Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good Days/Bad Days.

There are good days and there are bad not-so-good days. Today has been one of the latter.

Example of a Good Day:

...the trio of bantams are found a new home.

...a holiday in the sun is booked. Effortlessly.

...the hens lay 8 eggs.

...the sun shines. The snow twinkles and glitters. Later the moon is full.

...the lovely H & S arrive to stay for the night with only a minor weather related hiccup. Hurrah!

Example of a Bad Day

...the Glam Ass. phones from Oswestry en route to Chester. He is in a blizzard and advises Taking Great Care. Also be warned, Leighton Bank - our local icy hazard - is passable but only with more Great Care. Note bene.

...the Glam Ass. phones from Chester where the fan belt has broken on his pick-up, leaving him without brakes or various other essential bits of a working engine. The pick-up has been driven slowly and with great care to Kwit Fit for repairs which cannot be done until Monday at the earliest. The Glam Ass. is left without a vehicle and must catch a train back to either Shrewsbury or Welshpool. Will I pick him up at the station? Of course. He spends his 3 hour icon painting class contemplating either his misfortune in having a crock of a car or good fortune in having a helpful wife.

...the snow clouds which dumped on Oswestry move south to the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. Our blanket of snow get an inch thicker. We decide to move H & S's Punto off the mountain while we are still able - and from here on in things go horribly wrong....

...we go in convoy - making quite a good start. No problems with the Audi but the Punto gets stuck on a slope, slithering all over the show. I park up and come to help. Snow has fallen on ice and is now compacted. I fall on my arse. Oomf!

I had broken the No.1 rule learned at my father's knee; always carry a shovel. I had a bag of dog food, 9 Sainsbury's 'Bags for Life' and emergency Werthers but nothing to shift gravel with. Amazingly Powys had topped up the grit heaps and hands make great impromtu shovels. Thanks to the kind family who whizzed up efficiently in their Subaru Impreza and joined in the fun. We would have been there yet. And so would they as we were blocking the road.

...We go down the Stubb - a route which, due to being sheltered by a plantation of conifers, can usually be relied on to be fairly ice free. We creep down over another layer of snow over ice. Oh dear - while the Audi creeps down, in my rear view mirror I see the Punto sliding, sliding, sliding, sideways, sideways and...Boomph! it hits the bank and bounces to hit the verge on the other side and come to rest neatly across the road. This is not good. I park and walk up the hill to erm, survey the damage.

...I fall on my arse. Ooof!

...Everyone curses a lot.

...Phone most excellent neighbours who turn out to help - although by this time H has managed to move the car and edge it down the slope to another layby from where I think he doesn't want to move it until at least mid-summer. Our neighbours slither into view, almost repeating the Punto's manoeuvre but luckily ending up in a passing place at the side of the road. There is much discussion about how to proceed - eventually H creeps down the hill further until he is on relatively solid ground.

...Meanwhile another car come slithering down the Stubb and with inexorable precision, at the very last moment, slithers and slides and twists and with a mighty BANG! goes wham into the back of our neighbour's car - and comes to rest neatly across the road, bumper flapping. 'This' says the driver 'is the last thing I need.'

...We all survey our respective damaged vehicles. What sorry sights. A wounded Punto, Suzuki and a Vauxhall. I can't speak for anyone else but know that I was thinking that a journey which should have taken a maximum of 15 minutes was now complicated beyond belief with the prospect of insurance companies and body shops - how I wish I could have turned the clock back. I am so sad it happened. Our neighbours were sanguine about the whole affair and commented 'The main thing is nobody was hurt' - and that's true and worth remembering.

...Remembered to go and collect the Glam Ass. from the train station. Come down from the Long Mountain into the valleys on either side and find, while not exactly tropical, the roads and fields are clear. It is hard to believe that snow has fallen. Enjoy the sensation of being on terra firma/tarmac. Home, however is at the top of the hill and only reached by crossing those icy lanes again. I went very, very, carefully and once in decided to stay put.

This was not a particularly good day -  do hope yours was better.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An irresistable urge


Today it's hardly enticing is it - the world from my window? A general murkiness not enhanced by, ahem, my mucky windows. (Though why I alone should apparently feel so guilty about them when two us live here and two of us look out if them I don't know...etc etc)

Badnage wood is in the distance; its whispering conifers hardly moving on this dank afternoon. The famous hen-house-on-wheels is at a crazy angle mid picture behind the trees. The Glam Ass's latest shed - which we will call 'The Field Shelter' is to the right. In the foreground the usual garden things as seen in winter; a desolate border, a shabby lawn and a nascent crinkle-crankle hornbeam hedge which on reflection would have been better grown in yew. Out of view to the right are bird feeders which attract a fantastic variety of birds which eat a fantastic amount of nuts, seeds and fatballs. Whoever observed that British birds are mostly boring little brown jobs is wrong, wrong, wrong. Our garden birds are a delight; flashes of gold and green, red, blue, black and white dart into view as I sit, usually open-mouthed, gazing out of this window. I tot up finches; Gold, Green and, Chaff. Blue tit, Great, Coal and Marsh tit too. Brambling, Siskin, Thrush, Blackbird,  Sparrow, Jay, Magpie and damned, blasted pillaging Pheasants. Today they are the spots of colour - and how welcome is the patch of red on the Woodpecker in this subdued landscape.

I need to be out there. Enticing it may not be, but nonetheless I find myself drawn into the garden to stand and look - just to be there for heaven's sake. I scuff my feet amongst the leaf mould, kick the boards of the raised beds, make plans, haul out a weed or two and blow on my freezing fingers. It is still bitterly cold up here on the mountain but something is stirring in me and, although not very obviously, in the land too. There are bulbs forcing their way up towards light, and catkins, still tight, are on the hazel boughs. They are not like lamb's tails yet - another month before I see them dance in the breeze and shake their golden pollen to the wind.  The evenings are lighter - and I am willing them to be lighter still, sooner and sooner - but know that this will take its predetermined time.  We have a way to go yet.

I've ordered seeds, they will arrive and some I will plant very soon. I will, I will.

In the meantime my gardening is on paper. I plan my crop rotations, promise to try harder, buy fewer plants, make more from less. The year ahead is filled with so much promise and I can hardly contain my excitement. It is only January for heaven's sake. What will I be like in April?

I see sleet is forecast for Friday. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eggs


Either we've got a tray of extremely large eggs here - laid by some monstrous birds and which dwarf  the smaller, 'normal' one,  or the bantams have started laying. I'll go for the latter option. We have one titchy egg - so one of the little Rhode Island Red bantams is laying. Well done that bird. Hurrah! How long before the other 4 decide to follow suite?

I'm not going to make my fortune selling these little eggs am I? What I will do is make dainty, stylish and bijoux Scotch eggs. They will feed fairies and not farmers and be the envy of the nibbling classes.

Psst! I have a trio (2 pullets and a cockerel) of these handsome bantams looking for a new home. Could deliver...but within reason folks.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spanish sunshine?

What better way to shake off January's gloom than to make marmalade? Seville oranges, unbelievably bitter and fit for little else but cooking up with sugar, are in the shops now. No apologies for lots of orange pictures - I'm thinking sunshine and soaring spirits.I have great fun juicing, paring and slicing. I add lemons and water and put the pan over a low light. As it warms the house becomes imbued with the tang of Sevilles. Christmas may have its own scents and flavours; a jam pan of marmalade oranges is January for me.Simmer for a long time - slowly to release pectin and soften the bitter peels. (Make a face like a cat's arse when you have a bite to see if they are tender enough) Eeeurgh! Add sugar ('Silver Spoon') and feel particularly proud that it is sugar produced by British Farmers in East Anglia. Toss in a small knob of butter, turn up the light and we're off.....Have more great fun dissolving and stirring, making whirls and vortexes. Enjoy the dancing light through fragrant steam. Great stuff. Remember I am making marmalade so put a stop to all that arty stuff and get the pan-ful boiling ferociously.

The next 20 minutes or so are always pretty stressful. Will it? Won't it? Set that is - will I end up with syrup or toffee? These days it's generally OK but there are always those moments of doubt. This season my 5.5lbs of oranges have yielded nearly 18lbs of marmalade. I'm quite satisfied with the way it has set but if somebody can tell me how to get the peel to distribute itself evenly throughout the jar without a long session poking with a chopstick I would be happier still.

Any suggestions? A reward of toast and marmalade for the best suggestion.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Secrets of the ice-age revealed...

Children today, they don't know they're born - take birthday parties for example. Parties now take the form of visits and entertainment - indulgence, extravagance and expense. When I was a child (which now seems a horribly long time ago) a party wasn't a party without regimented games and a sit-down tea, the high spot of which was probably jelly and ice cream. Fun? What had fun got to do with it? Over-excitement, being sick and disappointment, yes. But fun. Unlikely.

Those games; I remember Musical Chairs, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Simon Says, Blind Man's Bluff and a curious affair in which each child would follow a trail of wool wound all around the house; around chair legs, between banisters, under tables and through doors until at the end of its length a tiny gift would be found. Imagine 20 small children each with a piece of tangled wool to unravel and only a boiled sweet to look forward to at the end...and that was a bonus. These were the days before Pass the Parcel contained a present in every layer and the game is carefully manipulated so each child gets a prize. Back then there was just the one prize at the end, usually won by the biggest, boldest and pushiest child. Like it or lump it. And lump it we probably did.

One of these games came to mind this morning as I went about my hen feeding. Who remembers 'Kim's Game'? I think it stems from the early days of scouting and was intended to improve memory and observational skills. From Wikipedia I learn it was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's story 'Kim' and taken up by Scouting's founder Robert Baden Powell:

'The Scoutmaster should collect on a tray a number of articles - knives, spoons, pencil, pen, stones, book and so on - not more than about fifteen for the first few games, and cover the whole over with a cloth. He then makes the others sit round, where they can see the tray, and uncovers it for one minute. Then each of them must make a list on a piece of paper of all the articles he can remember… The one who remembers most wins the game.'

This morning it is as if somebody has whipped that cloth away. The snow has all but gone overnight and the landscape is revealed. For nearly a month the ground has been covered in either frost or snow; it's never really gone up here at the end of the Long Mountain. We've gazed out at a not unpleasant monochrome vista - the monotony of black, white and shades between broken now and then by clear blue skies or the twinkling of ice crystals.

This morning though I spy green - much green - which while I knew it was there comes as quite a surprise - there is so much of it. I also spy lots of little details which I'd forgotten about, masked as they were under many inches of snow. Leeks, parsnip and cabbage - bowed but not broken; the glaucous snouts of early bulbs pushing through still frozen soil; onions and garlic; the galvanised hen trough I lost track of. Look - there are needles from a bit of pre-Christmas tree trimming (December 18th) and the grit we threw down in the first ice age just before New Year. These details emerge, hardly important like finding a woolly mammoth, but little snippets testing the memory.

But look at this - in my photograph the thaw has defined the ridge and furrow in the field we now call the Church Field - for obvious reasons, it sits below St Mary's Church - but was once known as Broomy Leasow. For me the real revelation is in the foreground and what appears to be more of the same - but it is possible these plough lines may be of more recent date.
I'm off now to take a good look around me while I have the opportunity - I hear rumours that heavy snow is forecast for Wednesday and my landscape may well be under wraps once again.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nasty

Wet out. Horrid underfoot - mixture of mush and black ice. Actually quite interesting if you don't have to drive or schlepp buckets of water to beleagured poultry, are still wearing wellies and get some perverse pleasure in the rhythmic drip of water from a down spout.

A day then to catch up with stuff:

....programme the new cordless phones for example. How come I was suddenly the only person left in the room when this job came up for grabs? It's a horrid, fiddly task which I force myself to do conscientiously - knowing that I will only curse sometime down the line when a number is incorrect. I am not very good at checking and my 'number blindness' is not helped by a particularly bad numeric display and the phone I am using as reference switching itself off in between keying in numbers. It takes a little under 2 hours.

...buy the Glam. Ass. some train tickets. We (I) tried this yesterday online. I learned a lot about buying railway tickets yesterday. It could be my specialist subject. Online was, for whatever reason, inaccessible so we (I) took the telephone route. There will be, providing we can intercept the postie - who is loathe to come either up or down the lane - plenty of time to get tickets posted to us. Firstly we (I) have to overcome the first obstacle - interrogation by voice recognition. This is actually pretty impressive and the robot which poses the questions I imagine to be a pretty cool dude. Pretty cool dude though gets pretty confused when Wilson barks and is unable to interpret woofs as answers. I give up and try again. And again. It appears when I eventually get to talk to a person and go over my details again that all bookings are outsourced to India. The unfailing courteous ticket-wallahs tell me it will not be possible to get tickets posted to me in time....all of this takes a little under 2 hours. I wail and lose the will to live. Later I log on to the Wrexham - Shropshire - Marylebone Railway's website. This is surely the nicest of all possible train routes; it stops in Shrewsbury and its online service exemplary . I buy a ticket on line - I print it out and all my passenger will have to do is turn up with this sheet of A4 paper. Job done. 5 mins. Brill.

...I pick up the nasty knitting. I have at last got together 2 fronts, 1 back and two sleeves. Before I knit the waist band and ties - it is a sort of wrap/cardigan - I must sew it together. This is a job which has been on the go for a couple of years. I just don't love it but I'm damned if it's going to beat me now. The yarn looked so beguiling in the wool shop window; as did the finished garment artfully draped to tempt would-be knitters. I was hooked. I think it took casting on for me to suspect that I wasn't going to enjoy knitting it up - it's been a bugger. Slippery, slithery on the needles, unyielding, prone to catching on rough fingers - can't find a good point. Curiously after sewing it together it does have a little more substance and perhaps, just perhaps, it and I have a future.

..and right now, running between ceiling and floor above my head is a mouse. Not good. Maybe not nasty, but not good.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Honest Scrap

OK. That's it. No more snow. Have had enough and decided that if I ignore it, perhaps it will go away.

But what to blog about - the white stuff has been quite handy as a topic over the last 2 weeks hasn't it?
Well, I've had a rootle around in my Big Box of Potential Blogs and come up with a meme. Poor thing, bestowed, started weeks ago and now sadly neglected - the Honest Scrap award deserves better than this. It was the gift of Kari L√łnning, a maker of sculptural baskets whose blog makes me think long and hard about the potential of rattan. Kari also has the most beautiful garden which she insists, in colonial fashion, is called a 'yard'. Both baskets and plants are covetable. Visit and see for yourselves.

This is what I must do: list 10 honest things about myself - hopefully interesting ones - and then tag 7 other bloggers. I've seem to have done so many of these that finding another few interesting facts might prove difficult but a woman of my, ahem, mature years surely has a few secrets to divulge.....What a pot-pourri of trivia this is going to be. Sigh.

1. Food: I try and buy local. My criteria are firstly from my garden and neighbourhood - local producers, then in descending order, county, country, 'Kingdom', Europe, northern hemisphere, world, outer space etc. You get my drift. Here's the honest bit - sometimes a girl has to eat a green bean. In January.

2. Travel: Honest fact: my first bicycle - or to be exact tricycle - was named Twinkie (Do Not Laugh Or Else). It was fab. I loved it. Can't decide if that is a smile or a grimace in the photograph...3. However - what I really wanted was not Twinkie but a similar model with a great carrier thingy on the back. Twinkie only had a weedy little satchel. I knew this at 5 years old but have never been image conscious since.

4. The last bicycle I owned was a birthday present from the Glam.Ass (when he was less of an Ass. and more of wage slave). It was the most macho of mountain bikes - the sort of things that didn't go round street lamps but up, over and down the other side. I wanted a 'ladies shopper' with a basket on the front. This was back in the days of wearing skirts and the sturdy macho-machine had a cross-bar - but there were all sorts of reasons for not being entirely comfortable about it. I owned it for all of 30 minutes perhaps and then suggested it might be better for one of the boys. Perhaps not one of my better suggestions.

5. A long time ago I painted this picture, along with many others - it's 'A Peaceable Kingdom' inspired by Edward Hicks. I do not know where they all went to. They sold. I would quite like to buy one back for old times sake. Would I paint like this now? I really don't know.
'The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.' (Isaiah 11.6)
Not happening yet is it?

6. Favourite flowers: Snowdrop - Galanthus nivalis
. Such hope and purity in their early flowers. I see their stubby ash-green shoots breaking through winter's cold sod and irrationally hear the words of Dylan Thomas:
'The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.'

7. I'm pretty good at ideas. I love ideas. Expansive ideas. Ideas so big that the Glam. Ass. usually turns a deaf ear. I am useless at carrying things out - am bored by the small detail. My head tells me I've done it and is interesting only in moving on.

8. My first garden? A square yard of soil behind a cottage in Warwickshire. I suspect I planted Nastursiums, Poppies and Pansies and then lost interest. Many years later I begged a patch of land behind my flat in Stockport and planted it - only to have some twat nick the cabbages....undeterred each subsequent space has become more personal and more confident. My garden here, carved out of cow pasture is still in its infancy but I am getting enormous pleasure seeing bare-rooted things (otherwise known as plants) become solid and sculptural shapes.

9. I truly believe that nothing is ordinary. Look carefully at the world around you and discover wonders in the most unexpected places. Lift stones, draw back curtains, turn pages. Stop looking at what everyone else looks at and go for the unexpected.

10. As far as science goes I am an ignoramus. This is nothing to be proud of. I was of a generation at school where the sheep were separated from the goats so to speak - the arts people from the scientists. Biology and Geography somehow got incorporated into my timetable but physic and chemistry will forever remain a mystery. I am a stranger to some very basic facts and feel that now is probably too late to start picking them up.

I should at this point nominate 7 other bloggers for this Honest Scrap Award but think that there can hardly be anyone left in the universe who hasn't by now had a stab at it - so I throw it up for grabs. If you fancy 10 honest paragraphs, now's your chance.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why we ain't goin' nowhere

The little figure on the right is my Glam.Ass. - all 6' 2" of him in his wellied feet. He's standing in the lane under some of the mighty drifts which are once again proving impenetrable. The road is mostly blocked at our end of the Long Mountain. We can't get out and only those with the inclination and a big tractor can get in. Struggle through the drifts, slither over packed snow, skate on ice and with luck arrive unscathed on lower ground where normal service has been resumed. Or so I am told. Rumours of passable roads in a temperate valley may be exaggerated, be mere travellers' tales. I have not been out for days. Properly out that is; the thrice daily trudge to the poultry, cocooned in multi-layered clothes like a Russian peasant doesn't count.

Frankly the novelty is wearing a bit thin.

Apologies for the poor picture quality - white on white and poor light levels needed more tweaked settings than my frozen fingers could muster.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

In the lanes the snow is glistenin' etc

What a fantastic day it has been up here - if you like snow that is. Snowfall in the night has added to that which already covered the fields and a brisk wind has crafted drifts into fantastic swirling sculptural shapes. Unfortunately these block the lane. No matter that the snowplough came by first thing or that John came to the stock on a mighty tractor shortly afterwards - the way is closed again now.
It seemed a particularly good excuse to wear my New Christmas Hat. I must say it is everything a girl could want from a hat - thanks to son D for this most excellent present. How like an extra from a Welsh production of Dr Zhivago I look standing in the lane amongst the snowy hills. Perhaps a Troika would be a good idea to haul me through the lanes - although a tractor might be better.

Tonight though we'll go nowhere. We'll hunker down in splendid isolation and draw on our own resources in a quiet white world.

Pictures below from yesterday - a landscape distilled to black and white and shades between. Click to get a better look. Less is more methinks.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Winter wonderland?

Tucked somewhere in the middle of this white-out is the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan; photographed this morning at hen-letting-out time. It was bleak indeed and the swirling snow and bitter cold made every small task a burden taking twice as long. Walk carefully over compacted snow which has turned to ice and is now covered with snow again. Slip and slither. Carry water from the house up to the field and fumble with gates and catches with slow fingers. Doors which won't open and doors which won't shut. Grrr. Chase the dog off the bird food. (Fat balls. Yum, yum.) Winter wonderland eh?

Husband stumps off in the direction of the gas tank. Blimey, talk about the milk jug being half empty. He declares in doom-laden tones 'It's down to the red line'. I remain chipper in my usual 'cream jug half full mode' but secretly think 'oooh-er!' and make plans for hay box cooking and washing using very small amounts of water boiled over a candle.

Are these desperate times and do they need desperate measures? I am trying not to think of John Christopher's 'The World in White' in which society breaks down as icebergs choke the Thames and block the Strand. We have 3 inches of ice on some of our paths already. Ostrich-like I conclude there is not much we can do about the weather is there?

We're still comparative newcomers up here at the end of the Long Mountain, with only 4 years under our belts, so perhaps have not experienced all that country life can throw at us. What we once thought of as a remote and distant place we now see as familiar and close to 'civilisation' - the fleshpots of Welshpool are only a 10 minute drive away after all. Visitors never fail to ask though: 'What's the weather like in the winter then? Do you get snowed in?' It's as if they imagine the narrow lanes and rolling hills beckoning cold fronts, falling temperatures and winter's worst, shouting 'Bring it on!'

'It's been OK' we reply, because it has been.

Perhaps this season however will match the winter of '47, a year which has entered local lore as the year when the mountain really was snowed in for weeks on end. Snow drifting in filled the lanes to a height of perhaps 10ft, making them impassible. There were no mighty tractors or 4-wheel drives to drive a way through then. People stayed put and did the best they could, hauling fodder to sheep and eking out feed for both man and beast, helping a neighbour by a trudge across the hill. We are told, by a farmer's wife 'some women didn't get down off the hill for 10 weeks'. 10 weeks. That, I think is an interesting piece of social history in itself - perhaps not to be delved into here - a story of self-sufficiency, isolation and loneliness and then with spring, re-emergence, blinking into the world. How did they cope? Or is the notion of coping just a present-day weakness? Perhaps this is the story of mountain people the world over - does it really matter about the height of one's mountain?

Tonight it is snowing again. 'Snow is falling snow on snow' in the words of Christina Rossetti's In the Bleak Mid-winter. Snow over ice in fact, meaning another perilous day on the roads tomorrow. I suspect we will not be as affected as badly as some parts of the country. At the back of my mind I am humming 'April come she will'.

In view of the impending gas tank crisis I have turned the thermostat down a notch although the Glam. Ass. has amended his reading of the dial to 'Nearly on the red - 30% left'. The log burner is lit too and we have a good supply of wood. There is no need to go anywhere.

Hope you keep safe and warm too.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Once in a blue moon - another well known phrase or saying.

We stood for quite a while last evening watching the moon rise. She shed her veil of cloud and hung on the horizon, golden, huge and low - bidding us to stay awhile and drink in her fullness perhaps. We watched her imperceptible climb into the darkening sky, beguiled enough to forget the biting cold that gnawed at our foolishly ungloved fingers. I wish I could admit to saying something more intelligent and articulate than 'Wow! Amazing'.

This blue moon isn't blue at all. A second full moon in a month is a comparatively rare occurence - hence 'once in a blue moon' to describe an unusual event. A little later in the evening we will see the shadow of a partial eclipse across its silvery face too. A very special moon indeed for New Year's Eve.
With all best wishes for 2010 from the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan - and if you have been, thanks for reading.