passed on once again - this time we hope for once and for all. I estimate he is now on his third 'mother'. Confused? So am I. I expect Calf A is as well.

Life and death in the burgeoning countryside. Single mothers, surrogate parents and absent fathers, disturbed off-spring - what more could a screen writer ask for?

Friday, June 27, 2008

At 8 days old.

8 days old already. Still quite cute but fluff is giving way to feathers on wings and stubby tails.

Mother hen has shown her chicks where and what to peck and they dutifully rush to her side and feed when she make a special little clucky noise which obviously means 'Come and get it' in hen-speak. I've noticed that they instinctively scratch and preen too, like the miniature hens they are fast becoming. You might be interested to know that with this breed - Cream Legbars - the sexes can be identified on day 1, the females having darker plumage than the males. This is fortunate as chicken-sexing is definitely not one of my specialisms.
She still manages to accommodate them all under her wings - for warmth and protection - a bit like a feathery tea cosy really. I love the way little heads peep out at random. With weather as miserable as it has been it must be wonderful warm retreat. I wonder for how long they will all manage to snuggle down there. More news next week.

Monday, June 23, 2008


In the little triangular field, across the lane from the barn, is a Welsh Black cow. She had a calf, it was hers, she was its fierce protector and now it is gone. I don't know why. She is bereft, confused and pained by her loss.

Today she has spent in search; in perpetual motion, pacing - pacing the field's perimeter. Her udder, taut between her legs is swollen with milk which will not now be needed and will drip uselessly, drop by white drop into the grass. She bawls a raucous moan which breaks my heart.

I am a mother too and this most terrible of separations churns my gut.

Friday, June 20, 2008

'Here Come de Judge'

Today I have mostly been judging class YF22 in the Young Farmers' Marquee at the West Mid Show - 'An invitation to a wedding to be held in another country'. I have always wanted a Judge's badge. Today was my lucky day.

There were some good entries and it seems young people aspire to weddings in exotic locations now - Japan, Hawaii and Mauritius. A couple of others chose to illustrate Croatia and Poland. Interesting I thought.

I'd like to think that the YFC was an opportunity for young people of both sexes to meet on equal terms - which I'm sure they do on a day to day basis. But where were the girls' entries in the 'Famous Landmark made from recycled materials found around the farm' (sub agenda - can you weld?) or the boys' 'A Healthy Picnic Hamper'? I think I'll come back to this at a later date.

Still, an interesting afternoon at the Showground and afterwards trying to run to ground the origin of that pesky phrase 'Here Come de Judge...' I've gone via Flip Wilson, Pigmeat Markham, Shorty Long, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and some fairly obscure and unmemorable things in between.

I'm none the wiser.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Counting chickens....

I think an announcement should be posted on the Palace railings. (Although maybe a Blog is the Proclamation de nos jours.) Let's have a day of National Celebration too. Let's really push the boat out.

I'm pleased to announce the latest arrivals in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan - 7 Cream Legbar chickens. 4 Cockerels and 3 hens I believe. I am fighting the temptation to use all the soppy adjectives in the book - but this really is an 'aww cute' situation.

Their surrogate mum is a Silver Laced Wyandotte bantam who has sat tight on the little clutch of eggs for the past 3 weeks. Yesterday I could hear chicks cheeping from inside their shells and this morning 7 balls of fluff with beaks and beady eyes were peeping from under her wings; they had hatched overnight.

I am amazed that this first time mother knows instinctively what to do. Already she is showing them food and water - although I think they don't need either for 48 hours. Her trance-like broody state has gone and she seems attentive and demonstrative with a new series of clucks which must mean something to the chicks. As a first-timer I wonder if she was surprised when the eggs she'd patiently nurtured turned into wriggly living things beneath her.

She's taking it all in her stride. Me, I'm giddy with excitement and quite glowing with pride.

Well done that hen!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mother 0 - 20

Had she not died in 1993 my mother would have been 90 years old this week. She wouldn't have seen it as a reason to celebrate - she hated her increasing years with a bitter vengeance. Old! Bah! Eugh! Spit!

I have only a handful of photographs - I've just counted and there are 11 - which mark her life from infant to pensioner. (She didn't like cameras.) And words - no, not many words either. She wasn't given to talking about the past or emotions, so in writing about my own mother's life I have very little to go on. The first 20 years are a mystery - I have the aforementioned photographs, a gold ring and silence.

Here in a studio portrait taken perhaps to celebrate her christening, my mother Elizabeth lies glumly in the arms of her own mother, May. It is the summer of 1918, the dog days of The Great War which had cut a destructive swathe across across Europe and the Balkans. May's small act of peace and love was marriage to the son of a neighbouring farmer, Isaac, a Private in 357 Works Division. Elizabeth was their first child.

Perhaps the constraints of the studio setting have made this such an uneasy picture. The baby is grumpy and unrelaxed, her mother likewise, eyes wide she questions the camera. Is she startled by the flash and pop of the photographer's flash or startled by the status of motherhood in this wicked wild world? I wonder which. She holds her firstborn stiffly as she might hold a celluloid doll. I try hard not to read too much into this piece of sepia coloured card but wonder if this apparently disjointed relationship was a reality.

I recall that Elizabeth and her sister Isabel, born 2 years later, were brought up by their 'grandmother' - May's stepmother. May went on to have a further 4 children, 2 of whom survived and were brought up by May and Isaac. Granny was called 'Mother' and Mother was 'Mama'. It is a complicated web. This much I know.

There followed a tough old childhood. Riding out the post war slump on a bit of a farm in an industrial corner of Yorkshire meant muck and no money. It was a life of hard work and few luxuries for this little lass. I suspect love and nurturing were pretty thin on the ground too - it was a childhood where affection was not high on the agenda. School in Upper Hopton until the age of 14 and then, unusually, some evening classes to improve her speech. Education and the outbreak of the Second World War provided a means of escape - and she was away. A job and her own little car meant freedom and independence - the past and Lyley Lane could be left behind. A door had shut and would reopen by a crack only very occasionally. The first 20 years were not for re-visiting.

I couldn't tell you about my grandmother, May, or great-grandmother. I was never told myself. I met my grandfather only once. There is no way on knowing if my fondness for hens and sheep is genetic. I regret not asking questions - and now it is too late.

I have one tiny story which has to suffice:

I was being taught to make Yorkshire Puddings by my mother, maybe 40 years ago - a rite of passage for anyone with some Yorkshire blood in their veins. Flour and salt in a bowl, make a well for the eggs.....add milk and beat steadily to a smooth batter - 'It should sound like the clopping of horses hooves going up Hopton Lane.'

And it does you know - that slap of spoon, batter and bowl is the sound of a 20's childhood.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dog Rose days

This year seems to be a dog rose year.

As the hawthorn's froth of sweet blossom falls away this simple rose can be seen in abundance; thorny swags draped in the hedgerow and scrambling skyward in wayside trees and flowers - flowers everywhere. Flowers in every shade of pink, from shell through to sugar almond.

Flowers now should bring a plentiful harvest of hips in the late summer. A quick 'google' reveals:
  • Rose hips can be made into jam, jelly, syrup and beverages.
  • Rose hips have recently become popular as a healthy treat for pet chinchillas.
  • Rose hips may also be fed to horses. The dried and powdered form can be fed at a maximum of 1 tablespoon per day to help increase coat condition and help with new hoof growth.
  • The fine hairs found inside rose hips can be used as itching powder.
Looks like good times are just around the corner?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Wash 'n go

Lovely day. Lovely evening; flat red ribbons of cloud strung out on the western horizon and the crescent of a waxing moon slung up there too. 10.00pm now and still light. Bats flying.

It's been something of a day for tying up loose ends in home and garden. Things crossed off 'to do' lists - that sort of thing. Last of the Winter Squash planted - tick. Geraniums and Petunias bedded out - tick. Tomatoes watered - tick. YFC Anniversary Dinner tickets distributed - tick. Washed hand.

What's this? Hand washing? Well yes - those 2 soft cashmere sweaters which have sat scrunched up, inducing pangs of guilt each time I pushed them aside to use the utility room sink finally met soapy water. Perhaps the correct alignment of planets has made this Sweater Washing Day.

Up to the elbows in something mild and sudsy the inner housewife has time to ponder. Mostly I think, and particularly when it comes to rinsing, about the way washing used to be done. 1 tub of water and a lot of elbow grease. Even early washing machines seem to follow this principle. I also have memories of 'treading' a load of washing in the bath. I consider my one-time landlady's 'modern' 1960s machine, an amalgam of paddles, pumps and hoses. It did a lot of noisy churning (which resulted in laundry forming a tightly bound knot) but still relied on the user to fill, empty and refill it. There was a mangle too which swung out over the sink and greedily ate up everything in its path. Sheets and shirts et al were grabbed from the tub with tongs, disentangled and fed through the tight rubber rollers to emerge flattened and waterless at the other side. I can only imagine that the description 'labour saving' is comparative and that it was far superior to the 'dolly tub' and 'posser'.

Anyway it was dainty stuff first followed by other items in order of dirtiness - filthiest last. I have a sneaking suspicion that some things never really got clean, sloshed around as they were in ever dirtier water.......a bit like washing up before dishwashers came on the scene.

And isn't rinsing grim? That water never seems to come clear. Eventually the inner slut beats the inner housewife and says 'blow this for a game of soldiers' and decides after 3 bowls of water that Enough is Enough. And where is that mangle when a girl needs it? We settle for a gentle squeeze before lying the clean wet sweaters out on a rack to dry. Phew. Job done.

Hopefully that's the year's quota of hand washing done. We've a policy of Machine Wash Items Only up here in the small mountain Kingdom of Trelystan which is successfully enforced by administration of the Scary Look or Glare should anyone attempt to smuggle in stuff needing anything more complicated than a 30 degree cycle. But isn't forbidden fruit always the most appealing? Thus is it that cashmere finds its way into the National Wardrobe and as I'm never likely to be rich enough to do the super star thing of throwing it away when grubby I'll just have to keep on washing.

Next week: A line of washing - no finer sight.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Buttercups and daisies

I've been waiting for the perfect day. You know the one - sky clear and cloudless, not a breathe of air - so I can photograph a field of buttercups brilliant against that cerulean blue. I have a field in mind. It's home to a herd of llamas (is the collective for llamas a herd?) which could be interesting when a fool with a camera comes creeping through on the q.v. for the right angle.

However, the buttercup season seems doomed to be overcast in these parts. The small mountain Kingdom of Trelystan has been under consistently grey skies for the past couple of days, although this evening's sunset was spectacularly red. I hope that bodes well for tomorrow.
Here are buttercups and daisies from the bank at the back of the barn, growing out from beneath the beech trees, leaning slightly towards the light. It's a mass of white and yellow at the moment. Simple yet blowsy. Love 'em.