Saturday, February 07, 2015


At dusk or thereabouts I closed the pop-hole of the hen-house-on-wheels. Inside the birds made their crooning, settling down sounds. Hen-talk for 'sleep well.'  All is still and silent and as it should be. Not a breathe; hushed perhaps by the dank mist which has hung over the Long Mountain today.

I stand on the field a while and contemplate the sky. It's pink - not just a slick of cerise on the western horizon but a pale wash in which colour hangs in heavy air, north, south, east and west. Such is the light there is no other colour in the world tonight.

Friday, February 06, 2015

To Ludlow

I'm guessing that the planets are optimally aligned - there's nothing in either diary, the weather is fair and crikey, we're both in need of time out. Amazingly a free day has presented itself. (You'd never guess that neither of us work for a living) I'm not sure how we ever found the time - it's so hard to find an hour or two to enjoy our surroundings. I have been out 6 evenings in the last seven and I wouldn't describe any of those 'outs' as anything more than dutiful. So time for r 'n' r. All aboard the skylark!

The Glam Ass is always up for a trip to Ludlow.  It is, as Pevsner remarked, ' of the best loved, best preserved and most aesthetically pleasing towns in Britain.' It's noted nationally for its foodie credentials, both as a place to eat and a place where good foods are available and appreciated.

It takes about 40 minutes for us to drive there and today I drive a little more cautiously than usual - the temperature is barely above freezing and there may be ice on the road. Not one of my favourite roads, it bends and twists - definitely not devised by a modern planner.  I wonder was it originally a winding trail made by beasts on the way to market, a route avoiding puddles, potholes and pitfalls which was only slightly improved with the coming of the turnpike.

We shop. Good cheeses, partridge, pastries - and fish from the most excellent fish van in the market. When one's marketing is limited to a very average high street the choice of fresh produce is tempting and thus we are succumb; partridge; cheeses rolled in ash and cheeses that, frankly, pong. That's you I'm looking at Stinking Bishop. We buy the biggest Cox in Ludlow (ooh missis!) and non edibles too; anemones of Tudor shades, velvet rich, with black button centres. (Come on, you're surely watching Wolf Hall?) Oh, and a jacket for me. Coral, short, pleated and Japanese. Basically because I'm worth it. And because I anticipate warmer days and maybe, as be agreed in the shop, co-ordinating items of navy, grey or black will be needed. We all should have a plan.

Anyway, tonight we have paella with our fishy haul from Ludlow, with a taste of cheese to follow:

And apropos of nothing a picture of one of Ludlow's gems, a carving from the medieval misericord in St Lawrence Church.

There are more like this. What gems. Come see.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Candlemas challenge.....

A short while ago MrsCarlieLee suggested that we revive Candlemas - 'each do whatever, and then post it in a blog.  'Whadayareckon?' I quickly reckoned 'yep' - the word leaping off my fingers before I could sit on my hands. 

So here I am, sitting at the keyboard, mouth open, staring out of the window wondering what the heck I can say that hasn't already been said. (I wrote about this time of year in 2010 and not much has changed since then.) The days lengthen. The birds sing loudly and more often. The dull green snouts of bulbs push through icy soil, and here and there amongst tangled leaf and twig in the hedge bottom are snowdrops of virginial white. Etc. Etc. And this is as it should be.

We wonder how much longer winter will last  - February 2nd is after all the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox - theoretically we're halfway there though experience teaches that it would unwise to cast 'clouts' or do anything with tender plants until May, the tree or the month, is out.

Up on the hill the remains of last week's snow lingers, thin white lines in the lee of hedges, stippled patches amongst rough grass. It's bitterly cold out, the sun has gone down leaving a clear sky and the nearly-full moon has a bright face. If the old rhyme is to believed we've a way to go yet:

If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter's to come and mair;
If Candlemass day be wet and foul,
The half o' winter's gave at Yule.'

Well today, Candlemas day, was fair and bright indeed - and weather lore would have it that there is more wintery weather to come. Would I rather that than mud and sludge? Probably.

We're looking forward to the coming of lighter days every bit as much as our ancestors did. For them this day was Imbolc, and a cornerstone of the Celtic calendar, celebrated with fire, a festival of light. 

Christianity reformed and renamed the festival and a tradition developed of blessing all the candles which would be needed for use in the church during the following year for Holy Communion. It also marks the Presentation of Christ in the Temple being 40 days after the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day....40 days being when according to Jewish law a woman was ritually purfied following the birth of a son.

The vicar, whom I quizzed,  hinted vaguely about a service in one of his churches but I'm not really a religious soul and while I quite like the idea of blessing candles and candlelit processions I prefer to keep my spiritual side to myself.

I lit a couple of candles though to mark the occasion and from up on the field could just spy them twinkling in the window. How warm it looks down there - and inviting. 

Scented too - the smell's divine.  The candle in the middle is a gift from our eldest son. I think of my boy, now a man,  as it burns. I have in my window light and now love. Blessings.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I am woman, hear me roar.

February is on the horizon and OK, a few comfortable days away yet. But we all know what February means don't we?  Yep, it's YFC entertainments competition time again.

'Please, please, please,'  I think,  'give it a miss this year guys.' But no. The call comes and we're foregathered in the village hall with 16 pages of script, an enthusiastic Dorothy and a cast who'll turn up when they can, lambing permitted.

They're having a stab at the Wizard of Oz. An abridged version I think - although as I have never seen the original this may be it. It's certainly enough for me. There is talk of further cuts but I think losing the Lion, Tin Man or Scarecrow is probably a cut too far.

The girls who have turned up demonstrate girly commitment, ooze fluency - and multitask. (The Witch of the South turns up late, knows most of her lines and can find, instantly, the ones she doesn't in a crumpled un-highlighted script. At the same time she does a bit of college course work while sitting cross legged on a village hall chair, files spread out in a muddle on the floor around her. I am impressed.) Meanwhile the lads have none of this sang froid. They stumble over words, punctuate mid phrase, re-phrase, whisper and waffle. They hide behind bravado and banter. Sigh. We, the directors, despair.

This afternoon I read for 'Lion' who has gone fishing somewhere. The script calls for some 'rrrrrrrraghs' and some 'grrrrrrrrhs', a throaty expectorating 'hack' and some camp whimpering from the cowardly critter. All of which I managed, surprising myself and the cast. I am that Lion. Thank goodness I'm way too old to be in the cast. I would not want this to be my stage debut.

Horrid feeling that somewhere in the room somebody had the iPhone on record.....this may be how I will be remembered. Grrrrrrrrh.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Telford. Be warned.

I wrote this earlier, parked up in Telford; a town which could never be described as the jewel in Shropshire's crown. I'd delivered the Glam Ass to the Wrekin Community Clinic for his second cataract op. (Full marks to the NHS here - left and right done in rapid succession with no time to blink so to speak.) It's sited quite sensibly on a business park in Telford but as most of Telford seems to be a business park, or leastways look like one, that's hardly surprising.

The Clinic is the kind of place which enjoys a good sign. There is sign overload - you know the sort of thing: 'Do this'. 'Do that.' 'Wait here.' 'Press button for automatic door.' 'Beware of automatic door.' And the explicit sign below.  They hope you will be sitting comfortably. You have been warned.

But oh dear. Telford. Who was I kidding when I thought that it all might be so much better than on my previous visit 2 months ago?  Christmas 'tat' had been replaced by regular 'tat', and 'Stuff'. Tawdry, ephemeral, unlovely Stuff in a building with all the charm of a public lavatory.

Built from the 1960s onwards the newly created Telford swallowed up a number of small towns and villages, ran a motorway through them, linked everything with roundabouts and built housing. Out with the old, in with the new! From memory there's a rather splendid Town Park too - with a Japanese-style garden with flowering cherries and pergolas - a nod to the Japanese companies who came and established themselves on the new business parks.

A spanking new shopping centre was built. Undercover and surrounded by car parking, all the fun of the high street without the blight of the weather. Perhaps in its day it really was worth a visit.

I managed about 40 minutes of window shopping before the pointlessness of it all sent me scurrying for the exit and back to the car - parked in the curiously named 'Ash Grey' car park. I negotiated the dual carriageways, roundabouts, roadworks and diversions, and back to the Clinic to sit huddled in the car there stabbing at the iPad's keyboard. But in my own space and not a Primark, Build-a-Bear Workshop, Superdrug, 99p Store! or Debenhams in sight. Hurrah for that.

Finally, another of those signs. Nobody likes a crabby toilet do they?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Plus ça change

Here I am introducing the birds to my new wellies, a very timely Christmas gift.  I think we're all a little surprised at just how bright they are in the cruel light of day. Nothing that a few outings in some good Welsh mud won't cure...

And, no, I've not been standing here for 12 months entertaining poultry with a variety of wellingtons. Really I've not. Though goodness knows, it sometimes feels like it .

Yep, those birds and I are still up here on the hill and they're laying remarkably well considering they're entering their second year of producing nearly an egg a day - each.

So I still trudge up here two or three times a day; it's not really a chore although when hunkered down in front of the log burner, not a prospect to relish. But boots, scarf, hat, coat and gloves on - or 'rugged up' as they say round here - and one's ready for all weathers.

This was my view of the small mountain kingdom this morning - long shadows, a sky of cerulean blue and snow tinged, from goodness knows where, with rosy light. We kept the snow for most of the day too - it melted quickly in the valleys - but eventually the temperature rose slowly. Now we have rain and wind and mud underfoot again.

So this morning up on the field, I stand and stare, feed bucket in hand, as I do come rain or shine, at dawn, at dusk or under the stars. It's is no bad thing; a moment to breathe and take stock before going back to the world and the wicked ways of its people.

The wind is now roaring outside. There's a newsletter to write then I too shall go to roost. In a few short hours the day will start over. Same old, same old.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Plough Monday

...Not there's much evidence of the traditional Plough Monday traditions in these parts - and nor has there been in the past I suspect - although I would very much like to be proved wrong. The start of the agricultural year may be marked with frolics and mumming elsewhere but here we have the now traditional drumming of incessant and torrential rain on the roof and the squelch of wellies in mud.

What's a girl to do when faced with a drear grey day but turn to another January pursuit; the bringing of sunshine into the home in the form of marmalade. Sevilles are back in the shops again, fresh and fragrant, ripe for conversion but oh so bitter that a dab of juice makes one wince. (Think eating a wasp. )

Well, it seemed like a good idea but the reality was rather time consuming. Squeeze, remove pith and seeds. Shred. I glanced at the clock - that's 2 hours of my life I won't see again.  Add sugar and boil. Furiously.  Trial spoonfuls are placed on cool saucers to find if that elusive 'setting' point is reached. Suddenly and before I expect it my finger is pushing a wrinkle across a cooling spoonful. We're there. I've made it. I pot. Job done.

I'd bought 3 kilos which seemed a good idea at the time but actually is twice as much as the jam pan can handle at any one time. Tomorrow I will be stirring my cauldron again for batch no.2. Hopefully there will be another 9 jars, sufficient to see us through this year and maybe next.

Every surface has an annoying tacky coating despite my very best endeavours with a damp cloth. The sink is piled with sticky bits of kit but the air is sweet with oranges and sugar. Heavenly.

Now just add toast.