Sunday, October 31, 2010

Me and my shadow...

He's doing alright is my Glam.Ass. That busted hand is healing well - another appointment with the consultant tomorrow and the wired-up finger will get 'unwired' next week. We make haste slowly - festina lente - which for a busy man is a difficult thing.  The Shed and its myriad machines lie idle; wood is unsawn, screws unturned. Newspapers and small print are read in great detail, Google is scoured and the eBay and Amazon habits have gone into overdrive. Chester, the hunting dog and creature of habit especially when it comes to sleeping, is roused from his bed at more regular intervals to be taken down the dingle where there is much contemplative staring into the distance and mutterings of 'I'm bored' on the part of his master.

I have only to announce that I'm going for a paper and I suddenly have a companion on my outing so desperate is he for a change of scene. It seems that going somewhere - anywhere, even Welshpool - is quite an interesting proposition. (I suspect it will be a few weeks until the GA is driving again so I am the driver for the time being.) I've learned that we shop differently - I really don't like the day to day stuff. I'll buy in bulk for a week, a fortnight, a month, a year - anything to avoid the local Morrisons perhaps. I'm tempted to subscribe to the Times online too. The GA on the other hand prefers to buy daily, a bit here and a bit there. If he were on Mastermind his specialist subject could be Morrisons he's there so often. Me? I hate the bloody place.

But, needs must and we have to do some shopping on Saturday.  I'm shopping with tomorrow, next week, the week after, next month, Christmas, next year in mind - my mind both a price comparison website and stock-control sheet. The Glam Ass is dutifully at my side - my shadow. He occasionally darts off returning with something completely off-list, but never mind. It's a good opportunity to get some serious household shopping done and the trolley soon fills up.

'Why have you got white chocolate?' he asks. White chocolate is to his mind an invention of the Devil - he prefers something bitterly dark himself.

'BECAUSE! JUST BECAUSE FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE. WHY NOT? I WANT IT.' I reply in somewhat unnecessarily snappy tones - now fed up with the scrutiny every item in the trolley is getting. Stop asking stooopid questions. Just let me shop and get out of this supermarket hell. Grrrr.

White chocolate?

It's because I'm going to make vanilla and fresh berry mini cheesecakes. They are truly scrumptious and delectable - the tang of the fruit being the perfect foil to the rich sweetness of the chocolate-cream cheese mix. They must be tiny - in the recipe below they are baked in cupcake cases - I used little ramekins.
For 12 cheesecakes beat 500g of light cream cheese with 100g of caster sugar and gradually whisk in 3 large beaten eggs. The recipe above now adds vanilla seeds - I'm a cheapskate and use a drop of vanilla essence. In a small saucepan bring 175g double cream to the boil, bring off the heat and add 200g chopped white chocolate - let it melt thoroughly and give it a good stir. Mix the chocolate mixture and the cheese mixture together.

In the ramekins or paper cases scatter a few berries - I used raspberries and blueberries. Pour the cheesecake mix over the berries and bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes (130 degrees c.) They are cooked when set but soft in the middle - they should still be white. Cool and chill. Garnish with more berries and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

Try not to eat too many at a sitting. They are the sort of things which make shadows more substantial.....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sceptical? moi?

Got a txt. Txt said:

'RKologists at chrch l'king 4 prince trelystan. RU interested?'

When I'd deciphered the message, the answer was a definite 'yes'. My loyal readers should know by now that I'm always on the q.v. for lumps and bumps in the landscape and that my boots kick every mole hill I come across in the hope of finding something turned up from below ground. Anything. Gold preferably - but I'd settle for iron, bronze,  flint tools, nails, ring pulls, potsherds, I've done to date are remnants of clay pipes. Sigh. Could be worse I suppose - could be the scrumpled foil from fag packets.

Anyway, off I scarpered to our little church which stands alone on the edge of Badnage Wood. St Mary's occupies an ancient site - thus much is known and documented; the recorded history of the church goes back to the 11th century but the first use of the site is thought to be even earlier.  Some medieval timber remains but the whole has been largely 'restored' by well meaning Victorian folk. This link to CPAT gives a good over view of what is has been established to date. Somewhere in this place is thought to be the burial place of Elystan Glodrydd, traditionally a founder of one the 5 royal tribes of Wales who died in one of the skirmishes which took place at this end of the Long Mountain about a thousand years ago. The name Tref Elistan - Trelystan reminds us of the connection.

Perhaps if I'd drawn breath before hopping in the car a few alarm bells might have started ringing. 'Prince Trelystan'? Archaeology, in a church on a Sunday? Hmm.

At the church our archaeologists turn out to be 3 men, sniffing and stamping their feet in the cold interior. They have dousing rods and the satisfied expression of men whose work here is done.  The resting place of Prince Trelystan has been found and the extent of his injuries which may have caused his death established. 'Have you dug him up?' I asked in innocence - because the description of the body's injuries were so graphic. But no - the invisible world which biolocation reveals tells all - death by the sword, a broken leg bone......all without the lifting of a single stone.


My eyes are fairly poppin'. The floor is of ancient slate slabs (we had similar in our hovel) but those slabs differ in age - these dowsers can tell that some have been cut with iron tools and some with bronze - all to do with magnetic fields apparently detected by the minute - nay, invisible -  traces of the metals left along the dressed edges. 5 other interments have been found around the perimeter of the church - all dating from before the medieval building was erected. An earlier building was then on the site - it would have been timber, wattle and daub and thatched. Dust from the straw thatch falls to the ground on either side of the supporting beams leaving a negative image - a ghostly presence on the now long-hidden medieval floor. The dowser - sorry, biolocator - holds a wisp of straw and strides forth, holding an unsophisticated metal rod in either hand, along the aisle of the present-day church. At regular intervals his rods cross indicating the position of a long gone beam given away by traces of dust beneath the modern floor.

'Can I have a go? Please, please???'  I squeaked. I must try this.

Ooo-eeeer. It did it for me too as I walked tentatively, wisp of straw and bent coat hangers in hand, up the aisle. The rods crossed as I crossed the points where the experts had determined the beams to be. I didn't make them, they just swung into place. The Glam. Ass, who had come along for the ride, said my face was a picture.

We talk about things in the fields outside - and here, while I get a demonstration of the dowser's ability to detect bronze its explanation is not entirely convincing.

There is much talk of druids and henges, tunnels, processional ways and ceremony - all on the Church Field which rolls eastward down towards the place we now call which point the Glam Ass says he will walk back over the fields and collect a few mushrooms. I think it all got a bit New-Age for him. For me too as well I think.

It is an ancient place, an old landscape which has been witness to occupation and turmoil for over two millennia at least and we can only speculate about what happened here before recorded time. What was it really like? I spend much time with wild imaginings and yet when presented with some tantalizing evidence still want tangible proof.  Good old fashioned digging would suit me well.

In the meantime I'm off to rummage in the back of the wardrobe for a couple of those old fashioned metal clothes hangers which will may ideal impromptu dowsing rods. I've got 7.5 acres to criss-cross in search of something. I may be some time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where's my blogging mojo gone?

Time and events have taken over - some stories are not mine to tell; while the Glam. Ass. somewhat cavalierly waved his bandaged and un-bandaged paw at the camera and said 'Go on, photograph this then' it didn't seem quite right. Too, too intrusive.  I think it will suffice to say: 1. Don't argue with a circular saw and expect to win. 2. I am surprisingly unsqueamish and calm in a crisis and 3. He's doing very well, thank you.

The last two weeks have seen a lot of driving to and from the hospital in Shrewsbury and I suppose in the scale of things that's small beer. Today the splint was removed and with it came a tad more mobility for the GA. He is without most of a little finger but it continues to haunt him. The other fingers are mending and he is desperate to regain normal function; the stuff we take for granted - the miracle of co-ordination that is the human hand. I can hear him clettering the supper dishes (and my ear is cocked for a cack-handed crash) but it will take a while.

Enough of that and a few anodine observations instead.

The last of the summer's crops are ready to be gathered in. The little orchard has apples and pears and the are quince in abundance. I have my own harvest festival moment.
There is mince meat to be made - the kitchen fills with the scent of apples and spices. The recipe is from the sainted Delia's Christmas Collection.
The weather has been surprisingly good but on the day we visited Powis Castle the clouds descended around our ears. We walked amongst the autumn borders - still colourful with late flowering perennials. In a rather orderly orchard apples and pears hung heavily on old and closely pruned trees underplanted with low growing herbs, stachys and the ophiopogon nigrescens. It's such a neat garden; closely clipped grass, yew and topiary, borders contained by box hedging. I've visited in summer too and even when the season is at its most flamboyant there is barely a leaf out of place.
Only outside the garden can nature take hold; up in the faintly disheveled parkland that surrounds Powis, from midst the underbrush of bramble and bracken - out of the misty distance - came the roar of stags - an eerie sound which sent shivers up spines. Later in the day skeins of geese flew in, honking as they flapped across the valley where the Severn winds.

Today? The small mountain kingdom of Trelystan is washed in golden light right now, all aglow. We have yellow and red and russett. Great fluffy clouds scud across a blue sky. It looks as if there might be some warmth in the sun - don't be deceived - it's chilly out there.

Time to light the log burner and watch the flames.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The ride over the Long Mountain

Some years ago I remember talking to a work-mate about their daily commute to work - it was something like 50 minutes each way. To me who lived a mere 5 minutes distant this seemed like a trudge too far. I could dart in and out, going from office to kitchen in something like 5 minutes. No, they said, it was not a problem. Quite the reverse in fact. The journey home in particular allowed time to unwind and to let the stresses of work slip away. The division between work and home was thus clearly defined. Stuff from 'there' could be kept there, home was a retreat and a haven reached through the motoring equivalent of whatever submariners have to pass through to get from in to out. I understand now....

An 'air-lock'. That's my ride home...a quick left turn off the main road, a bit of a climb through Westbury, Vennington and Vron Gate and onto the ribbon of road which follows the spine of the Long Mountain. It may or may not be a Roman road but I'll be bound that some Roman road building engineers took the measure of it en route from Forden Gaer to Wroxeter. They may though have settled on the less wild, low-lying land at the foot of the mountain's eastern slope and got their feet wet into the bargain. 

It's an old, old place up here - older than Roman, it's height and panoramic views give it strategic clout and the one or two known burial mounds make it a place of some spiritual importance too. The Celts retreated to the west and it would be many years before the Normans claimed the valleys to the east. Perhaps the Long Mountain was a place for grazers, outsiders, waifs and strays, and those who could find safety in its dingles and clefts.  I surmise.  I am one of a long line of souls to be found wandering up here. There will be others after me.

These last few days, boxed every which way into confusion by my poor Glam Ass's injury, have led me to seek out the solitude of this high place. A slow drive along the narrow road - this morning with fog around my shoulders, landscape joyously and luminously aglow with the brilliance of the rising sun - has done much to clear my head.  Stop to breathe the air. Go fast, go slow. Some days the landscape stretches forever and some days, like today, it is limited to a protective cocoon. There are sheep and the same old faces, trees and men twisted by the seasons - blown into shape by prevailing winds and fortune. There is familiarity and there are small changes. I note what I can. Feel calmer.

I will drive along there tomorrow too, unwinding as the road unwinds before me. A great ride home.

PS I would take photographs but you would only see a grey road, bent trees and grazing sheep. Maybe I shall do that one day and try and make it seem preferable to the lower, slicker route where some prat behind me is always intent on driving too close for comfort....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The trouble with biscuits.

Imagine for a moment you are a biscuit manufacturer and you have a biscuit brand to sell. It is a biscuit aimed at the family market; a precursor of the chocolate finger perhaps. How would you describe them?

Let's try words like 'Choctastic!' 'Bite size biscuit covered in real milk chocolate', 'Yummy' and 'crunchy-scrumptious!'. Let's use images redolent of rich choco-creaminess......

Compare and contrast with the line that Crawfords came up with - CHOCOLATE TABLE biscuits - which turn out to be 'cigarette shaped biscuits covered with fine milk chocolate'. How sensibly descriptive is that?

Turn the tin round for more information:
'A Safe and Pleasant Confection for Children and Grown-ups'

Doesn't it sound rather like medicine?.......and 'Safe'? Safe? Safe biscuits?

What a peculiar bit of copy. What are the qualities of an unsafe biscuit? What kind of fool biscuit manufacturer would try to flog an unsafe biscuit to the unsuspecting public and thrive? Were there really people out there so suspicious that without those comforting words those cigarette shaped treats would be left on the shelf?

More questions than answers as usual and will file this tin in the 'Lost World' section of the study along with the book from my previous post.

PS My subsequent and minimal research (all 2 mins of it) indicates that biscuits can indeed be unsafe but still begs the question would we buy and eat them if in doing so we exposed ourselves to the dangers lurking in the biscuit tin? Don't dunk folks. Give custard creams a wide berth and remember Jaffa Cakes are deemed safest of all.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A lost world

Back in the day the Corporation tip was a mountain of shite in the middle of a muddy field. You tentatively reversed your car up through the mud, opened the boot and threw out the bags of wallpaper strippings, brickbats and plaster dust. A crowd of hopeful no-hopers hung about waiting to pounce on whatever was being flung out. Could the DIY detritus from 40 H.M. Road it be stripped down to something of monetary value?

It was a little bit alarming to be descended on quite so enthusiastically. My father who had spend 3 years in the RAF in Algeria (we think dispatching cargoes of this and cargoes of that - another story here I think) spent enough time observing the local population to describe our opportunists as 'sand Arabs'. He must have had his reasons.

These days of course, tips have become 'Recycling Centres' - visions of bespoke and labelled skips standing on pristine concrete overseen by a hi-viz jacketed workforce who invariably have made themselves a cosy den in a bijou Portakabin. 'Elf 'n' safety reigns.

We toss our 'recycling' and minimal refuse in the appropriate places and push on. Where's the fun in that? But here in Potter's yard - Welshpool's state of the art recycling centre - there is always the lure of the bits and pieces put to one side for 'sand Arabs' like me to pick over. We not talking treasures here - mostly it's discarded car boot tat - la crême de la dross - but sometimes - just sometimes - a little gem turns up.

Look - I've found 'The Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers Directory (for Lancashire and adjoining Districts.) Pocket Edition. 1920'.  A fab find indeed. Musty, dog-eared, the size of a large prayer book - documentary evidence of a lost world.  I notice I have found it almost 90 years to the day from when its owner - A B Goss inscribed his purchase with a bold and florid hand.

Did I say 'lost world'? Well, the days when cotton was king in Lancashire are long gone - the textiles' trades have moved to the far east where labour is cheap. We just do thinking and drinking in those cotton towns these days.

My little book is, as it says on the cover, a Directory. There are entries for nearly 3,000 manufacturers. District by district mills are listed; listed by process and by product - it's a world of specialists; spinners, bleachers, fullers and finishers, cloth clippers, cloth raisers, dyers, finishers and sizers - pause for breath - doublers, flax, jute and hemp spinners, plush manufacturers, wool and worsted spinners, calico printers, sizers and slashers....what? What is a sizer and slasher? Raiser, stretcher and beetle finisher? Beetle finisher?

The Park Mill Spinning company in Bolton lists: '102,882 spindles, 20/110 twist (so far so good - I understand that bit), pin cop and doubling weft, bastard and full twist size, combed and carded mule, flyer-throstle and ring twist, ball and cheese warps, beams, bundles, comes and tube barrels...' I couldn't make that up.

The products are pretty esoteric too - such  wonderful variety of woven materials, the names of which roll off the tongue; lenos, lappets and repps, jaconettes, alforgas, dobbies, jeanettes, dorias, sateens,  royal ribs, poplins, pongees and gaberdines. Grandrills and pyjama cloths.....I want to recite this strange poetry, savour the half familiar terms...alhambra quilts.....swansdown....moleskin. Nankeen. Such a rich lexicon. Does anyone in the textile trade wherever it may now be, still use these terms?

Raw goods in from overseas, up the Ship Canal, from America and Egypt and out again to home and empire. 'Cotton Goods for the West African markets!' Not only did we rule the world - we clothed it, curtained its windows, sheeted its beds, clothed its tables and made linings for its overcoat pockets. My vivid imagination supplies a sound track of mill town noises - the thunder of looms and the clatter of clogs on cobbles - played out under smoky and tenebrous skies.

All gone now of course. The air is clean. Mills demolished and chimneys toppled and with them a way of life almost as remote and mysterious as that of the dinosaurs. My little book is perhaps the equivalent of fossilised remains.