Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snow in Trelystan. Rest of world isolated.....

We have snow and deep drifts have blocked the lane. There is much talk amongst the men folk of 'getting through'. Each man bravely embraces his inner Polar Explorer and sets out to bring home life's necessities.

The Glamorous Ass. is gone all of 5 minutes - long enough to discover that snow deeper than the bonnet of the pick-up is indeed impassable.
It's possible that this does not bode well for tomorrow night's New Year's Eve dinner and I shall have to amend my catering arrangements. (Perhaps using some of those recipes suggested by yesterdays commenters - for which many thanks.) My neighbour did point out that if we couldn't get out to go shopping then it was unlikely that anyone would be able to get to us either and I would not need to worry about crab and smoked salmon for 10. A good point.

As I write I can see that snow is still blowing in across the dark face of Badnage Wood. There is a wicked wind which makes the temperature seem even lower than it actually is. I'm not sure if this latest snow is 'sticking' or not - there's a slushiness about it. We'll see what happen when the temperature drops at dusk.

Me, I'm perfectly happy not to 'get through' - an afternoon by the fireside away from the world, with one of my Christmas books seems like the best of plans.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Duh! The difference a day makes.

Stupid or what? (Don't answer that. Rhetorical question.)

I've been labouring - and I do mean labouring - under the misapprehension that New Year's Eve is on Friday. I've vac'ed and wiped at a gentle pace and Silvo'ed the family silver*. This last task I found was actually rather pleasant and restful - no pressure - listening to an audio book and letting the cares of the world wash away.........tra la. Dogs snooze by the Aga, outside the snow falls, all is silent and still at this end of the Long Mountain. Domestic bliss.

Our son phones, asks how to make vegetable soup and tells us his plans for Thursday. Thursday? What is so special about Thursday?

O.M.G. Thursday is New Year's Eve. Eeeeek!

Oh dear. Like a cartoon character I go into overdrive, arms, legs and brain flailing. I need to feed eleven hungry souls. A day makes a huge difference.

Expect nothing coherent from here until I have a plan. I am working on that.

*Family silver? Sounds good but don't get any ideas - we've only some pretty coffee spoons, 4 candlesticks (which I could use to bonk burglars over the head with if provoked), 8 napkin rings and a christening mug.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Well known phrases and sayings - No 7

My Glamorous Assistant is in his shed whittling a heron and I'm at the kitchen table with a coffee and am defeated by the crossword. I'm putting off the inevitable.

Which inevitable would that be I hear you ask? (Hint: a dust-bunny scuttles under the sofa and sunbeams bounce off the dog nose-prints which adorn the glass door.....)

The inevitable post-festive tidy-up that's what - because as everyone should know: 'After the Lord Mayor's Parade goes the man with the brush and shovel'. It seems that only short hours ago I was primping and preening, bedecking my halls with boughs of holly, setting the perfect Christmas scene in fact. Now my visitors have all been and gone, we're partied out, tired and weary - and so is the house. I feel it has the interior decor version of a hangover.

Today I am the equivalent of that man with the brush and shovel - after the pomp, pageantry and glitz somebody has to clear up the crud. I wonder if today's slightly less familiar 'well-known phrase' has its origins in Victorian times? A quick Google obligingly came up with 'The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894' - and a number of interesting facts; that the average horse produces between 15 and 35lbs per day - in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. It all has got to go somewhere.

I ponder this as I dust and vac and remember that old chestnut:
A little boy goes up to an old gardener and says 'what do you put on your rhubarb?'

'Usually well-rotted horse manure' replies the gardener. 'We have custard on ours' says the boy.
Yes. Well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Greetings from the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan

Ahh, the Naivety....

Best wishes from my wintery fog-bound kingdom where, in the lanes, the snow is indeed glistenin'. It's a beautiful sight, this winter wonderland.

Off now to do all the things I should have done days ago. The imminent arrival of visitors, the prospect of mass catering and a house hidden under a furry layer of dust does focus the mind....

Friday, December 18, 2009

At dusk. On the field.

I do practical and pragmatic things - I tip the hens' old water down a rat hole (remembering too late and with a gulp that those pesky rats might have feelings too). I shoo those birds inclined to spend the night in the comfy nest box up onto their perches. I slide doors, drop pop-holes and flick the switch of the electric fence to 'on'. I hope to keep any sharp-toothed and clawed predator away tonight at least, as always.

Hens in, job done, I stand a while and rub my hands to restore a little feeling - perhaps to remind myself that they are still there. How cold it is tonight. How good to feel the ground hard underfoot. The temperature has not risen above zero today.

In the west, low on the horizon - and so slim that it could easily be missed - is a crescent moon. It hangs sketchily - as if some calligraphic hand had flicked it in with a confident stroke of the pen; silver on a ground of deepest blue. Pretty little cushions of pink clouds organise themselves - but not for snow I think, even on this cold night. Just for delight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Carols. More of.

Young Farmers' Carol Service tonight - the County service held in St Michael's at Chirbury, because this year our very own Chirbury and Marton's Huw Thomas is County Chairman. With the office comes responsibility and the onus for organising Shropshire events in 2010. Tonight was the first.

Well. It was a bit like the Pantomime without the beer, but with a bishop and carols. I hope that doesn't sound too trite - because it was far from that. The Church was packed with young people from across Shropshire and many of us locals too in support of our local group.

A young woman from Brown Clee YFC opened the service, singing the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City', unaccompanied, from the back of the Church - her bright clear voice soaring confidently into the rafters. This solo piece, in a hushed and expectant church, always and without fail will send a shiver of something or other down my spine.

Then enter Lynn on the mighty organ and the congregation joins in with gusto for the rest of the carol. An opening prayer by the Bishop and we're off - a medley of poetry, music, sketches and song interspersed with the odd carol to make sure we all get to our feet occasionaly. No chance we'll fall asleep though - these young people tell the familiar Christmas story in their own way, injecting wit and humour and unexpected talents. Each group in the County has contributed a piece. There may be the odd gaff and pratt-fall along the way - but hey! they're amongst friends - it doesn't matter. We laugh, we sigh, we strain to hear some of the softer or more garbled voices. No matter, it is good.

The three kings finally arrive bearing gifts, heads swathed in their girlfriends' pashminas and wearing - was it curtains or dressing gowns? 3 strong solo voices sing the words of Melchior, Caspar and of Balthazar, whose doom-laden words are portentious:
'Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.'
Clun Valley YFC brought 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas' into the traditional mix - and were this the Pantomime Competition I have no doubt they would have won the cup. Four confidant voices accompanied by Wayne on that most curious of instruments, the piano accordian.

But of course, it was not about being 'better' and winning anything tonight. It was about being there amongst friends, being part of a community, celebrating and taking part. It was all of that. With a Bishop and Carols. And mulled wine.

Well done them.

Me? I'm all carolled up.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Singing in the Rain

The main criteria for anyone wanting to join Marton's merry band of carollers is a chipper disposition; the ability to laugh when lashed by winter's winds and a persistent drizzle has turned the song sheet to papier maché. It appears that the voice of an angel isn't a requirement - I alternately squeak and growl in the background but always with a smile on my face. I pass the test. On this, my inaugural outing, I was made most welcome.

A small group of us set out last night to visit homes on Marton's main street to bring seasonal cheer and raise a few pounds for the Church roof fund. (Another bottomless pit I suspect.) Had we wished to go round the whole parish we would need to have started out earlier in the year - a lot of the village community live in outlying farms and cottages. Not the best of nights to be out, cold and wet, so a limited number of homes was a good idea. But hey! Well wrapped up and with those sunny smiles firmly in place off we went, 'topping and tailing' (that's the first and last verses) all the old favourites, reserving 'Away in a Manger' for houses with children. We were accompanied by 2 flautists and 2 clarinetists who added a little je ne sais quoi to the scratch choir.

There were a lot of folk out last night - either that or sitting in the dark behind the sofa saying 'Shhh' as Rosemary's gloved finger pushed the doorbell and she prepared to proffer her collecting tin. Still there were enough people in to make it worth while. Doors opened and householders stood and shivered, listening as we sang loudly and enthusiastically, taking our lead from the two who do actually have the voices of angels. A glass of sherry was most welcome halfway round, thank you. Our players treated the householder to 'Frosty the Snowman' by way of thanks and we all 'la-la-ed' lustily along as the words weren't on the churchy song sheet.

The last elderly lady pushed a neatly folded fiver into Rose's tin and wished a us 'Merry Christmas' and was persuaded to take herself in out of the cold. Grace's clarinet had fallen to pieces - might the rain have dissolved the glue? - and the other musicians were obviously a little concerned about the damp affecting their instruments. We now look less like a band of carol singers and more like a gang of drowned rats with raindrops on our whiskers.

So what did we do? We did what carol singers have done down the ages; took ourselves to sit in front of a blazing fire with a glass of something warming and waited for the sensation to return to frozen fingers and toes. Ahhhhh Glorious!

Young Farmers' Carol Service on Wednesday. That will be indoors but there is no guarantee it will be any warmer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fog-tastic

A beautiful morning here in the small mountain kindom of Trelystan. The frosted ground is white and crisp underfoot. The sky is of the clearest blue with just a couple of perfectly placed dainty clouds. All is well with my world.My eye is caught by what appears to be smoke in the distance where garden meets field and field drops away to dingle. It's fog coming up from the valley like a stealthy beast, flooding the dingles, dips and hollows - moving at quite a lick for a bit of cold wet air. Pretty soon my world is white and muffled and lit by a pearly ethereal light. Only the tops of the trees of Badnage wood can still enjoy the sunshine. Time for a photograph or two in the vain hope I can capture something of this morning's 15 minutes of magic.When we first moved here I was enthralled by the play of weather on the wood that is our backdrop - the twists of mist which hang and twine in the treetops, the silvery sheets of rain, and frosts and snows and always the sigh of the conifers dancing in the wind. Would I still be as fascinated at winter's end, after months of bleak dreariness? Five winters on I can still watch and listen as I did in those early days - the weather in these hills is still every bit as special.

Almost as quickly the fog slipped back down the hill. No doubt there is some sound and prosaic meteorological reason for its coming and going.
As I write this, a few hours later, we're wrapped in fog again - it rolled back up the hill. This time it's the real thing; thick, heavy and here to stay.

Me? I'm now going to don coat and wellies and take the dogs down the garden where Chester can fulfill his hunting instincts by flushing out pheasants. By then it will be time to come in and light the wood burner - if it's good for nothing else this cold, grey weather makes indoors a very cosy proposition.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mince pie any one?

It's that time of year again. The smell of baking fills the house, sweet and spicy. I feel unnaturally organised and domestic as, on taking two trays of mincers out of the Aga and dusting them with icing sugar, the doorbell rings and visitors arrive unannounced. They are much impressed with my creativity.

'Tea?' I ask. The answer is 'yes, of course - with hot mince pies please'. We all sit down around the log-burner's warm glow to sip our tea and put the world to rights. What a cosy, homely scene it is.Well, that got rid of one tray of pies - our guests wrapped some up and took them home. In case they are stranded between here and Longridge and need emergency Christmas fare perhaps.

I've hidden some away and the remainder are disappearing alarmingly quickly - the Glam.Ass. it seems can't get enough. So - if you would like one, pipe up.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

More than one

In our house, more than one is a collection. What starts as an innocent acquisition is joined by one other, similar; and then a third. Before one knows it there is 'a collection'. As you know the Glam.Ass. is collecting money, little 'silver joeys' - although he tells me he's not going to buy any more. That is not quite the truth I think. He was spotted cruising eBay, studying 11/2d coins. No, I didn't know they existed either, or if they have a name. Three'apenth perhaps.

Me? At present I am collecting milestones, those way-markers that marked the miles on the old Turnpike roads. I keep them as knowledge in my head, a bit more information about things which went before and forged the landscape. I don't have to bring them home or house and dust them. This is a Good Thing.

This is the one, first spotted by D as part of her research into the Bishops Castle Turnpike Trust of 1768, that sparked my interest:Not a thing of beauty really. Do you think I should go along with a pot of paint and a litte brush to spruce it up a bit? Let everyone know that they are 20 miles from Salop and 1 from Montgomery? Further up the road another has survived and is now half-buried, but sadly few are left. They are largely redundant now and we speed past them. I quite like the incidental link with the past and the serendipitous discovery of another.

Almost unbelievably there is Milestone Society - whose aim no doubt is to protect and catalogue. My 'geek sensor' goes into overdrive and I back away. Glad to know these things exist but only too happy to let them rub along without me. I am in un-joining mode at present.

If you would like to see the site of my latest discovery - click on Mr Cary's most excellent map above and head West- north-west out of the little town of Bishops Castle. It's number 2.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Think about it...

'Do you know' observed the greengrocer outside Welshpool Market Hall, 'that we've only had all this bad weather since they started saving the planet?'

He's got a point. I think we just had guilt-free weather before.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I want me mam....

How lovely it is to lie, snug in bed, and listen to the weather roar outside. The rain lashes against the house and a gust of wind from the east whistles under the eaves from time to time. The window is slightly ajar - wide enough to let in air but not enough to let in too much of that wicked weather. All of me is warm and cosily tucked up. I've a book to read; Wolf Hall which has, amongst all things promised on the cover, a most soporific effect. All is well in my bed-time world.

But what is that raucous din that breaks the night air? It is a shed-full of young cattle bawling just the other side of the garden wall, that's what. I think they have been brought to over-winter here and their assorted mothers have stayed elsewhere. They have been weaned. It is a heart rending noise - and one I've written about before. They'll settle down and get used to being in this strange place without the reassuring presence of their mums.

I've just been across to see them and they are mostly quiet now. Though wary at first, their nosiness soon overcame any fear of a fool with a camera and they jostled and snorted to get a better look. We had a few words along the lines of 'Shh. No more of that noise tonight.'

I got a moo or too by way of answer. That's a 'Yes' then?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

'Oi be a cider drinker me'. Not.

The driver didn't actually refuse to take his bus up the lane but made it pretty clear he wasn't going any further. Than. Here.

So get out and walk. The first 50m weren't too bad - a bit of an adventure. We jostled and giggled along, our way lit by the coach's headlights. Turning a corner though had us in darkness; pot holes and pitfalls avoidable when lit, suddenly became invisible man traps. And, oh! was that a drop of rain? Oh yes, another downpour.

The Cider Farm, allegedly only 100m away, was nowhere to be seen - not even a welcoming light flickered in the distance. Ever resourceful Young Farmers switched on their mobile phones and used the eerie glow of their tiny screens as torches. It was only when I got home that I remembered the torch that is kept in the deepest, darkest recess of my bag for just such emergencies - but I, like the rest, fumbled along by phone-light. How romantic that sounds. Not.

Eventually the farm came into view and avoiding more puddles, an old mattress (?) and a couple of discarded sheep troughs we arrived at the foot of a mountain of apples.

'We' are Chirbury and Marton Young Farmers and the 'Advisory' on a visit to Berriew Cider Farm. (When I find out what exactly 'Advisory' is I'll let you know - but I think it means we 'help' the YFs.) Always nice to be invited along and as I've said before I'll hop aboard anybody's bus-trip - who knows what wonders might be discovered along the way?

A shame about the pitch black lane, the evil weather and well, the overall level of light. Under a dim fluorescent tube our cider maker - a farmer who had diversified - donned rubber apron and sinister black rubber gloves and began to demonstrate his dark art. Take one wheelbarrow of apples from the aforesaid apple mountain and using what appears to be a red plastic coal shovel teem them into an elevator/chopper-upper thingey (cost £6k) which spits out a mush into another wheel barrow. He shovels this chopped mush into layers of 'cakes' on a press (cost £10k), flicks a switch and slowly, slowly as the weight of the machine bears downward, the juice comes running. It is pumped next door into a large tank in a room also used to process apple juice. I missed the next bit of the process as the heavens opened and I ran for cover, but I gather it is then put in wooden spirit casks which retain a vestige of brandy, whisky or rum which gives his cider a unique flavour. Bottling is the final stage.We tasted too - apple juice, bright and sharp in taste and made from a medley of local apples. The cider was still and dry and probably an acquired taste. I can't say it was universally popular amongst 'The Advisory'....the more fastidious had noted the cider maker's mention that it wasn't necessary to get all the dirt off the fruit - and if they were too clean then one could throw in a shovelful of orchard soil to get the natural yeasts into the mix. Or it might have been me recounting the tale (which was confirmed later in the pub) that in the old days a rat or a piece of beef would be added to get the fermentation working.....Perhaps this was indeed a process better seen in the half-light.

We moved on - stumbling back down the lane again and onto the bus. Then to the warmth and welcome of The Lion at Berriew; a proper pub and very drinkable glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Cheers.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wet, grey day with bonus wet, grey hen picture....

Saturday, 6.15pm. The people who live in the little house over the way have lit a bonfire. It must be huge because even at the distance that separates our two homes it appears, in the darkness, to be substantial. It is a vast and flickering orange blob on a wild black night.

How grey it has been today - the glow of that distant fire is welcome. I shall make do with the warmth of our log-burner; sitting close by - with the dogs snoring at my feet - and finding images in flames and embers. Warmth is good.

At hen-letting-out-time this morning my mountain kingdom was swathed in a grey mist. A thin thread of cloud twisted across the dark conifers of Badnage Wood and my face (the only bit of me visible) felt a prickle of wetness. The weather was set in for the day and not inspiring.A bit of wet doesn't bother a hen though - it's the wind that ruffles their feathers. These two look particularly bedraggled after a day in the rain. (The hen in the front is, I think, starting to moult and will look worse still before she gets her new plumage.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making mincemeat

Oh, my poor garden. It looks so sad and neglected - a combination of my procrastination, being busy, busy, busy and sodding awful weather. It's fine, I go out and hack about in the undergrowth for a while. It rains. I get wet. I come in.

I make mincemeat. Perhaps the inclement weather has made me more inclined towards kitcheny things. Had you noticed?

Anyway, making mince meat is one of those satisfying seasonal tasks which I expect well-organised folk got out of the way weeks ago. Well-organised folk probably have all their ingredients to hand as well - me? I have to rummage at the back of cupboards and under trees and make several trips to buy forgotten essentials. Still, eventually everything is lined up ready to be weighed and measured, grated or squeezed. I have big bowls, little bowls and my largest wooden spoon - oh, and because I can never remember from year to year which recipe I used last, a copy of Delia Smith's 'Christmas'.
It's a bit of a long-winded recipe and apparently will keep indefinitely - hardly likely when the Trelystan mince-pie production line gets under way. I stir all my ingredients together - except the brandy - and let the flavours mingle overnight. Then it's into the oven (at a very low temperature) for 3 hours to melt the suet. Finally that brandy goes in and I stir all together for one last time.

The day can be foul outside - and it is - but indoors the kitchen is imbued with such a sense of well-being. Sugar and spice and brandy scent the air better than any seasonal candle I think.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A quick meme

As if she's not busy enough already altering the sleeves of my winter coat and whipping up dear little felt animals, wipso has found time to forward this pesky meme. I'd better do as I'm told or I might end up with sleeves of differing lengths - and that would never do. Here goes:

1. Where is your mobile phone? In my bag, charged and ready for phone action.

2. Your hair? Blonde (ahem).

3. Your mother? dead

4. Your father? ditto

5. Your favorite food? Toast

6. Your dream last night? Travelling, always travelling.

7. Your favorite drink? Sauvignon Blanc

8. Your dream/goal? Time alone

9. What room are you in? Our study

10. Your hobby? Not sure I have one - maybe exploring the minutiae of the world around me. The devil is in the detail.

11. Your fear? That somebody films The Archers

12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Here will be fine.

13. Where were you last night? Here.

14. Something that you aren't? Pessimistic

15. Muffins? English and toasted please.

16. Wish list item? Sunshine followed by long and balmy nights.

17. Where did you grow up? On a farm in mid-Warwickshire

18. Last thing you did? Ate a chocolate chip cookie. Felt guilty

19. What are you wearing? My vest, untucked. Live dangerously.

20. Your TV? Off

21. Your pets? Giving a good impression of being sleeping dogs but actually very much on the q.v.

22. Friends? Many acquaintances, but only a few true friends I think.

23. Your life? Good

24. Your mood? Content

25. Missing someone? Yes. And?

26. Vehicle? Audi

27. Something you’re not wearing? Right now or in general?

28. Your favorite store? Probably French Sole in Marylebone for pretty and impractical shoes.

29. Your favorite colour? Blue

30. When was the last time you laughed? Yesterday

31. Last time you cried? Can't remember.

32. Your best friend? That would be telling.

33. One place that I go to over and over? Paxos

34. Facebook? Yes

35. Favourite place to eat? Round the kitchen table

Phew, that wasn't too difficult. If you'd like to have a go at this just cut, paste and supply your own answers. Go on, you know you want to.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Trelystan Hoard

Psst. Don't let on but I'm a bit worried about the Glamorous Ass.

He's buying money.

He's discovered eBay and 'silver joeys'.

We all know what happens to men when they get a bee in their bonnet don't we? A chance acquisition becomes the start of a collection born out of loyalty. A mild case might mean the purchase of every Bob Dylan album ever (even the rubbish ones) or every detective story in a series while extremely fanatical cases might entail collecting franked postage stamps for every day in 1907 (for example). Or it might be tanks, or pistons, stationary engines, steam rollers......or Star Wars. Or worse if that is imagineable. It's the minutiae that seems important, that and the variety. An example of each and every variant is essential. It's just as well then that the G.A.'s current interest is a. fairly innocent and b. won't take up too much space.

It's not that bad yet, but each time the post van draws up another little envelope with silver coins inside drops into the palace's über-kool stainless steel mailbox. Ok, the coins are very sweet and very small and likeable. I don't think the old silver thru'penny bit was in circulation when I was young so my memories of them are of a tiny, archaic and useless coin. (I remember that clunky 12-sided coin with the young Queen Elizabeth's head on one side and the aptly named 'Thrift' plant (Armeria maritima) on the other. Half-crowns, florins, pennies the size of soup-plates... Ah, back in the day coinage was substantial wasn't it?) The Glam Ass, however, seems to have fond memories of them though....tomorrow I shall ask just what he did with his pocket money. The latest to arrive was minted in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. I'm quite impressed by that. It's battered, a little twisted and slightly worn - obviously showing its age but not bad for something around 400 years old. In the manner of an old-fashioned school essay title 'A Day in the Life of a Thru'penny Bit' I try to imagine the insides of pockets and purses it has seen.

I wish though he'd start collecting something more well, immediately spendable. Fivers say - how about 'buy one, get one free'?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Well known phrases and sayings - No 6

...In which I doubt that the game is worth the candle. (I've been here before, on a similarly long-winded culinary mission. This isn't quite the same. Hmm.)

As mentioned previously the Trelystan quince crop has been excellent this year. Jelly has been made, fruit have been given away and still we find ourselves with a load to process - and there are yet more on the tree.

I rootle around for inspiration in my big book of 'Things to do with Quince'. Quince vodka doesn't quite hit the spot so early in the day - and only requires 2 fruit. I could use another to flavour an apple crumble (that's 3) and maybe puree half a dozen to make a quince pie. That's maybe used up 9 or so. Could try jam or cheese - wait, Dulce de Membrillo: 'Take 4kgs of quince...' That's more like it.

Membrillo. The very word brings to mind the torrid heat of the Spanish plain, the click of cicadas and a plate of nutty manchego cheese served with a wedge of this deep red 'paste'. Perhaps a glass of something chilled too....

I follow Jane Grigson's recipe - probably because I am a lazy person and there is no mention of peeling and coring - I assume all pips and skin get lost in the sieving process. My slide show shows the process; the pictures are nothing to boast about - green sludgy purée turns into sticky red brick.

From start to finish, probably about 5 hours of simmering, straining, sieving, stirring and stirring and stirring. I do my best to interpret Jane Grigson - she is a cookery writer whom I trust - her words are both descriptive and amusing. Therefore I boil and stir until the mixture thickens and candies and leaves the sides of the pan and turns a deep red. I am not surprised when it explodes and pops with what J describes as 'an occasional fat burp'. The fruit and sugar spits ferociously at first and I have to put on my new and clean gardening gloves to avoid being burnt by molten sugar. The whole panfull is a bit volcanic except of smelling of sulphur the kitchen is sweet and perfumed.


After about 2 hours of bubbling and stirring I've had enough, got arm-ache, and scrape the now nearly solid paste into tins to set. Amazingly I've managed to avoid the pan or paste burning. Gosh, it's remarkably sticky and just a little chewy. The flavour? Well, it's sweet but there is also a little acidic tang - a brightness. It definitely tastes of Quince too, even after all that cooking.

Jane Grigson notes that it will keep, stored in granulated sugar in an air-tight box for up to two years. Just as well because this isn't something I'll be making again in a hurry.

Friday, November 06, 2009

My idea of the worst job in the world

The caption below the photograph on the front of today's Times read:
'For every fallen soldier, a poppy. Some of the 60,000 crosses planted in the field of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey. For the first year there are dedicated plots for the 229 killed in Afghanistan and the 179 in Iraq, each with a photograph attached'.
The photograph caught my eye, it had a certain pattern - a closely cropped sea of little wooden crosses, each with its own red poppy and passport sized picture attached - each representing a man of woman killed in action. Each little cross had a soldier's name and age written on it too. I began to read.

(I should know better of course. The enormity of this death toll hits home soon and hard. I am devastated by such loss of life - the deaths of these young people; sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, husbands, wives and lovers. All so young; most younger than my own lovely men for whom I feel boundless love - and cannot contemplate their loss.)

Those names were each carefully written in the same hand. What kind of day's work is that? Who had the job of doing that? Take a cross, attach a poppy, stick on a photograph, write a name and an age to left and right. Do it with care. Repeat 408 times, each time seeing a life stopped in its prime.

I would find that job very difficult to do.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cake Fest

Marton WI held its AGM last night, here, around the kitchen table at my house.

There were only 11 of us so while it was a bit of a squeeze it was quite do-able and cozy. After the interminable business - the Minutes, the Committee, the Reports and the Financial Statements had been got out of the way we could get down to the real point of the evening. Eating cake.

It's true what they say about the WI I think - almost without exception members are damned fine bakers. If there was an Institute made up of 12 year old extra-terrestials, even their pastry would melt in the mouth and their Victoria sponges be as light as air. I'll bet the yummy mummies of the Clapham Common branch and the students from Goldsmith's College are no exception either. It's the way it is. It goes with the territory.

Last night then, when everybody brought a dish of food - savouries and desserts - we were in for a treat.

The little cheesecakes above were my contribution. They came from the Sunday Times 'Style' section - where I was so beguiled by the pretty picture that I took the trouble to tear out the recipe. I usually reserve an enormous amount of contempt for this part of the newspaper, considering it to be overly metro-centric and generally speaking full of tosh. If the truth were told the article accompanying my recipe probably falls into this category; viz: bijou London vintage couture shop serves cake to well-heeled fashionistas. I quote 'R. built a business from knowing what makes women feel good, so it makes sense that cakes and chocolate have filled the gap left by undies.' Blah. Blah. Blah.

Well, if there is any space in your undies, any slack at all, eating any more than a nibble of these innocent cakes will put paid to that.

Cream cheese, sugar, eggs, white chocolate and double cream - and here's the healthy bit - fresh berries - quantities as below: I made mine in little cup cake cases and the mixture made 24. Some bright spark can work out the calorific content of each. (Probably a chastening amount. Sigh) Gratifyingly they did end up looking very similar to the ones illustrated above and even if I say it myself tasted yummy. The sort of thing where one is not quite enough and two, too many.

And that was the trouble. Last night there were just too many things to try; a bit of this and a bit of that adds up to quite a lot. Worth it though. Well worth it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The wild weather of the past few days has made the season feel, well, seasonably and appropriately Novemberish. Looking down the dingle from my window as I type this I'm treated to a wide open space bounded by skeletal, now leafless trees - and while the sun is shining on the last vestiges of gold and green of the crinkle-crankle hornbeam hedge it's quite a pretty sight. I'm making the most of it.

I did have a thought though the other day, as the rain was lashing down, the wind was whistling round the eaves and the light levels were low, low, low - that this is it until the spring. Short dark, dank days when man and beast turn their backs to the wind.

There are still plenty of jobs to do in the garden. On one hand we are 'putting it to bed for the winter' while on the other, getting into gear for next year's crops. Spreading and digging muck in, mulching, tidying, burning and staking (sounds positively medieval does it not?). That's gardening and gardeners - what optimists we are. There's always the next season - whatever happened this year, whatever was blighted, slugged, snailed or failed, well, next year will be different. This year I did manage melons bigger than tennis balls - next I feel I will have ambitions in the swede department....

This week, and perhaps a tad late, I have planted the onions and garlic; that's about 100 sets of Sturon and a similar amount of garlic Germidor. I have also planted 3 nifty little whirligig windmills in an attempt to scare off the birds (damned pheasants) which delight in unplanting newly planted onions.

No gardening today though. Some serious housework is necessary. The WI is meeting here this evening as we are currently 'between' village halls - the old one has been demolished and carted away and the new one is not quite ready for use. I'm not going to get away with my usual laisez faire approach - so neatly summed up by this little button:


So just why am I sitting here touring the internets?.....

Monday, November 02, 2009

Post No 601 - Choosing the curtains for the new village hall

Or, as it happens, NOT choosing the curtains.

On reflection I think this was the only outcome possible when 11 people forgather (8 women and 3 men) and are faced with 3 big books of fabric swatches. An exercise doomed to fail from the outset. The fabric designs were, without exception, some of the most horrid known to mankind - either big 'n' bold or big 'n' bland. Throw into the pot a half acre of floor the colour of a mushy pea and a choice of chairs upholstered in blue, gold or claret and the potential combinations become mind boggling...

In truth I expect any of the fabrics would work - I mean, who actually studies the curtains in village halls? Very few people I expect - except when the evening's speaker is so dull that counting the floor tiles or repeats on the fabric is a more attractive option than listening. I have done that.

Tonight nobody could make their mind up or be assertive enough to insist on fabric 'A' with chair 'C' rather than fabric 'B' and chair 'D'. Should it be orangey-sand or sandy-orange with swirls. With a little green. Not blue. Definitely NOT blue. And nobody, but nobody, likes pink with orange. A lone voice pipes up in favour of blue. And blue chairs......to be shouted down. Gold chairs. With black legs. It is after all a Big Decision. I really don't know what the answer is - I suppose I will go with the majority decision - this isn't the time and place for mouthing off design-wise, it's their village, their hall and I'm no'but a relative incomer.

Two hours in and with no decision made we are all losing the will to live and wilting - the heating system is running at full bore, being tested maybe. Little sub-groups of red-faced people have formed and cluster around open windows to gulp gratefully at the cool night air. (It's good to know that the heating is working so well. It is like spending an evening in the tropics without the luxury of the Indian Ocean to dip in.) One by one people drift away homewards, nothing chosen.

I leave too. Looking back as I climb the lane onto Marton Crest I see the new building in the valley below me, still lit against the night sky. The village's only street light which stood at the end of the old hall has been demolished so the new building is now the only source of light and this is probably one of the only times to date it has been lit at night. That's why it looks so unusual I suppose - we're not used to it being there, occupying this bit of space, not quite settled in the landscape. It's rather exciting, this wonderful new facility, seeing it take shape and looking forward to when we can actually use it and call it our own.

PS 601 posts since February 2006. I was in the village hall that night as well. Looks like I really should get out more....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quince Jelly

This week in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan we are getting to grips with our quince harvest. The Nation's jam pan has come off the shelf and been dusted down for some jelly-making action.
Of our 3 small trees, all of which we planted not quite 4 years ago, 2 have fruited abundantly. The furry, yellow fruits hang heavily and with this week's windy weather have been ripe enough to fall. Time to get picking. Just gathering those from the ground and those within easy reach yielded a good sized basketful. I dust off the curious downy coating and chop them into chunks. No need to peel. Cover with water and lob in a squeezed lemon or two. (Just In Case. I can't remember if they are rich in pectin or not.) Let them bubble away gently until they 'fall'. The kitchen is infused with their sweet honeyed perfume - far prettier and more exotic than that of the apple.

The Quince is a fruit with history, greatly revered in ancient times - its cultivation may well pre-date that of the apple. Were quince the 'golden apples', the paradisal fruit, in the Garden of the Hesperides or the apples in the Song of Solomon? Even in Britain, not too many centuries ago its taste and fragrance were much admired - but like so many things which take time and patience in preparation quince seem to have gone out of fashion. What a shame that is - they are the most wonderous of fruit. I treasure our little trees - not only at this time of year when they reward us with fruit but in the springtime too when delicate, papery, pink petals unfold over waxy dark leaves. Heavenly.


I've gone off at a tangent....

What next? We let the softened fruit drip through a jelly bag overnight - the resultant juice is pink and clear and fragrant. Sugar is added, stirred and dissolved. It takes about 10 minutes at a wonderful rolling boil to reach setting point - at last the jelly flakes off the spoon. I know it will set now. All is well. But just why does a golden yellow fruit become a crystal clear red jelly?

My basket of fruit makes 12 jars of Quince Jelly, now neatly labelled, to go on the shelves to eat with scones or toast, or alongside pork or poultry - something bright to lighten the long dark days of winter.


Monday, October 19, 2009

How to cook one's goose...

Go on. Ask me a question. Anything. (Well, try and avoid anything mathematical, scientific or about cars obviously.)

How about something to do with roasting meat? Thanks to my new useful little gadget I can probably come up with the answer. Temperatures, cooking times and suggested accompaniments. My teensiest complaint is that the temperatures are not in celsius - but back in the day no one trusted foreign muck like olive oil, garlic and metrification.
Doesn't it just knock spots off the give-aways in today's papers and magazines? CDs and DVDs, multi-size summer flip-flops, Directories of Decorating Ideas, Free Seeds and gee-gaws galour - all transient dross. Look, it even has a little hole so it will hang on a handy nail next to the cooker. How old is it? Something about the graphics suggests Festival of Britain - those brave new world Formica colours, neat tri-colour pointer and charcteristic type face. (I think it's one of the Modern family of fonts - can anyone confirm that?) So 1950s perhaps. Perhaps though, having read 'Woman and Home' magazine and concluded it's never actually been at the forefront of trendy living I could confidently add 2 decades to that.

Still, 50p well spent I think.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A walk in the woods - or where the wild things might be.

Alan says 'Take a stick'.

I don't think I'll need to fend anything off but I ask the question anyway, 'Why? Do you think there might be tigers or something in there?'

'No,' he replies 'but it's useful and will make walking easier. Take one of my beating sticks.'

Whatever. I forget.We've lived here for more than 4 years now and been around for something like 7 but I don't think in all that time I've hopped over the fence at the bottom of the field and done a proper bit of exploring in Badnage Wood. I've lurked around the edges and dabbled in the stream that forms its boundary. I've listened to the wind sighing through its dark conifers and watched twists of cloud wind across its face, I've heard the birds and beasts that make it their home and basically, well - just loved it being there.

We'd like to believe its name 'Badnage Wood' came from that of St Padarn. A native of France’s Bretagne region, Padarn journeyed to the British Isles, and settled in Wales as a monk sometime in the 6th century - not hereabouts but at Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth. The link is tenuous and hard to prove. More certain is the fact that this area has been associated with religious practices for well over a millenium. The little church at Trelystan which sits alone, way across a field on the edge of Badnage Wood, was most probably founded in the 9th century, and, we might speculate on a site of a pre-Christian significance. It feels to me like a place which has secrets and holds them close. Old too. Who did walk this land? There is more to tell of course - but this is not for here. You'll have to buy The Book.*

Sorry, sorry. Got waylaid by a bit of history. Anyway, today I promised myself I'd get amongst it and explore.
Over the little stile and into the dingle - don't get confused - there are loads of dingles round here. Think steep wooded valley (any size) and stream (s, m or l) therein.
I decide against walking along the stream which would be the best route. Wet feet and all that. I struggle up onto the slope and try and make a path there. It is my plan to follow the dingle and discover what lies in the hidden clefts and hollows of our landscape; the bits we do not see from the road. It's hard going - I stumble over fallen and felled branches and am tripped where brambles have taken hold and thrown out snaky grabbing tendrils which snatch at my ankles. Pitfalls are many; mouse and vole have made runs through the forest bed of soft pine needles and when I am not being tripped I plunge into their holes and tunnels. There is little to grab - sticks and stalks are either rotten of spiky. My route takes much planning and much studying of potential paths. There is time to stand and lean and look up through the tree canopy to the sky.

I know I am not alone. I just sense it. Little eyes, ears and noses, hunkered down for the day are tracking my passage most certainly. I think I am creeping along but this is a quiet place and each step I take snaps a twig with an earthshattering CRACK. I alarm a couple of buzzards and a raven which wheel and cry above me. Reassuringly there is nowhere for anything large, and with sharp teeth, to hide. I think.
Away from the stream and the light it's a dead place - little grows in the gloom beneath the conifers. Under the canopy of these tall slim trees is a thick acidic bed of pine needles. A few deciduous trees cling to life - ash, birch, and mountain ash - others have given up and fallen like a mega-game of 'pick-up-sticks'.

It's quite interesting here but I must say that after about 100m of this environment I'd had enough. By 50m in I'd decided that I'd be crushed by a falling tree in the next storm, nibbled by voles or starve to death if I found myself here post-apocalypse. Nothing for it then but to trudge on...
The conifers gave way - after what seemed like miles but in reality was only metres - to grassy broadleaf woodland, to oak and holly and, over a rickety fence, pastureland. I stroked this tree for a while. Just how often does one meet a woolly tree? Bless.

The way home - the easiest way home that is - was over the stream and up a logging path to the road. We're in shooting country here and young pheasants were in abundance, hanging around the release pens. I did my best not to alarm them too much, hating the idea of a wood-full of shrieking terrified birds taking off around my head. There were guinea fowl as well - a rasp? a confusion? - the watch dogs of the bird world and here to give voice if the fox comes too close I imagine. I crept around them too.
Finally there is a gate to the road and these bits of wood awaiting collection. Can anyone suggest a better collective name than 'Things wot to stand a Christmas tree up in'?

Yes, we have them here. In October. In Badnage Wood. Christmas is coming folks!

* 'Marton - The Story of a Shropshire Village' to be published spring 2010.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bird orchestra

6.43pm. Dusk, time to shut the hens in. Grey fleecy clouds puff about overhead. There is a gentle 'plip' or two as leaves fall from the sycamores in the dingle and my feet scuffle through those already fallen. Do I need a torch? I have one anyway.

In essence the evening is still, but what is that racket? Over in the dark conifers of Badnage Wood it sounds like a birdie riot has broken out. The panicky cries of a thousand pheasants going to roost and the metallic 'caws' and 'gronks' of rook and raven split the air. In the nano-seconds between screech, caw and gronk there's the merest 'whoo' of owl too. I listen carefully - this time to the sounds from the garden. The whistle of a wren in the logpile and unidentified tweets from titmice in the trees are delicate grace notes in this crazy bird symphony.

I listen up for the mew of a buzzard - but that's the sound of daytime and here we are at dusk. On some nights like this a vixen yelps too; an eerie, eerie sound that makes me shiver at the thought of the wildness out there.

We, who are so clever, think we have this world tamed, but even in this small corner the night is still a terrifying place for the denizens of field and forest; the prospect of sharp tooth and claw ever present.

I shut my hens in most carefully.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Catch it while you can...

Now you see it........and now you see through it.
...and probably tomorrow it will be gone. Flattened. A space where a shape used to be. Marton Village Hall, loved but unlovely; the scene of many happy memories for village folk. Can't really count myself amongst them but I do know what ghosts a musty, dusty space can muster.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A weekend in Harrogate

'Don't do it kids' we say, 'How d'ya know that the cyber chums you've chatted with over the months won't turn out to be axe murderers and/or perverts?' After all, tales of sweet young things being beguiled by horny old geezers off the internet are the stuff of legend.

We've all warned our children and yet here we are, not heeding our own advice.....

'Here' was Harrogate, for a weekend with a group of intelligent, witty and kind fellow bloggers who turn out to be as good company as anticipated. We are by no means strangers, having blogged about most things over the past 3 years - homes and families, the happy, the sad, the tragic and the embarrassing. Some of us have met already and have fitted faces and real names to avatars and blog titles but there are still some surprises; the little blond lady who should be tall and dark and the brunette I envisaged as a slinky blonde. No matter. Those names now have real faces and personalities.

There was a morning for shopping and an afternoon strolling through the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr where the the autumn colours were rich and glowing. (I resolved to try harder in my own garden.) So much to see, so much to do and so much left undone. I am now a Harrogate fan.

The wonderful Betty's Tea Room drew us like a magnet. SBS and I drank tea on arrival and drooled over the patisserie and Halloween treats in the window. We had tea and cakes at Betty's Tea House at Harlow Carr and finally, on Sunday morning back in Harrogate, indulged in a big Betty's breakfast accompanied by a tinkling piano. How very, very civilised.
Then all too soon it was time to zip back to Shropshire which basked in a gloriously sunny afternoon. Back in the reality of home it was as if the weekend had never been - as if it had existed only in the vague-ness of cyber-space.

Did it really happen? Was I really there? Well yes, and I have the little felt bracelet to prove it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Questing.

There's always something to be found out isn't there? This and that - and why?

In our case it's the line of a road, the shape of a field or that field's name that provide the clues and starting points.

A question.....and we're off, off on another quest.

Which is why, at the end of last week, my patient fellow sleuth and I were at the Powys County Archives in Llandridod Wells anticipating, if not answers, then some very good questions. Does that make sense? I don't think we actually know what we want to know - but what we discover will very well help us to find out. What a conundrum indeed.

The seat of government in Powys, while not exactly marble-halled, is a very fine building indeed. Modern and functional with nod to the grand hotel it replaced, its grounds landscaped with pools, pebbles, water spouts and luscious leafy planting. I am reminded in a small way of the visual might that the medieval cathedral builders achieved - huge and powerful edifices overshadowing the hovels of the peasantry in the surrounding countryside. There was and is, no doubt who was in control. We were not quite in the right place however - 'Reception' waved a vague Friday afternoon hand and directed us 'Over there - the flat building across the way'. We wandered 'over there' in the direction of a low brick-built building, perhaps the old gardeners' bothy, rang bells and were admitted. Is this it then? At first glance 'this' seems to be couple of desks with the instructions 'Pencils Only' sellotaped to them and a wall of books. There are some micro fiche and film readers too. Hopefully somewhere in the bowels of this place are the real treasures.

Well, there are and there aren't. Sadly we were not to get our mitts on anything original but fairly good photocopies were produced. Oh look, here it is: the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan circa 1844; The tithe map and accompanying schedule.

I'm vaguely disappointed - larger than the Vatican city but probably smaller than Andorra. Ambitious, avaricious and land grabbing? Moi? No definitely not - it's the most perfect little township a person could wish to see depicted. I recognise woods, lanes and field shapes - were I a bird or an angel flying over, then or now, I would know exactly where I was.

The field outside our bedroom window (currently home to convalescent cows and calves) and which we know as 'The Little Triangle Field' turns out to be formerly known as Wainhouse Meadow. Its neighbour is White Leasow and beyond that, Marlin Piece - descriptive names - as are Broomy Leasow, Brick kiln Piece, Pant y Maes (field in the valley/hollow) and the less prosaic Cow Pasture and Eight Acres. My garden is called 'Patch' - a name which holds true even now, 150 years later. It is just that, still defying more detailed definition.

The little farm whose barn we now live in comprised a little over 139 acres and tithes of £8 19s 6d were payable to the Rector of Worthen. But Wainhouse? Where was the 'wainhouse'? Hardly likely to be way up the field but neither do I think where I am sitting right now was a cart shed back in the day.....or what about the hovel Alan so lovingly reconstructed? Hardly big enough there either. So where? I think I need to keep looking. We leave with photocopies of photocopies to pore over on the long winter evenings.

So. I've spent a soothing half hour, pencil in hand putting names to numbers - wondering how much or how little is still known by those names. I obviously need to get out more. If only to ask farmers questions about field names....

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Magical moonlight with owls.

Tonight there is a full moon in a mackerel sky over the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. Owls too. Magic.
24 shots of magical moon - each one a bummer. Sigh.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On Toast.

The Toast catalogue dropped into our über cool stainless steel mailbox this morning. Kerplunk.

Anybody familiar with Toast? No, no, not the stuff you put under poached eggs or slather with marmalade. It's 'mail order' clothes and stuff; accessories for the home too in a nicely produced little booklet, silky to the touch and promising the benefits of the simple life for a king's ransom. Hard to categorise but Laura Ashley meets Johnny Boden perhaps. Country clothes I think but not for country sports - rather stuff for drifting wistfully and enigmatically in.

Flicking through the pages I fancied me a little dress - perfect with opaque tights and sturdy boots, a 'boyfriend' cardigan and leather bag; the perfect 'look' for rambles through crisp autumn leaves under cold clear skies. Then home, I imagined, to sit in front of a roaring fire snug in my sensible PJs, wrapped in a merino Braemar blanket before hopping into bed where a hot water bottle warms those candy striped sheets. Ah, bliss.....

I go online to buy the dress that will make my autumn perfect. It only takes a few clicks to discover that for some unfathomable reason it is currently available only in size 8. Sigh. I could never diet fast enough to get into that. Size 8 doesn't seem a very 'country' size - apart from elves and will 'o' the wisps us country gals are made of sturdier stuff.

I flick through the catalogue again - perhaps something else will take my eye. Something cosy for the home perhaps.

That candy-striped bed linen needles me slightly. It's the candy striped bed linen of my childhood. (Cosy flannelette from before the days of sparky-slidey-ezee-care Brentford Nylon sheets - another nightmare.) Except Toast's candy striped bed linen is made from organic cotton and has two rows of satin stitch on the pillow cases.

Slowly I begin to understand Toast. Like all the others it sells the dream. Is this one the shabby chic and country cottage dream? I've been here before though in my childhood homes - and don't get me wrong, they were the best of times - but the clothes (with the exception of my velvet party dress) were horrid and houses draughty.

Layers of wool and wellies, sheets, blankets and hot water bottles were necessities and not life-style choices. I'm not sure we did life-style choices back in the day, not in size 8 anyway. We've come a long way and I don't want to go back. Give me warmth and light and choice - lots of it.

But it doesn't stop me wanting part of that dream. A pair of felted wool slippers perhaps. If they have my size.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

That's entertainment.

The evening opens with the singing of Jerusalem. It appears to be the honky-tonk version and set in a key which only the reediest of voices will ever reach. No matter, voices soar enthusiastically - only to be lost in the vastness of Churchstoke Community Hall. It's a crudely lit barn of a place, all hard surfaces - acoustically awkward - a public space suitable for nothing in particular but accommodating the undiscerning masses. And here we were. Some 100 members of the WI at our annual group meeting, just waiting to be entertained. We are seated at little tables, each with a neat tablecloth and flower in a vase. Our flower is a fluorescent pink dahlia. As late comers my little group are ushered to the last remaining table. At the front. (Note to self: endeavour to arrive early in future. Those speakers are too close for comfort.)

Enter Idris and Geraint stage right.

Idris is 'the man in black' and Geraint, his side-kick, fills to overflowing a large polo shirt - 'the 'man in white'. Idris, by way of warming up his expectant audience, tells us an 'amusing' anecdote before launching into an indistinguished song with an allegedly infectious chorus. The ice has not yet been broken and the audience sit, for the most part, stony faced. They press on regardless - the stories become slightly more risqué, the songs more familiar and the audience a little more responsive.
It is hard to imagine a venue less atmospheric, less condusive to 'a good night out' than here - these two have their work cut out. Slowly however as the old favourites roll out the audience warm up and sensibly shod WI feet can be seen tapping. We're talking Country and Western here - with full orchestral backing courtesy of Geraint's sound system - song after song after song after song.

I am reminded of the time we lived in Westbury, where our back door and garden faced the village pub, The Lion. Friday night was music night - and we could enjoy every last note from the comfort of our own home. Fine sometimes after a glass of wine or three when feeling mellow - otherwise we would just shut the door. Tonight, door shutting was not an option.

No strong drink available either - just the prospect of tea or coffee during the interval when supper was served - the usual generous WI spread. I had a bowl of sherry trifle too - it's called comfort eating.

And there is a second half. There is more of this to endure. Second only to compulsory hockey this is my notion of hell. I know. I know. I know I'm a po-faced party pooper - and why, you might ask, have I imposed this upon myself? Duty. Next year will be Marton's turn to organise a group meeting and we'll be hoping for some support in return. Quid pro quo and all that. I am now looking for an escape route - this organisation and I should part company - but that damned sense of duty and commitment keeps getting in the way. Humph.

Second half. Compose face into semblance of goodwill and interest even when Geraint treats us to 'Ole Man River' and 'Sonny Boy'. He's a mellifluous growler (I'm sure there is a musical term to describe the depth of his voice) who would give Al Johnson a run for his money.

Finally - there is a finally - they sing 'Delilah' - hugely popular with the audience. The irony of the song's closing line.....'I just couldn't take any more' - was for me at least most apt.

We leave. The night is cold and clear. And silent. For this I give thanks.

Monday, September 21, 2009

History

History's been preying on my mind a bit lately, what with the deadline for the village history book creeping ever closer, then closer and closer until suddenly it's been and gone.

History - it seems is stuff one knows, is sure of - but ha! perversely every known fact is like an island in a sea of uncertainty. For each bit we know there is something which remains a mystery. I wish we could just go back for the afternoon - to the c17th for example - just to find out what it really was like. No chance of that though - I'm stuck firmly in the here-and-now with a to-do list that appears to multiply like an evil bacteria.

Two years ago we put an exhibition together, D & I, and the inevitable question was - what to do with all the information we'd amassed? A book was the obvious answer and since then D has written thousands of words and I've chipped in with my two-penn'th of photos and maps. We've cajoled a friend into doing us some line drawings to illustrate those periods where only the imagination can now describe what life was like.

We've delivered, on time, to our publisher - giving him words and pictures on memory sticks, which somehow seem too small to hold the span of four millennia our book embraces.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A home for the little yellow tractor

The menfolk are building a field shelter - it's looking impressive already.

I may soon be able to reclaim my car space in the garage and all those ugly plastic wrapped stacks of timber that are dotted around my garden can be hidden from view.

Orders taken.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The word of the week....

...was 'scutter'.

Our Mancunian construction site son made good use of it last week while we were in Greece and it has sort of ear-wormed itself into my head. It's a good descriptive word. I like it.

I'd assumed it was Mancunian construction site argot for general detritus; the sort of stuff that gets littered on pavements and table tops, bits of tacky Car Boot tat - that sort of thing. My cryptic crossword brain would like to think it was an amalgam of scuzzy and clutter. It would make sense wouldn't it?

However, nowhere can I find it defined in that way; contributors to my favourite Urban Dictionary use it as a derogatory term to describe the unwashed, couch-potato low-life at the bottom of the social scale - and even to describe a part of the male anatomy which rarely sees the sun. The OED notes it as a variant of 'scurry', to run or move hurriedly often with short brisk steps. Bor - ring. I feel imperious today and declare it to mean 'bits of tat'.

I rolled the word around my tongue a number of times in Greece; we were on Paxos, an island so picture postcard pretty that one would think the word 'scutter' could never apply. It does, however, have a rough and ready, unsophisticated quality which is part of its charm. Up north they'd say 'there's no side to it' - meaning unpretentious. It's not a place to strut and swagger but a place to stroll and be one's comfortable self. I feel the luxurious yachts and floating gin palaces that occasionally tie up in the little harbour at Loggos are slumming it and that their natural habitat would be the more flashy moorings of somewhere like Puerto Banus or Marbella.

Paxos is slightly scruffy, so sometimes it is best to look at the bigger picture and ignore the small detail; take in the turquoise Ionian, the pretty fishing villages and the hills with their columnar Cypress trees and twisted Olives. Let's gloss over the defunct olive oil presses and the crumbling boats abandoned up in the olive groves, the unfinished building projects and the abandoned old houses disappearing back into the rocky soil. Sadly there is litter too - and litter is completely without charm. Why, I wondered as my eyes left a magical panorama and caught a glimpse of the rubbish heaved into a deep ravine, why lob your rubbish down here? A rusting moped. Builders' rubble. Cans and bottles. A shoe. A fridge door and an olive oil can. Sigh. Get that scutter shifted.

Anyway. Can't complain about much else. Our week away was just what the doctor ordered and hot, hot, hot. A couple of quick thunderstorms refreshed the air and provided a few moments of drama as people ran for cover and taverna owners lifted tables and chairs in out of the rain. Otherwise we could just bask in the sun or snorkel and swim. Look at that blue sea. Look at that blue sky.

We noticed few changes - Loggos has a new litter bin! A couple of the older folk and their antiquated 3-wheel vehicles were missing. Perhaps now they prefer to sit and sip their ouzo at home.
Good food and drink once again, but oh dear, things were expensive. I know the euro is almost on a par with the pound but prices seemed to have risen too. We bought the usual can of olive oil from the 'shop' in Gaios, which as well as the vast vats of oil sells cigarettes, wine and a few spirits from its gloomy cave-like interior. The oil has quite a distinctive flavour - too heavy for mayonnaise but a treat for a dressing to remind ourselves of summer's sunnier days. We find ourselves dipping wedges of the crusty, chewy local bread into it and savouring the heavy, almost smokey, taste - and feeling fairly guilt-free about this indulgence.
That's it now - we're home - glad to arrive back to a few days of sunshine which eased our passage from Ionian isle to Welsh hilltop. Today is cold and I have lit the Aga, a small task which seems to sign off summer for us.

We're back to our usual tasks. The Glamorous Assistant is making great progress with his field shelter. More of that later....

The biggest fungus in Trelystan

What a whopper - as my dainty Birkenstocked foot, included in the picture for scale, shows.

This monster and a number of lesser monsters have sprung up around the base of our beech trees. My Glam.Ass. reached for his big book of Mushrooms and Toadstools and is now fairly certain it is Trametes versicolor. This is not good news. Firstly it is in the section dedicated to extremely poisonous varieties and is accompanied by a natty skull and crossbones symbol. Secondly he has decided it may sound the death knell for our trees as it prefers to live on dead wood.

Here we have another example of our differing outlooks on life. G.A. sees the tree as dying while I continue to see it flourishing, ie Not Dead Yet for Heaven's Sake.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Well known phrases and sayings - No. 5

The one I have in mind is 'As happy as a pig in shit', but if you are of a sensitive nature and easily offended, ignore that and go for 'Like the cat that's got the cream'.

In this case it's: 'like the man who got his tractor'. If I known that was all it would take to put a smile on his face I'd have lined up a fleet of them years ago.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The ubiquitous pea

This week we have mostly been eating peas. We lurch from glut to glut of vegetables, pressing whatever is in abundance on friends, neighbours and family while eating and storing whatever we can ourselves. A large basket of peas have been sitting in the pantry. They have lost their first tender, sweetness but are not yet cannonballs.

Last night Somebody did remember to get the fish out of the freezer - but that same Somebody then put the same fish into the coldest recess of the fridge thus preventing thawing. What to eat?

A quick bit of thinking came up with pea soup and as a penance Somebody was instructed to get busy podding. Podded peas were tossed into a pan with a butter-softened onion. Some sprigs of mint, scraps of bacon and some chicken stock from the freezer were added and it soon cooked up. A whizz in the food processor produced a slightly textured and gorgeously pea-green (of course) soup. Here's the finished product:

How hard it is to make a bowl of pea soup look appetising. Despite my very best endeavours I can only achieve something that looks like a primordial swamp. Looks are deceiving though and this melange of garden peas, a sprig of mint and its garnish of crispy lardons and dollop of crême fraiche was The Business.

We ate well. Soup can be very filling can't it?

The ubiquious pea?

Many years ago I had a part time job as barmaid/waitress in our local pub. Both myself and the pubs owners, while experienced pullers of pints were absolute beginners in the catering business. But never mind, they put together a fine menu featuring the popular dishes of the day - Prawn Cocktail, Soup-of-the-Day, Steak and Chips, Gammon and Chips, Gammon, Egg and Chips, Ham Salad and Chicken Salad. Desserts were the likes of Sherry Trifle and Black Forest Gateau. (You can probably date this work experience from the menu items can't you?) The vegetable - every last serving - was the Garden Pea. I took an order one evening from a very arch lady who asked me what the vegetables were. Perhaps she was hoping for exotica not yet known in north Oxfordshire.

'Peas' I replied.

'Ah', she responded with something of a sneer, 'The Ubiquitous Pea.'

I scurried back to the kitchen with their order. I had a vague idea of the meaning of 'ubiquitous' but Dot, who was doing the cooking, hadn't a clue. We got her daughter's mini-dictionary out, Just To Check. 'Found everywhere' apparently. How we laughed.

Not in any way a particularly amusing tale, more an explaintion of why peas for me will always, each and everyone of them, have the soubriquet 'ubiquitous'.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It ain't half hot (Mum)

Today saw Trelystan's inaugural pizza-fest. I let the bread machine make the dough, knocked up a couple of salads and let the men folk do man things with charcoal and fire. They made good pizza.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.....