Saturday, May 09, 2009

A few snaps from the album...an opportunity to mention yet another arcane method of stock keeping.

It's been a thin week for news up here in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. No royal visits, no dubbing of knights, no ambassadors to appoint, no Great Seals to apply; in fact little to entertain the passing reader. The national asparagus season has started and the national poultry flock has settled into its new enclosure and continues to lay well. The wind has blown mightily and I am fed up with it. The hens are too. I sit and 'twiddle my thumbs' - and rather than investigate the roots of that well-known phrase or saying, I decide to dip into my Big Box of Potential Blogs......

......I pull out a family holiday in which we fetch up, in 1982, in Cantabria in the shadow of the Picos de Europa, in the lush green pasture lands between the mountains and the breakers on the Atlantic coast. A far cry from the tourist meccas of southern Spain, this is the Costa Verde where Spaniards from Madrid come to spend summer away from the searing heat of the interior. We have loaded the car and driven to Plymouth and taken the ferry to Santander. That car is a BMW and I've always had the impression that A would prefer to have taken to the open road without its cargo of small children (3 under 5 years) and their paraphernalia. This will not be the last of our driving holidays though so it can't have been too bad. In retrospect I think how brave we were to boldly go....Anyway, our destination, Barcenaciones is described in a small ad as 'A Different Spain'. Our home for a fortnight was a fairly modern house in a fairly old village; the busy highway which linked Santander and Santiago de Compostela and the town of Torrelavega only a short distance away. My memories of our fortnight there are still reasonably vivid and I remember more when prompted by the photograph album. We visit the Pilgrims' destination of Santiago de Compostella and the shrine of St James, where we see ancient buildings with shell motifs. We drive up into the hills to see the prehistoric art at Puente Viesgo in caves which have been used by man for at least 150,000 years; we marvel at the drawings and marks of prehistoric man. They are strangely moving. We go up several thousand metres in a cable car somewhere in the Picos de Europa - our red car becomes a distant dot below us as the verdant valley is left behind and we sway upwards in a little glass and steel box to a cafe and visitor centre perched at the summit. I'd had the presence of mind to put a bonnet, mitts and bootees in my bag for my pink and hairless baby - a ludicrous thought at ground level - but a necessity at the top where icy blasts threatened to whip us off our feet and snow still nestled in shaded nooks. The alpine flowers were exquisite.

Those excursions were the highlights. We'll gloss over losing a child in a supermarket and forgetting the baby in another - we did get them both back and only feel minor guilt at letting go of little hands and pushchair handles. We did a lot of strolling about and sitting in the sunshine while the toddlers splashed in the tiny paddling pool we bought to amuse them. Caves, mountains and cockle shells mean little to small children and they would probably been quite as happy in the back garden at home in Heaton Moor.The locals were friendly. The lady from the Big House, our landlady, invited us for sherry - which we sipped while keeping a nervous eye on her numerous objets and the fingers of our inquisitive children. Our small fair haired children were themselves objects of curiosity amidst the dark youngsters of the village. Baby Harry was coo-ed over and his appearance prompted the little village girls to fetch out their baby dolls for the evening paseo. I was reminded frequently by old ladies to keep him wrapped up even though the poor mite seemed on the verge of getting heat rash on his heat rash.

The little village centred round a small dusty square where life carried on as it must have done for centuries. A dusty, ever so slightly grimy shop, hung with hams (around which several flies motored wearily,) was its focal point. The shop's proprietor, a laconic chain smoker, also collected the village's milk which would then be taken to a central dairy and turned into the milk based products which were the speciality of the region. Bearing in mind the lackadaisical hygiene I hoped pasteurisation was part of the process....

Outside, rangy cattle were driven twice daily to the stream to drink and then returned to their cool dark quarters beneath their keeper's own accommodation. Their fodder was cut elsewhere and brought to them on laden carts - a process known as 'soilage' - the bringing of green crops for penned livestock.Cutting fodder as and when it was needed gave the landscape the look of a piece of textured patchwork as each 'farmer' just mowed the day's ration - grass was even taken from the verges too, a precise art in which little was wasted. All this I learned afterwards from my father who knew about such things. I found it interesting then and find it interesting still. I wonder if cattle are still kept like this nearly 30 years later? We came home, watched the sun tans fade and got the photos developed. The snaps went into album no.3, along with a handful of dried flowers from the top of a peak and some post cards of prehistoric bison. It was all a long time ago and those photos, like my memories have emerged slightly foxed and golden.

Enough of the past. I'm off to plant tomatoes.

6 comments:

Totty Teabag said...

My more recent memories of cattle in the Picos involve watching a helicopter airlift in fodder to a herd wandering the alp around Lago de Encina. Keep an eye on Wednesday Water....LOL

elizabethm said...

I love that photo of your boys, what perfect expressions and pretty cool sunglasses!

Pondside said...

I think it's good to take the time now and again to flip through the pages of albums, especially when children have grown and left home - one needs a reminder that one really did take those labour-intensive holidays and that the children had a charmed childhood. In my case, to remember that I wasn't always harried and hurried and that there were endless sunny days of doing nothing but being with the little ones.

Fennie said...

Cantabria is where I have always wanted to go. There and to Galicia.
You sound as if you really enjoyed the trip. It brought back memories of when the children were that sort of age and packing them into a very aged but capacious Mercedes and trundling down through France. We always camped being continually penniless despite the impression that the Mercedes might give (at was 1966 for heaven's sake!)

Glad all is well at Trelystan. Here the wind has scorched all the pear leaves leaving them with nasty black edges as if they had been burnt.

KittyB said...

No news is good news...
hens and asparagus and all here too, and nothing exciting happening.
LOVE that pic of your boys. Perfect!

Zeno Cosini said...

Some good "before they were famous"-style shots of the old Eyechild here - particularly like the gun and sunglasses look. Keep 'em coming