Saturday, April 29, 2006

The freedom of the hills.

Pierced my first ear today; albeit that of a small white calf. And it was only because I was standing there holding the punches - Heather had the gate held fast and Carl had the mini beast in a half-Nelson - that I got to do the deed.

After that came the best event of the day - the cattle left the shed where they have spent the winter since November - and went out to grass. How wonderful that must be for them. Alan and I did a bit of minor herding, stopping them going haring off in the wrong direction. After that they stampeded up the lane with Carl running behind to where Heather would be waiting with an open gate and luscious grass beyond. It's what makes British beef the tasty plateful that it is.....

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Had my hair done today - and thank you once again to Michelle and Gareth of 'Toni and Guy' in Shrewsbury for the amazing transformation. Went in feeling a wreck, came out feeling - well, less like someone who lives on the side of a mountain and more like a sleek and well groomed hooman-bean. Had to remind myself that although I spend my live contemplating soil, seeds, sheep and potatoes the finer things should not be neglected. Therefore felt able to buy 2 pairs of trousers, a jacket, a t shirt and 2 pairs of twinkly shoes. (None of which are in the least bit agri or hort-cultural). And did I feel better for that?

The feeling of being part of the wider world dissipated somewhat when I was unable to get an A1 colour copy made in Shrewsbury - many other combinations available, most of which would involve nifty work with a roll of sellotape to achieve my end. (Decided there and then to present the 'Cow Parade' ideas to the Young Farmers in a folio sleeve and hope they are so stunned by the brilliant concept that they miss the amateurish presentation.)

Eventually got so fed up with trudging from copy shop to copy shop, toting bags of shoes and shirts etc, that I turned tail and made my way back to the end of the Long Mountain.

...........where the sun was shining and the birds were singing. A ewe suckled her lambs and the first violets were out in the lane. (Have I mentioned how the landscape is loud with bird song? The curlews have a particularly eery call.) Sat for a while on the step and contemplated the garden - how green everything is suddenly, and growing by the day.

Tom's been with us for the last couple of days - taking in this rural idyll which is a far cry from the cacophony of Camberwell.
Lovely, lovely to see him. Come back soon.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Men, women and potatoes

Yesterday we planted more potatoes. A day's work; turning over the land* - removing an inordinate amount of stone from the top soil so lovingly dumped by our builders (bless 'em) onto an already rocky plot- weeding, tilling and eventually planting the chitted 'Duke of York', 'Home Guard' and 'Charlotte' potatoes.

It got me thinking about fundamental differences between men and women. The potato being one. Men, being essentially hunter-gatherers, revel in the notion of its bounteous crop. Potatoes, providing blight doesn't strike, are very rewarding in this sense. At harvest the fork lifts more and more. And look: bigger and bigger! Whow! Kilos, pounds, tons. Bagfulls. They will last all winter. ...

Women though, programmed from birth to suspect anything so potentially high in carbs, are less enthusiastic. We are already devising an exit strategy which hopefully doesn't involve too much eating on our part. Counter-balancing salad crops? A stall at the end of the lane perhaps? Potato VODKA!!

Suggestions gratefully received.

*To be fair this piece of land's purpose is as yet undefined and potatoes are as good a way as any keeping it in good heart for the next 12 months.

Also today is Shakespeare's birthday. And also his dying day. Here is a sonnet:

'From you have I been absent in the spring...'
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play

(Sonnet 98 - William Shakespeare)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Our Day Out

We took the train from Shrewsbury to Birmingham, and as we were early hopped onto the one still standing in the station rather than hang about for another 20 minutes. Mistake. The two inadequate carriages were packed with a horrid mass of holiday makers returning from an Easter Break in Aberystwyth. (Remind me never to go there lest I meet them up with them and their baggage all over again.) An hour with one's nose stuffed under a stranger's armpit is not time well spent. And then, with apologies, the 'service terminated' at Wolverhampton....

But Birmingham was worth the effort. It looked really good - well the bits we saw anyway - bright and revived and with SHOPS!! Just enjoyed looking. We managed to spend 3 hours in Selfridges - Lesley had a 'consultation' with the delightful Spanish Wilma on the Chanel concession. She was worried that she'd emerge looking like a pantomime dame - over made-up, but walked away looking fresh as a daisy and very natural - but that might just have been the result of sitting down for an hour. Selfridges looks pretty good from the outside too; its sinuous disc-clad curves contrast hugely with everything around it. Lesley said she preferred the style of the adjacent church - St Martins - but I think there is a place for both and that we should embrace the new. Take a look.

Onwards once again to the NEC Arena and a treat for Lesley and a new experience for me. Il Divo. In concert. It was an intimate evening shared with several thousand others, mostly female and of a certain age.

Il Divo, a sort of mature boy band, are the hugely successful creation of Simon Callow. Their web site describes them as ' a cosmopolitan quartet of pop/opera crossover singers.' Well, OK, but singing 'Unchained Melody' in Spanish doesn't actually hack it in opera or pop circles, though rendering most classics in anything other than Dutch does make them more alluring.

And allure is what we got. With studied casualness rehearsed to perfection David, Sebastian, Urs and the sultry Carlos gave an extremely polished performance, belting out the classics with passion enough to stir the heart of any women with blood in her veins. We all want to hear those words of love - whether we understand them of not - and Il Divo certainly knew how to deliver. They received a rapturous reception from their fans and rewarded them with an encore of two songs, closing the show with 'My Way'. (This time sung in English - but it does work very well in Spanish too...) The show closed on the dot of 9.55pm - as the programme said it would.

We moved homewards our thoughts and dreams close to our hearts. It was a good evening. I do need to get out more but on reflection I did feel as if I had spent the evening bathed in warm treacle. A squirt of lemon juice might have been welcome.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On finding a lamb

Last evening, lying in bed reading (John Stewart Collis' diary of his time working on the land in the 40's 'The Worm Forgives the Plough', since you asked.) there came the most eery of noises from outside our window: a kind of chesty high-pitched grunt perhaps. Bird or beast? Curiousity got the better of me and, torch in hand, I scanned the field from the window. A lamb was lying in the gateway, struggling to get to its feet. Otherwise the field was deserted - but the ewes do take the lambs up to the far corner at night...

Clothes on, boots on, torch in hand go to investigate. It's a chunky little lamb, a nice size but obviously in some distress. Alan asks (from the bedroom window) 'Is it injured?'. No, not as far as I can see. Its breathing is poor and it makes no attempt to struggle.

Alan phones Heather - we obviously cannot leave it out here overnight, prey to carrion - she will come and collect it. I'm not sure it survive much longer as it seems to be getting weaker before our eyes.

Heather arrives shortly afterwards, having stopped on route to put some ewes back in a field. Her quick assessment of its condition leaves none of us any the wiser as to why it's this way. Sheep are like that. Their ambition is to die and they do say that the first sign of illness in a sheep is often death.

She drives off into the night with the lamb on a sack on the seat beside her. Back at the farm it will be dosed - 'tubed' (with what?) and maybe it will recover. Or not. Perhaps it will be put on some dry straw in the barn and will slip away peacefully.

Job done.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Un-enlightened in the garden of earthy delights...

The birds must have got tired of describing the barn with their flight because eventually it was 'safe' to go out; i.e. I no longer felt like the knife thrower's glamorous assistant about to be impaled by a beak at any moment.

So out I went. There was more digging to do - and this spring I've dug for England - in order to plant the last 5 yew trees. The rain held off and one by one the trees got planted. They form part of the boundary of a small piece of land (about 17 x 10m) the design of which is as yet undecided. But I give it quite a lot of thought as I cut my way through clay, creeping buttercup and builders' (bless 'em ) rubble whilst digging. I ponder lawn versus gravel, formal versus informal. I glance over my shoulder at the cow-shed-dutch-barn-next-door and conclude that whatever, it's all going to be considered a bit whacky in these parts anyway. I favour either a sculpture garden or a maze.......both have equal attractions.

The maze idea appeals - follow a path, however small, to a destination; which could be a mirror or a pool of still water in which would be reflected the skyscape or one's face. A metaphysical whatever. Sky, eternity, self. Self, eternity, sky. I like the idea of a shallow dish of still water except the dogs would drink from it.........

Sculpture would need to be big and bold. Prissy need not apply.

In the meantime I continue to dig and think. Tomorrow I get a day off as Lesley and I have tickets to see Il Divo at the NEC in Birmingham. More of that anon.
Bank Holiday Monday

I feel a little as if I am under siege - outside the sky is full of swallows, swooping and gliding, hugging the contours of the building, racing across the windows then suddenly turning and soaring skyward again.

Their return is a welcome sight. Surely spring must be on the way?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Well known phrases and sayings...

The sky - a ribbon of red on the eastern horizon at 3.00am the other morning. Less good perhaps the day of evil weather that followed. Remember the one about 'Red sky in the morning.........'? A pretty sight none-the-less and almost worth being awake for.

Today, a swallow - the first this year - as I drove home through Pontesbury. Later, as recounting this to our neighbour, another bird swooped past as if on cue. Isn't there a homily about 'One swallow doesn't make a summer'?

John, who farms the land around the barn, called by this evening to offer us a 'bucket' of well rotted manure. 'Muck' he called it, generously offering to get it from the matured heap up the field rather than straight from the beasts. (And, by the way, 'a bucket' constitutes a pile about as big as a shed.) As we're still working our way through the last load - and very good it is too - we declined his offer.

Apparently, weatherwise, we're about three weeks behind this year. The land is still cold and there is no grass yet for the cattle, so they will stay indoors for a bit longer. We have a bull - Dover - and some cows and calves in the shed next to our barn. The calves are able to squeeze out between the bars and go exploring - the six of them had great fun in yesterday's sunshine, kicking their heels and sniffing the big-wide-world.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The triumph of hope over experience...

Plates have been licked clean. All has been eaten. Dogs are not fed at table anyway.
But hey, it's still worth a try....

This powerful cloudscape soared over the little field at dusk last evening, rolling in from the southeast.

We were unsure whether we would get frost or thunder - so covered up the peach and nectarine in case it was the former.

We woke to sunshine and the promise of a beautiful day. However as the day progressed we had wind, rain, sleet and snow in rapid succession. Needless to say the snow didn't settle although we can see it white on the mountains to the west.

For the record I took shelter in the greenhouse and sowed tomato seed; yesterday, peppers. Alan, who yesterday had planted his 40 asparagus plants, moved on to preparing the last of the raised beds.

Dan and Harry arrived late afternoon to eat with us - and get a breathe of our alien country air!

Friday, April 07, 2006

We've just returned from a flying visit to Cornwall to see our friends David and Charly Rushby and collect 40 asparagus plants from them.

David and Charly live in a converted barn on the banks of the Tamar. They share their lovely home (as they would say in the pages of Hello! magazine) with their dog Scapa - a Hungarian Vizla. Here he is as captured by my mobile phone - a somewhat grainy picture which I'm blaming on the low light level.

They also have some hens but with bird flu in the offing they'd be advised to keep a low profile!

Our stay was too brief but we enjoyed - as ever - tremendous hospitality, and it was great to see the changes to the 'estate' that both David and Charly have made since our last visit.

David has built AN ENORMOUS greenhouse in which he has already planted fruit trees and vines and a crop of early potatoes. (The potatoes are destined for David's birthday lunch in May.) I believe the citrus trees are Charly's - and we look forward to a slice of lemon or lime in the G & T next time we visit. Charly has completely replanted the garden - a huge task which must have left her with aching muscles to say nothing of a depleted bank account. We're back with them in May for David's 60th birthday and will see how the borders have filled out then. They're blessed with green fingers and a very sympathetic climate so I expect great things.

I've come back inspired to carry on with my planting; seed sowing is next in our more modest greenhouse.
On Wednesday evening I went to the monthly WI meeting at Marton Village Hall. So far so ordinary. Marton ladies were joined by their counterparts from neighbouring Chirbury to listen to a talk on 'Trade Justice'.

Later, I read this on the MakePovertyHistory website:

'Something is very wrong with world trade - it's filling the pockets of the rich while ripping off the world's poorest people. Why is this happening? What can we do? Read on to find out why MakePovertyHistory is calling for Trade Justice. Millions of people are stuck in the trade trap. No matter how hard they work, they earn less every year. The situation is so dismal, half the world's population now lives on less than US$2 a day - roughly the cost of a burger.'

It was a talk - and all credit to the speaker who made a brilliant presentation - which has really made me sit up and think about inequality in the world and how much of our own lives we take for granted. Some facts and figures were staggering: that some multi-national corporations are wealthier than some nations. Subsidised US rice can flood a foreign market bringing its price in the market place below that of home grown rice (the subsidisation of which is discouraged) - how can any local farmer compete? The list of staggering statistics is depressingly long.

But we are all empowered to effect change - supporting campaigns for trade justice would be a start - buying fair trade products another. And many products are now stocked by our friendly local supermarkets.........

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Weird or what?

It's been one of those days worth getting out of bed for; blue sky, bird song and spring flowers.

Lambs in all the fields around us are getting more robust by the day and with this upturn in the weather they'll come on in leaps and bounds. And in our little field - an ovine nursery at present - that's just what they're doing. They gradually become brave enough to leave mum's side and discover each other. And then the fun begins - racing and chasing and jumpin' just for the hell of it.

And here's a picture of Alan mowing the lawn for the first time this year...........