Saturday, September 30, 2006

'They can put a man on the moon - you'd think they'd invent something to keep your bra straps up'

We all nod sagely in agreement and mentally hoike those recalcitrant straps back into place. Our Speaker - at this stage in full and vivid slap, state of undress and sans wig, winks knowingly and does the same. We laugh and await the next stage in the transformation of mild mannered man to Pantomime Dame.

This was an evening unexpectedly well spent - and amusing to boot. Our Speaker at this WI group meeting was costumier and actor Richard Westcott whose seasonal role of Dame provided the anecdotes for his presentation 'Confession of a Pantomime Dame'.

I have to pinch myself to prove that this surreal experience is actually taking place. (I do find myself in some very strange places watching some very strange things these days.) Am I really sitting here in a creaky village hall, on an even creakier chair watching a man apply bright blue eye shadow and bright pink blusher, wearing a bra that even dear Jordan would struggle to fill? My fellow audience members have an average age of 70 - indeed I have brought oldsters Lily, 74 and Mrs Francis, 91 with me tonight. Mrs Francis has gone to sit at front so she is able to hear. I wonder if she will get involved helping on stage as our Dame plucks members of the audience out to get him dressed - and undressed. This of course amuses the audience no end.

Finally, and rigged like a ship in full sail, our Dame launches himself into his role and the evening ends with a stream of 'Oh No she didn'ts!', 'Oh yes she dids!' One side of the audience competes with the other for the dubious title of who can out-sing the other. Much applause, a Vote of Thanks and it's time for tea and cakes all round.

Nota bene: I forgot the Draw - there's always a Draw and it's de rigeur to buy a strip of tickets. A word of advice: The trick seems to be, after the wine, the chocolates and the basket of fruit - all usefully consumable - to lose your tickets because the prizes can get very dodgy after that. (As it happens none of my numbers came up so I wasn't faced with the agonising decision: 20 2 ply supper napkins or 6 floral melamine plates?)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Autumnal harvest.

It was fairly inevitable that, sooner rather than later, a blog would begin...

.....'it's getting to feel rather autumnal round here, especially in the early mornings.'

Days are shorter, mornings have a pleasant chill and slightly dank air. I couldn't tell you exactly when they left but our swallows have gone in the last few days, off to seek warmth under African skies. While the trees have not yet changed colour their green is dull and dead. In the lanes hedgerows are full of berries; hips, haws and rowan - some say this bounty is a portent of a cold winter to come. (I remember a late spring with no frosts to spoil the blossom.) This will be a good year for holly.

Blackberries have been and gone but there are sloes in abundance and we will be making Sloe Gin soon. I've already got some Damson Gin on the go. (1.5k fruit, washed and pricked, in a stoppered demi-john with 500g of sugar and a bottle of gin. Disolve the sugar, give it a shake every day for a week then store in a dark place for a few months, strain, bottle and glug.) Just the thing for a cold and frosty morning, noon or night. I'll let you know what it is like.

Alan's little fruit trees are laden with fruit too - the orchard, only in its third year - has done remarkably well producing apples, pears and plums. Even the trees we had in pots in Heaton Moor, and which we brought with us, are fruiting well. One, in particular looks like an illustration from one of those catalogues which fall out of the weekend papers where it always looks as if the fruit has been stuck on especially for the camera. See what I mean?

In the background the rest of the vegetable garden is looking somewhat blowsy and tired. The pink and purple patch are Asters - a welcome splash of colour as the light levels drop. If you've keen eyesight you'll see leeks in the background - they've grown well and will see us into the winter - as will the cabbages, sprouts and broccoli - caterpillars and other pests permitting. We've aready harvested onions, potatoes and squash and they are stored for future use. Hopefully we'll have beans and courgettes until the frosts.

And here, for no particular reason, are some of the sheep on our field at present. This bunch of old gals, short of teeth, sore footed and gammy legged, is being given the benefit of the doubt for another season. They're getting extra rations - to them the sight of a human being means only one thing - Sheep Nuts!!!! You can imagine what a disappointment a fool with a camera is.....

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Wisdom of Youth

I've done as the Eyechild suggested in an earlier comment and included an 'everyday object' in my photograph of tonight's supper. Very helpful don't you think?

Also, it occurs to me, that if vegetables were characters from literature, these beans would be Gollum.............

Friday, September 22, 2006

Cowboys and Injuns.

We have a party in the diary - a suprise 60th with a theme. Cowboys and Indians. OK.

Which leaves us with the question: 'What to go as?'

Cow Girl or Squaw? - neither held much attraction. The word 'Squaw' for a start - how appealing is that? The probability of looking like a sack of potatoes embellished with feathers and beads was not attractive either.

So I'm going to be a good-time gal from the Last Chance Saloon (aka Westbury Village Hall). Did a bit of research yesterday in Shrewsbury and drew a bit of a blank. Only Ann Summers, where I had great fun trying on tacky red and black, satin and lace bustiers, came close. I was quite tempted but I'm not sure about the underwear as outerwear scenario. Only Madonna, Kylie and Australian aboriginal mamas seem to be able to carry it off with aplomb. The rest of us just look as if we've got dressed in the wrong order.

Have resolved to dust off the sewing machine and whip up something suitably frothy.

Glass of Red Eye anyone?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Later that same day....

Right now it's really rainy and I'd like to fetch this little fella in and put him in a box next to the Aga.

Stupid. Stupid. Note to self: I must not be anthropomorphic. I must not be anthropomorphic. I must not be anthropomorphic....

Dragged into the daylight.

Today I was going to write about holiday reading but events kind of overtook me and rather than going down the route of literary criticism I took the one to bovine obstetrics instead.

Take one heavily pregant Limousin cow with a calf twisted every-which-way inside her and a natural birth was unlikely. Brought down from the top field after a night in labour for some veterinary intervention she was a picture of patient resignation, awaiting whatever fate had in store. We provided buckets of hot water for the vet to use to 'scrub up' and I hung around - with camera - to see events unfold. (The faint-hearted may wish to turn away now)

The camera was to stay in my pocket as I got involved in dog's-body duties: holding a gate as a makeshift crush while the vet and Carl tried to turn the calf in utero. This effort - and it was a huge effort, took a great deal of muscle and long arms on the part of the vet and much pushing and heaving of the cow's flank on the part of Carl. Many visceral fluids of all shades and consistencies flowed. The soundbites were squelchy.

Eventually the calf was turned and the vet was able to pull two hooves into view. Two rear hooves - a breech birth - and thus more assistance was required. Time for The Calving Device.
Mum has by now had enough and is decidedly grumpy and no longer for staying still. In the ensuing fracas Carl slips into the mire and emerges 'clarted' down one side. Rather in the manner of mooring a boat the cow is tethered - secured with a 'twitch' and a halter - she's going nowhere. The Device, reminiscent of an instrument of Medieval torture, is applied. Two ropes attach to 2 hooves, the Device is braced and turned, corkscrew fashion, and the calf is hauled steadily into the world. And like a cork from a bottle - and with a squelch rather than a 'pop' it's lying on the ground, bloody, sticky and steaming.

Mum is given the all clear from the vet - no internal injuries - is released and can turn her attention to her calf - a bull. He has had his mouth cleared and been turned upside down to shake him into life. The cow's rasping tongue now works over his body - Heather said this gets the circulation going - breathing is established, he lies there steaming in the cool air and struggles to lift his head. He seems very big.

We watch mother and son for a while, already she is fiercely protective and we are careful to stay out of reach. Pretty wonderful to see this new life emerge even if the process was so fraught and bloody.

As I write this cow and calf are now up in the field, resting after what has been a traumatic morning for both. I'll try and get a picture of him later in the day when hopefully he'll be a little more photogenic.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Daphne DuMaurier's 'Rebecca'. Brilliant, forget Hitchcock's movie and read the story instead. The pictures are far better.
And 'The Time Traveler's Wife' (Audrey Niffenegger). Once I'd got my head round the time traveling and who was where and when I found it absolutely compelling - and had to ration my reading in order to have something to read on flight TOM 5684. I thus found myself decidedly moist eyed as we began our descent into Liverpool, the last few chapters being poignant to say the least.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

As if we'd never been gone

Back to Lower House at around 8.00pm last evening - via the corner of hell that is Corfu airport, thence packed like sardines to Liverpool and on to Manchester. Eventually and wearily, we put the key in our own door. Of course, after only a week, we find that while we have had a very Out-of-Powys experience and have returned relaxed, bronzed and a little better read, not much has changed here. Hooray!

However, we soon discover from our neighbours that both of our deep freezes had, due to some electrical blip, defrosted shortly after our departure. In their wisdom they had switched them on again later in the week and re-frozen the contents, so this morning has been spent piling bags of dodgy meat and seafood into bin liners and doing a thorough clean - amazing really just how far the juice from 3 bags of blackberries can spread.... I am saddened by the waste (all those prawns, all that scampi, the scallops...) but also quite glad to see the back of some of those mysterious, unlabelled packages that seem to lurk frostily at the back of one's freezer and which we can never quite get round to either disposing of or face eating.

Anyway, on to happier things....

We had an excellent week in Loggos - which is as lovely and welcoming as ever and still unspoiled although there is much evidence of more tourism. Paxos seems far more properous than on our previous visits; new boats in the harbours, new roads and buildings, everything has a slightly more polished look and some of the shabbiness has been brushed away. The islanders are, at last, being rewarded for the grueling 18-hour days during the tourist season and the drudgery of the winter's olive harvest.

And what a treat it was to have these three handsome young men in the apartment next to ours!:

In Loggos the day starts slowly, the sun rising over the Greek mainland. (On the morning of our departure it was a fiery red, reminding us: 'Red sky in the morning - shepherd's warning'. And indeed rain fell as we arrived in Corfu.) The small fishing boats return in ones and twos to unload their catch, the baker brings bread from the wood oven on the hill down to the shop and the community begins to stir. Visitors emerge into the sunshine and head for the white pebbled beaches, following the narrow stony paths through the olive trees. Others take small boats out to those coves only accessible from the sea. The island bus takes Paxiots and visitors alike to Gaios and Lakka, lumbering labouriously round the narrow bends outside Loggos. By early afternoon - siesta time - the village is still; one or two sit in the shade at the Taverna and sinuous cats stretch sleepily in the shadows. The sun is hot on the slim cypress trees and cicadas stridulate in the scrub.

Later, as the afternoon draws to a close Loggos comes to life again, the supermarkets reopen, beers and juices refresh returning swimmers and walkers. (Later still, showered and pressed they'll saunter back down to the square to eat at one of the restaurants, feasting on fishes and tangy feta salads strewn with the tiny black olives grown on the island.) The little boats return to moor in the harbour. The sea calms and becomes silvery and still. As the light falls on Greece across the water, the mountains become flat shapes of blue and violet. Land and sea bathe in a pearly, milky light. Utterly peaceful. It is a great pleasure to sit on the terrace with a glass of wine and simply drink in its beauty.

Here are a few holiday snaps - in no particular order:

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Travelling hopefully....

I'm off for a few days down at sea level - Ionian sea level that is. Paxos. The best.

Holidays are OK - when you get there - but the process of packing and preparation is exhausting. Neighbours, hen feeders, plant waterers, fruit pickers, post box emptiers et al must be recruited and briefed. Fridge emptied, dogs to kennels. Passports, tickets, keys remembered? All cares forgotten - not yet they ain't.

In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves.....

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More hen-related news

The first egg!
Taken out of context you might think it had been laid by an ostrich.

.......but you can see that when next to an egg cup it's hardly big enough to feed a fairy.

However, it is a beautiful thing. Well done that hen!

The Fowl House and Poultry Cottage

This magnificent building is a hen house. It was built in 1861 by John Naylor of Leighton Hall as a birthday present for his daughter Georgina. Following in the footsteps of that noted poultrywoman, Queen Victoria, Mr Naylor had this luxurious Fowl House built to house a collection of exotic and ornamental birds - hens, ducks, geese and turkeys and doves. The fortunate fowl were accomodated in discreet apartments according to breed and had tiered roosts, pop-holes and a scratching yard with stormshelter for those rainy days. The water fowl had their own pool at the front of the building. This is the front elevation with the pool at the front just behind the rail. Makes our hen-house-on-wheels look very modest.

Naylor's archiect W H Gee of Liverpool spared no expense and paid great attention to detail as can be seen by the beautiful windows and door furniture.

The everyday care of the birds was under the supervision of a Poultry Keeper who lived in a cottage adjacent to the yard. Both Poultry Cottage and The Fowl House now belong to the Landmark Trust, a charity which restores neglected historic buildings and gives them a new future by offering them for holidays. And here, in this idylic setting, amongst the soaring Redwoods of Leighton's Pinetum*, would be the perfect place for a short break. The cottage looked very cosy - I could imagine sitting in front of the fire on a winter's evening all warm and snug, or sitting on the front step on a summers day listening to the wind in the trees, the mew of a buzzard and not much else. If we didn't live only a mile away I think we'd be booking in.

*Like many of his fellow Victorians John Naylor was a great collector and as well as poultry and water fowl he established an extensive collection of conifers. (Leighton Pinetum is now owned by the Royal Forestry Society.) He may well have had a menagerie too.....

Friday, September 01, 2006


I've just remembered one of the jokes that had 'em rolling in the aisles:

'Did you hear about the cow that was crossed with an elephant and a kangeroo? It's got ears big enough for all the tags and a pouch to put the paperwork in.'

How they laughed!

It's not worth me trying to explain that one.