Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At the year's turning

Hardly light; grey all around;  sky meets land, moistly. Another swathe of rain rolls in and the dark conifers of Badnage wood are obscured by mist again. How very weary this old year is looking.

I sit at my desk and think of new beginnings - it is New Year's Eve after all - a day for reflection before moving on. I don't experience synesthesia - seeing numbers and days as colours and shapes - except at this time of the year. These end days of December, Christmas baubles aside, are dank dark shapes, cobwebbed and drear, which, come the stroke of midnight become January, sparkling and luminescent. Today is a spent match but tomorrow a fresh white sheet. However, I can't console myself with the thought that in a few hours time the small mountain kingdom will be sun-washed, green and lush. No, we have a few more months of mud and slush to come yet methinks. Sigh.

It's not that that this has been a bad year by any means. Same old, same old, perhaps - and none the worse for that. It's been busy, and quiet in equal part. A few pictures follow - only one of which could really be described as a highlight.

Snow in April, unforgivably late but breathtakingly beautiful.

The landscape is reduced to simple grey shapes. This piece of hillside - unspectacular otherwise has graceful zen-like beauty under its blanket of snow.

But then things do come good - after an unpromising start the sun shone and shone - here on a bank of daisies outside our garden room.

Wilderness in miniature and certainly somewhere for the hunting dog Chester to consider elusive voles

Our garden was fruitful - we like to think this was the best crop of figs in Trelystan.

The sun shone and the grass grew - as did our thistles. Happiness is a man on a tractor. The Glam. Ass. spent a morning 'topping'.  The b*ggers grew back, but that's thistles for you.

October saw a wedding - or rather The Wedding. Our son Harry married Sam and we gained the loveliest daughter-in-law. We wish them every happiness.

My ageing flock of poultry was culled and my daily excuse to stand on the field and look around me open-mouthed at the wonder of it all was no more. I had just got my head round having 2 birds at the bottom of the garden (sooo easy!) when an offer too good to refuse was made. Would I like some more? Point of lay? You bet. Thus another 15 birds are installed in the hen-house on wheels up on the field.

My daily round begins again - I stand and watch the sky and listen to the sough of the wind through Badnage wood. I hear the roar of the stream in the dingle on its way down to the Rea Valley, to the Severn, and onwards to the sea. My water going to the waves. I speculate that this same water will return as rain, brewed by the ocean's currents. Such is the circle of life.

Those twinkly lights are home; warm and welcoming. Old year, new year, this is indeed a good place to be.

My very best wishes to any passing reader. May 2014 bring peace, health and happiness.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


This post is brought to you courtesy of the colour yellow.  We have plenty of yellow at present - daffodils in variety, marsh marigolds, tulips, primroses and early cowslips...... 

It's just as well. There's not much else - our landscape remains resolutely drab. Buds are loathe to burst and the grass won't grow (much to the chagrin of our farming friends who have cattle still in their winter quarters and diminishing reserves of feed). No blossom either; our fruit trees are bare. It's hard to remain upbeat in the face of this dreariness and I find myself repeating the mantra 'Spring will come. Spring will come' and at the same time regretting reading John Christopher's post-apocalyptic 'The World in Winter'.

So today I focused on the colour we have got - yellow in all its hot, cold, acid, lemon, golden or creamy glory. 

There are strident yellows - Caltha palustris has formed bright clumps around the edge of the pond. I notice there is plenty of frog spawn too.
Plenty of daffodils - these two are rather brash and not really what we had in mind for down the dingle.

Strange because we originally planted only natives - Narcissus obvalaris, pretty and delicate little things.  These 'garden' varieties appeared and now seem to be increasing. The result of mutation perhaps or hybridisation? The good news is that the little natives are increasing too and I hope they will hold their own against their thuggish relatives.

This little flower on the right isn't a primrose and neither is it a cowslip - a bit of a mongrel. It's very pretty and I wish there were more.

Primroses in abundance too - the Glam Ass's planting programme can be deemed a success. What's there not to like about these creamy little flowers? I think as children we used to suck the nectar from the flower heads...though they may have been cowslips. Tomorrow I will go and do a taste test....

A splash of colour's very welcome isn't it?

...and Swallows!

I think it is safe to say that our swallows have returned. I saw them first on Saturday 20th - I guess the ones that I spotted earlier in the week were just passing though, resting on the last leg of their long journey.

At least a pair are swooping in and out of the field shelter - checking if last year's nests are still OK perhaps.

Welcome home. How good it is to have them back.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Naivety. My own and more painterly stuff.

There's nothing I like better than exploring unknown territory - unless that is it's exploring unknown territory when someone else is driving.

So today was my lucky day - I hopped on Chirbury Art Club's bus to Compton Verney where the group were going to see, amongst other things, the exhibition '500 years of Italian Art'. The venue ticked a lot of boxes; attractive surroundings, non-scary Art in bite-sized pieces, coffee, cake and the company of friends.

I must admit that Compton Verney was not exactly unknown to me - having grown up nearby in mid-Warwickshire's bucolic landscape. However, I never visited as a child - it was not then a gallery or a destination and my parents were more than dismissive about the elegant but shabby stately home we passed occasionally en route to buy groceries or on one of those dreary Sunday afternoon drives which passed for entertainment in the early sixties.

My first thoughts as the little bus and its chattering cargo pulled into the car park, was regret that I hadn't appreciated previously that such a lovely place was on my doorstep. A finely-proportioned building of creamy Cotswold stone set in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown for heaven's sake! But then, would an 8 year old really have been bothered and later I suppose ... let's just say other stuff seemed more important. I feel vaguely foolish that as an adult in charge of my own life. I've never been this way before. Sigh. (One day I will make as list of things my parents said which would have been better left unheeded.)  Still, I'm here now and anticipating great delights....

The collections are fine, of high quality and not overwhelming - Neapolitan Art, Northern European paintings, British Portraiture, a Chinese collection and joy of joys - British Folk Art.

The visiting exhibition '500 years of Italian Art', on loan from Glasgow had us admiring a Boticelli, Titian and Belinni amongst other worthy pieces. At the end of our visit when D and I closed the door on the final gallery we'd succumbed to 'Art Fatigue'.

 'It's all a bit of a blur' admitted D 'I seem to have been looking at one fat baby after another....'

And yes, I know exactly what she meant - in the many religious works there were plenty of chubby children - not just the infant Christ but 'putti' too.

The Folk Art Collection came as quite a relief after rooms of more serious Art, having a guileless charm of its own. Here are depictions of everyday-life by self-taught painters; the prize ram or heifer, pugilists, street scenes, landscapes with carriage accidents and wild bulls; the largest or smallest; the drama of the day. The Fine Art of the chattering classes might be the art of galleries and high places but this is art by the people, for the people. This wonderful collection was amassed by the late art dealer Andras Kalman and exhibited here at Compton Verney courtesy of the Peter Moores Foundation.

Perspective and scale are frequently awry, anatomy suspect and distorted. It doesn't matter - these are confident pieces and great social statements.

It seemed that having a dog in your picture was almost a prerequisite. Once a couple had caught my eye I couldn't help spotting more. So instead of a plethora of putti, I give you plenty of pups:

......and for cat lovers this gorgeous tortoiseshell:

Isn't she just the loveliest thing?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The cruelest month.

April. Cruel? Damned right it is. 

 Long Mountain. Friday 12th April.

This year at least, Eliot's opening lines to 'The Waste Land' seem hugely optimistic:
'April is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering 
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 
A little life with dried tubers.'
Lilacs stirring? No way. Nothing. Dream on. True, a few of those 'dried tubers' have come to life, daffodils and crocii, somehow forcing themselves through frost and snow. How powerful those shoots must be to break through the iron-hard soil and into the light. Such is the urge to grow.

There are very few other signs of spring up here on the top of our low mountain.  I estimate we are perhaps a month behind previous years, even taking into account that more than once in previous years a late fall of snow or frost has shaken us out of our complacency and literally 'nipped things in the bud.'  Robert Frost observed April's ways in 'Two Tramps in Mud Time:
'The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March'
If I look carefully - very carefully - I do believe I can see buds on the big trees in the dingle. There's a new denseness about their branches, a fullness that I swear was not there a couple of days ago.  Then I swivel my head and see drifts of snow, lying in the hedge-bottoms, if not in the garden then near enough to remind me that we've a way to go yet. Sigh.

It would be too easy to sink into gloom and pessimism on seeing winter's dull days stretch into a long-awaited spring so I'll snatch any small joys while I can.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Blog on a G String

Come February and our thoughts turn the YFC Drama Competition at Whitchurch.

It's always a stressful time, especially the build-up to the performance when the cast's lack of urgency,  inability to learn their lines or turn up in any numbers to rehearsals leads to much wailing and many sleepless nights on behalf of the directors. The likelihood of the performance being a disaster is more than a possibility - it's a probablity.

However, miraculously it never is. The Club pulls out all the stops and while 'triumph' would be an exaggeration, once again, they do well. We breathe again.

Come March it's time to put the show on at home in the Village Hall - except this year due to the way that Easter has fallen we're a little late and they will be on stage this Saturday. By now of course, any urgency the cast mustered for the County Competition has evaporated and lines have been forgotten and there isn't even the spur of The Dance Afterwards as encouragement. We feel the stress levels begin to rise once again....

Chirbury and Marton entered the One+ Competiton - rather than produce a full-blown drama they have a 6 minute spot on stage in which no more than 10 of them can perform anything of their choosing. They chose to do a take on the popular 'Mrs Brown's Boys'. What else could they call it but 'Farmer Brown's Boys'?

Well, a cast of 10 with a witty one-liner each made for about 5 minutes of script. Blink and you've missed it. For Whitchurch that met the criteria but on home ground we needed to put more to it - which is where we, the 'Advisory', got together, sharpened our pencils and got creative.

Where to start? Well 'knickers' always gets a laugh. Or a smirk. Or a snigger. So 'knickers it was. Our production could start with Mrs Farmer Brown going through the laundry.

And so it came to pass that props were needed. 

Big Knickers were no problem and three pairs in most fetching pink, lilac and cream (size 6OS) were bought from Tuffin's Pound Store. Bargain. But the thong - the G String - was another matter. Thongs are seemingly unavailable in rural south Shropshire. I was beginning to think that I'd have to get the sewing machine and a few scraps of ribbon out when as a last resort I tried an outfitters in Bishop's Castle.

I call it an outfitters because it's a store stacked with items of clothing and footwear of every description for every sort of person and purpose - and if you don't fancy ready made there is wool so you can knit-your-own. There's a veritable mountain of shoes and boots and a cobbler's workshop - complete with hoary old cobbler - at the back.

I made a bee-line for the underwear department. It was fairly comprehensive, again most tastes apart from the truly outrageous were catered for - but sadly there were no thongs or G Strings on view. I'd have to ask. At this point I rather hoped that there was someone else apart from the old cobbler working there.

Indeed there was. "Do you have any thongs...G strings?" I asked.

She looked at me blankly.

"Erm, those uncomfortable knickers that erm...you know, erm, string up the back."  I continued, hoping to avoid the words 'crack of bum'  "They're not for me - they're for the Young Farmers Drama."

The penny dropped. "Cheese-cutters!" she exclaimed and led me to the last 3 pairs in Shropshire, adding that somewhere in the store there were more. Plenty in fact because they weren't a good seller. (Well, no I can see that they wouldn't go well in this temple of comfort-based clothing.) 1 pair was sufficient. I could have them for a £1. Bargain...though obviously not as much a bargain as the 3 giant size pairs bought previously.

Cheese-cutters then. Ah! The importance of language. If only I'd known the local terminology I could have saved myself a lot of searching.

P.S. If you're passing they'll be on stage in Marton Village Hall on Saturday evening around 8.30pm.
There will also be cheese, wine and puddings. While I can't promise a slick and polished performance (although there are still 3 days to go and I live in hope) I feel fairly certain that it will be, as ever, a good night out. All welcome.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holding out for a hero

At times like this what us girls need is not some suave well-mannered new man but a bloke from Powys with a snow blower....

Cometh the hour, cometh that man bloke.

He and his mate on the digger are making glacial progress along the lane. One blows and the other scrapes.

I stumble across the drifts at hedge height to meet them for a progress report.

There is a vague possibility that they will reach us later today but I'm not holding my breath. Tomorrow maybe? My new friend tells me he'll be back 'on the bins' then and doesn't know if they will find anyone to replace him on the 'blower. So when we'll actually be able to drive out is anyone's guess.

In truth that's not really a hardship - there is still food in the freezer and we have not resorted to burning the furniture yet.

We can just sit it out. It's those who have to work in such conditions - the farmers and the road clearers who are the heroes of the hour. I don't think that anyone, ever, got mentioned in despatches for staying indoors and looking out of the window.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A gap year....

Do you suppose that if I creep back in here quietly, don't bang any metaphorical doors or switch on any metaphorical bright lights, I can settle back in without any fuss - without disturbing anyone?

It's not that I've been anywhere in the true 'gap year' sense - the past 12 months have been spent in much the same way as the previous twelve months, and indeed, the twelve months before that - mooching around the top  of this low mountain. There have been highs and lows of course but somehow recording the minutiae of life in the small mountain kingdom lost its sparkle and it seemed the best solution was to take a break.

But now maybe I should open the door again and let some of the day-to-day events creep in - how else I am going to know, in years to come, the date when the first swallow arrived or what the Young Farmers did in the drama competition or indeed just how deep the snowdrifts were in March 2013....

...and since that question was on every reader's lips, the answer is deep. Very deep.

Behind these drifts is a field gate - but impossible to reach today. Trelystan is cut off.

Our lane and the bigger lane it joins have filled in with snow - yes, we did have quite a lot but it's those pesky winds which have been the problem.

We can walk up so far and then any progress is impossible.

Our farming neighbours are coming over from Fir House by quad bike to feed the stock that is over here. By the chorus of 'moos' currently coming from the barn I guess that someone has just turned up with a bag of feed.

By now we're resigned to staying put - the larder is reasonably well-stocked....although I imagine in a few days time our diet will comprise of curious odds and ends. There is a comforting amount of sloe gin. And plenty of marmalade. The Glam Ass seems to have got over his attack of cabin fever, is less grumpy and has taken to his shed making dozens of bird houses. (Each one a work of art.Trust me. Orders taken.)

The snow blower was spotted yesterday making slow but dramatic progress in our direction but has not been seen since. The driver apparently said it would take 2 or 3 days to get to us and has probably been diverted anyway to clear the road over Long Mountain where feed trucks need to go.

So we'll sit tight. I have a lovely new computer with lots of 'bells and whistles' to explore so will be happily occupied until the roads are cleared or a thaw sets in.

Oh, and another thing. Yes, British Summertime starts on Sunday. No comment.