Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I probably don't want to know the answer to this.

Funny place Welshpool.

I found myself today in Boots - and as the store had been completely rearranged I had to wander round most of it in order to locate the one thing I needed. And there in front of me, and occupying a fantastic amount of shelf space, was the most comprehensive selection of nail care requisites - a display maybe nearly 3m long by 2m high. Files, rasps, buffers, creams, lotions, potions, pushers, prodders, cuticle thingeys, removers with acetone and removers without, scissors straight, scissors rounded. Cotton wool. Glass fibre nail wraps (what?) And false nails of every length, size - for flat and for 'regular' nails - and colour; pink, pale, shiney, matt (I sound like a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins) Some with flowers on. Some beglittered. I could go on with this catalogue of artifice.

Not only was one's every manicure need anticipated but also those of your feet - behold a range of false toe nails......'with easy-apply tab'. God help us.

I was transfixed. Somebody must buy this stuff along with the polishes found on the cosmetics aisle - it seemingly occupied more space than the soaps and showergels.

And all this in a small shop in a small town. What do the inhabitants of Welshpool and its environs do with all those false nails? Most of Welshpool's inhabitants appear to be strangers to both soap and washing machine, let alone French manicure. The soft and dainty hand is little in evidence - more the podgy paw clutching fag, pie and pushchair.

Shelves stacked with packs - 25 to a pack and only 10 fingers to a hand. Hundreds, thousands, millions..... I can't make the numbers add up. And the thought of all those falsies coming unstuck in sandwiches and passionate moments is too gruesome to contemplate

So no, I don't really want the answer. In this case ignorance is probably bliss.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


There's a empty place on the perch in the henhouse-on-wheels tonight. One of the Mrs Browns has gone to her final roost. She had become increasingly lame over the past fortnight until she was essentially a one legged hen and confined to quarters. Scratching for worms and grubs - an instinctive and reflex action for a bird had become impossible. The poor thing just fell over. Sounds funny. But no, not really.

So we did what I like to think was the decent thing (or rather Alan did) and ended her life. Don't we disguise our actions, especially when they are unpleasant, with comfy phrases? You can insert any euphemism you like for what we did - and lots of phrases come to mind, none of which actually involve the word kill or dead. 'Put her out of her misery' - I don't think 'misery' described her condition. 'Put to sleep' - hmm, not really. And has she gone before to 'A Better Place'? (see below)*

Two things: 1 -We didn't do it lightly and 2 - I think we made the right decision. Any thoughts?

And finally by way of eulogy: 'As hens go, she was a good 'un. Red of comb and wattle, bright eyed and glossy feathered. Never guilty of pecking her fellows. A good layer. RIP'

*Quite possibly - clucking amongst the 'choir invisibile' even as I write - but her mortal remains are at rest in the deep freeze.

Friday, November 24, 2006

We're back home now - having arrived yesterday afternoon at dusk. A characteristic Welsh drizzle was falling as we left the train. (And don't even get me started about trains.....) On the 8 mile drive across Long Mountain to pick up the dogs from kennels we met only a solitary rabbit which ran this way and that in front of the car, startled by the headlights. On the return trip we met maybe 4 cars. Busy for that stretch of road. The previous evening a short journey across town from Bloomsbury to Battersea had taken an hour in nose to tail traffic. I guess if that's the way you choose to live your life then you get on and do it, gritting your teeth. For me the bright clear air, the silence and sense of space on our return was overwhelming and very welcome.

But it's good to get away once in a while - I return with a head full of ideas and images. We've had a good week in London - and if my connection hadn't gone down and lost my first draft of this blog I could have bored you with reviews for this and for that. (Thank your lucky stars!) Suffice to say:

.....we ticked off everything on our to-do list: Dinner at Moro in Clerkenwell, Velasquez, Hockney, La Boheme, a crab salad at Bibendum's Oyster Bar, Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, walking 'til our feets were sore etc etc.

Time for a bit of shopping too - including this light modelled on the famous Onion who has her own website. She is gorgeous - go and look at her - and certainly more so-operative than our white dog.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

In the Diary....

I just look at this page and come over all excited. It is so full of promise.

Much as I love moo-ing and baa-ing and birdsong - oh, and the wind through the trees and the mew of a buzzard....There are times when a girl's got to get operatic. I knew the moment I opened the mail shot from the ROH - which they had cunningly made interactive - and heard 'Che gelida manina' from La Boheme - that my credit card would slip effortlessly from the purse and into purchase mode and tickets would be bought. On Tuesday night I shall wallow in what is essentially a very soppy story and just enjoy this feast for ears and eyes.

We're off for a few days r 'n r in London which will be a treat for us both. Shops, exhibitions, a couple of meals with friends. The excitment builds. Neighbours are briefed in the hen care department, dogs have cases packed for kennels. I've only got to switch my rustic persona for one of cosmopolitan sophistication and we're ready for the off.

........Places to go, people to see!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Remembering Auntie Louie

There probably aren't many people left who'll remember Auntie Louie - Louisa Coultman; my brothers and aged Aunt Isobel are the only ones that come to mind. However as a result of a little late night digging on I've unearthed a rich seam of Coultmans and subsequently a correspondent with whom I share common great great grandparents. So out there somewhere there may be someone who can bring this plump little figure to life again for me.

Of course, that cannot literally happen. She hopped off this mortal coil in 1965 leaving my mother a sweet little oak side table which was handy to put the telephone on. I wonder what happened to the rest of the estate?

Probably the lives of one's parents are always something of a mystery - (unless you're Royal Family in which case there's an embarassment of information) - and as children we are so egocentric we never think much about the lives of others until it's too late.

So Auntie Louie was a figure from my mother's mysterious past who would visit us on our regular holidays in Yorkshire. She would arrive in Cropton, alighting from the small bus which plied for trade in the villages between Pickering and Rosedale and which carried farmers' wives to market and home again. She and our mother would share names and places and reminiscences, their conversation over cups of tea slipping into the Yorkshire twang my mother took elocution lessons to lose. Occasionally our aunt Isobel would appear too and they would for a short while be Libby, 'Belle and Louie - like in the old days. We were excluded from this tittle-tattle - as was our father - but it didn't matter. We children wanted to be off and out during those endless summer days. And out we went, romping and bowling along through the lanes, woods and fields.......but that is a story for another time.

Which is why I can't remember what they talked about and only recall a stocky little woman, her long thin grey hair plaited and wound around her head - not disimilar to Gertrude Jekyll in her later years. Always neatly dressed in plain dark clothes she carried a capacious handbag from which a sensible boiled sweet might be produced for a sensible child. I was 'Topsywopsy'. Robert was 'Robbity-bob-bity' and Anthony was 'Antypanty'. Cringecringecringe....... I guess that was about as a) affectionate and b) frivolous as she got. She did seem old too, but in reality was probably only in her 60's. She also owned a quarry on the road from Swainsea Lane to Cawthorne - that interested me then and interests me more now. You don't expect old ladies to own holes in the ground.

Because I was the girl, and in theory better behaved than my two brothers, I was often taken to Auntie Louie's house for tea. Her house on Swainsea Lane on the outskirts of Pickering was big, old, quiet and cold. Quite unlike our own. Clocks ticked away the hours loudly; otherwise time seemed to have stood still. In the kitchen - white tiled - a gleaming gas cooker stood proudly in state where a range might once have stood. An airer suspended from the ceiling was hung with laundry. Big baggy drawers - we didn't look at those.

Tea was always ham salad and bread and butter. A good Yorkshire tea. Perhaps a piece of cake or some bread and butter with jam to follow. And cups of tea, always cups of tea. And chatter, chatter. Would they never stop? I'd swing my heels ('Stop fidgetting'), listen to the clock and look at the big painting of cattle frozen in the act of drinking from a moorland pool. Perhaps I'd take a peak in the drawer in the hall - there were always coins in there, for the milkman perhaps. My father once said - with amazement - that they were sovereigns. I never got a chance to go back and look. Things moved on. I grew up, Louie died and that chapter closed.

And that's about it- this elderly woman was the little girl born at Keld Head in 1893, the youngest of the 12 children of John and Hannah Coultman. I wish I knew more. Perhaps I will.
And here, for what it's worth are two pictures of Keld Head.

Yawn, other people's family history is soooooo BORING...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A day 'oop north

A bit of a detour today and a trip 'oop north' with Penny's Art Group. I'm a bit of a ligger when it comes to a day out - I'll join anyone's party. Just show me a coach and I'm on board. (I'm also quite useful when it comes to Making Up Numbers.)

Our destination was Salford Quays and The Lowry; the L S Lowry exhibits in particular. The small group, of which I am not a member, meets on a Wednesday morning to do things artistic. (Not being a member I'm a bit vague about what things in particular - but suspect, knowing our local community, the motives are social, tea drinking, art and Art. In that order.) Penny's suggestion of a trip to see Lowry's work was taken up with much enthusiasm and thus we found ourselves trundling northwards - in my case towards a very familiar landscape and in the case of my fellow passengers into the unknown.

Salford Quays look very slick now - the days when dead dogs and supermarket trolleys floated in the murky docks are long gone. Now we have culture, heritage and commerce and some exciting architecture in a waterfront setting. We'll gloss over the mundane speculative housing that has unfortunately gone up in its wake....

First stop the L S Lowry exhibitions - and for me a first. Because for nearly 30 years I've managed to avoid coming into close contact with any of his works. Well, I'm breaking family ranks here in saying that I liked them. They had a lot to say - about the teeming life in his northern landscape and about the artist himself. And what we learn about both is not pretty. He seemed a lonely and troubled voyeur painting the desolate hills, the filthy cityscape and its ant-like workers. He became increasingly fascinated by down and outs, cripples and solitary misfits. He said, “I feel more strongly about these people than I ever did about the industrial scene. They are real people, sad people. I'm attracted to sadness and there are some very sad things. I feel like them". I blame his mother.....

Plenty of food for thought there.

We crossed a bridge and took a quick look at the Imperial War Museum North designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind.

Libeskind, to quote Wikipedia, 'rocketed to fame in 2003 after receiving a commission to create the master plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. His architecture uses a language of skewed angles, intersecting geometries, shards, voids and punctured lines to communicate feelings of loss, absence and memory whilst addressing the immediate situation. Most of his works are museums and galleries.'

A great building. Appropriate. Devoid of colour; grey, black, steel and white against a slatey sky. Not a blade of grass. Bleak but powerful. Not a wasted line.

And then there's our bus, it's time to head for home. My friends from the shires have been suitably impressed by The Lowry. The ladies' toilets have been particularly popular as have the sweeping curves and the vivid colours of wall and carpet. Mr Lowry too has made his mark - although the group are wondering what Penny has in mind as a project to follow up this visit.

We head south to Shropshire through busy late afternoon traffic. The light has almost gone by the time we see the low bulk of Long Mountain to the east. A few lights are twinkling out there in the gloaming but otherwise all is darkness.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The nation, and I, remember.

At 11.00am this morning the busy shoppers in Welshpool's Morrisons Supermarket stood and remembered those who have died in conflict since 1914.

An eery silence fell, broken only by a child's whimper and the air conditioning's steady hum. We stood, frozen to the spot. (The shelf stacker holding his case of tins. The mother with her hand in the freezer's chill.) I thought, foolishly that our postures were not unlike those found in the ruins of Pompeii. Except we, unlike the dead and maimed, had the fortune to move on after a couple of minutes. That serene peace we shared was broken and a busy morning resumed. Did we spend those few moments remembering the dead or did we weigh up the Sauvignon, the cheese or cut-price veg? For we are on the whole, lucky - few of us have suffered the consequences of war and it is perhaps hard to appreciate the relevance of this Remembrance Day.

Alan said this morning it's about time it was all knocked on the head. I think I would have agreed once. But now, I don't know. I don't think so. As years go by I find it increasingly poignant. (Perhaps it's being the mother of sons and having the priviledge of seeing them achieve manhood and realising how easily their lives could be snatched away.) It's not about jingoism or the celebration of war. It's the pity, the anguish, the loss, the grief and above all, the waste of something so precious as life. So, all in all, I think it's fitting that we stand for a while and pay our respects to those whose lives were, and still are, so brutally cut short. And in the end how tragic is it, knowing all that has gone before that we still ask and expect young people to be prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

John McCrae 1915

Saturday, November 11, 2006


We've had some stunning weather over the last few days. Shirt-sleeve sunshine to start with, then white-over frosts as the week drew to an end. Crisp and dry, leaves on the trees have turned a rich palette of yellow, orange and gold.

So last night when a farming neighbour dripped into the kitchen with an invitation to that evening's Young Farmers' Bonfire 'Extravaganza' we were a little miffed to see torrential rain. That's Sod's Law for you.....

Believe me, an evening on a muddy field in driving rain is not my idea of a Big Night Out. However here was a neighbour who's not going through the best of times at present and we both agreed we should turn out and show our support - as did our immediate neighbours and their small son. So suitably booted and weatherproofed we made our way through the driving rain up the lane and across a field.

And there, through the rain in our headlights, is the bonfire - as big - no, bigger - than the average house. Every scrap of combustible rubbish from hereabouts has been piled high. Malcolm dowses it liberally with splashes of diesel, throws a match in and WOOSH! It's away. It takes hold. Flames race skyward, thrown this way and that by the wind. The primal magic of fire casts its spell and for a while we forget the rain. We are in its thrall. We feel its warmth on our faces, conscious that our backs are chilled. We hear its roar and spit and crackle. Gazing up into the inky sky, millions after millions of sparks are flying - like shoals of skinny orange fishes caught in invisible currents they dart and turn this way and that 'til spent. They die in darkness.

The Young Farmers have pulled a collection of stock trailers, tractors, horse boxes and sundry agricultural vehicles into a rough circle around the fire - wagon train style. (This is the Wild West of England after all!*). So here we have the bar - lager and beer, and the 'chuck wagon' - burgers and hot dogs, both doing a roaring trade. Slurp, slurp. Munch, munch. Very fine burgers.

There are fireworks too - only a modest display - but the usual array of fizzes, pops and bangs, fountains, chrysanthemums et al. We ooh and ahh. Small children stand enraptured their faces golden in the fire's glow.

We are wet. Our faces run with water as, upturned to watch the display, they have caught the weather. I am aware that the bits of me not covered by coat, hat and boots are sodden. And cold.

So we turn for the warmth of home, leaving the Young Farmers to the beer and burgers and the fire on the hillside to burn the night away.

*We are in England - the border is about 200m away, behind us - marked by a hedgeline and a change in road surface.

Rural Crafts, No.1 - Fencing

A fine example. Nice.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dappled things

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Take from this poem what you will - but most of all enjoy the words.

.......and in case you're wondering, from L to R:
Guinea Fowl (last seen on a bird in Westbury)
Pheasant (deceased, last seen disappearing down Wilson's throat.)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (last spotted flying over the dingle)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Moonlit thoughts

We've just slithered down from a late, late lunch with our neighbours. The time is 9.00pm. That's how late lunch was. But that's what they call lunch and after such good food and company who am I to argue?

All around us is silvery bright - everything seems in such sharp focus. Monochrome. Silent. The big full moon is hanging in the north east - over Stapely Common I think, where the stone circle - Mitchell's Fold - is. This is day come to night. If I think this is strong mysterious magic what did my predecessors think?

A little over two kilometres to the north of Mitchells's Fold is another stone circle, 'Hoarstone,' which barely rises above the height of unmown hay. Indeed in the summer months it is the patch the mower avoids - we do not see stones, only grass. I learn that it might also be called Black Marsh Circle and recall from my trawls though the archives that my lead mining ancestors lived here. Very close to here. Now it is something of a desolate place, unkempt, on the fringe of neat agricultural practice. Perhaps this was always the case.

But here they were. Big teeming families living, I imagine, in some cobbled shanty, blessed with a little land, fresh air and a miner's wage. And sharing sometimes a moonlit landscape such as mine.

I hope on a night like this they too saw trees silhouetted and skeletal; and reflections and the moon on water and the vast foreverness of the sky, felt the comfort and love of now and wondered, just for a moment, about 'them' - 'Them' that moved stones into a circle and for whom this was a scared place. And why? And did they see this moon too? And did they too wonder: why?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


We found ourselves today, unexpectedly, some 2,000 ft over Shropshire. Strapped securely into the seats of a small and insubstantial plane - and humming soto voce 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines....' - we took off from Welshpool Airport for the wide blue yonder.

And what a wonderful day it was to take to the skies, clear, crisp and blue. Beneath us we saw, in Gerard Manley Hopkins' words, 'Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough'. It was both familiar and strangely revealing from this unaccustomed perspective, like discovering the depth of wrinkles on the face of an old friend.

How neat it all looks. How many sheep there are. Water glints and flashes. There is no time to study anything before we have soared away. And there is so much to look out for - field patterns, earthworks, woods, lanes, dingles. Where we used to live. Where we walked the dogs. This magnificent empty landscape flowing beneath us, spreading, rising, creasing into folds and gullies, sheltering clusters of houses, cottages and farms. Hidden mansions amongst the trees. One could surely never tire of this.

Over Long Mountain, via Trelystan and up the Rea Valley to Westbury, spotting familiar landmarks below. On to Shrewsbury - the sinous curves of the Severn clearly visible. Over Pontesbury - Asterly with its windmill in the distance - and Minsterley, to the Stiperstones. Then turning west across Long Mountain we head towards Middletown and the Brieddens. We take a close look at Rodney's Pillar. (Erected in 1782 by the grateful Montgomeryshire landowners whose oaks were bought by Admiral Rodney to build his fleet.) The walker enjoying a solitary stroll at the summit must have thought we were going to join him...Finally we turn south passing Powis Castle and take a look at Castle Caereinion where Alan shoots. Then all too soon with barely a hiccup we are back on terra firma. Mid Wales Airport. Welshpool. It's been noisy, bumpy, draughty and brilliant.

Here's a view of the barn and its environs - our field is across the centre. The teeny dots in the 'triangular' field are 3 cows and two calves.

Next, Westbury where we lived while waiting for the building works to be completed. Jubilee Mews and "Bob's pub are slightly to the left of centre, at the top.

Then over to Shrewsbury where the old town can be seen in the loop of the Severn. The Abbey is a third of the way down and two-thirds of the way across to the east - by the English Bridge.

And finally over the Stiperstones, looking north.

Thank you Russell for an exhilarating morning's flight. When can we go again?