Sunday, December 31, 2006

Almost done...

We're on the cusp of this year and next - always moments filled with anticipation.

2006 is roaring its way out - a gale is crashing through the trees as I write adding to the sense of excitement. Let's hope tomorrow is a bright new day.

So, 'Happy New Year' to all who pass through both my cyber world and that plot of land I call home. I wish you all a peaceful 2007.

Friday, December 29, 2006

My new Christmas Hat.

Stuck in that no-man's land otherwise known as 'Between Christmas and New Year' a girl can go stir-crazy. The sky's been down on the ground. Visibility nil. We've eaten. We've drunk and loafed around but now the novelty's wearing off. So yesterday when the sun appeared for the first time in days I dusted off the boots and gaiters, applied my NEW hat and headed for the hills.

And what a fetching but practical creation it is - perhaps not as elegant as my neighbour's gorgeous fur-trimmed model - but when the clouds are down and the wind chill factor's heading for the minus figures I'll be snug, smug and warm with those flaps over my ears. A pratt in a hat almost certainly. But a toasty one.

Off I went, over the hills and far away - well, the 4 miles it takes to do a circuit from door to door. Blue sky and fluffy clouds. Only sheep and birds for company. A farmer feeds his sheep. We wave and go our separate ways, two figures moving in a landscape.

Pheasants bask in the warmth of sunny banks and shriek with alarm at my approach. (Ugly birds but I wish them no harm.) Fieldfares flock in holly trees, gorging on the abundant berries. Starlings seek worms in the damp pasture then rise in a flock as one bird, turning and swooping to land in a skeletal tree all a-twitter. The sheep barely look up from their grazing.

Great to be out. Good for body and soul.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Remaining unconvinced.

After enjoying our neighbours' hospitality at the 'Big House' - an event which is fast becoming a Christmas Eve tradition - I think it was curiousity more than anything that took me to our little church across the fields for Midnight Mass. It's the stuff that rural idylls are made of; a beautiful place to gather at midnight on Christmas eve. The small squat building sits on a lonely hillside amongst huge yews and was now bedecked inside for this most special of seasons. Through the rood screen's tracery we saw ivy, fir and red-berried holly arranged behind the altar lit by flickering candles. The congregation wedged themselves into pews of polished pine under venerable beams. Beneath our feet ancient flags, some indicating their former use as memorials to long-dead parishoners. (Beautiful and naive calligraphy incidently.)

The church was full and we late-comers stumbled in out of the darkness to take our seats at the back. The curtains were drawn across the door against the night and the service began.

But I'm afraid my scepticism remains and interior decor aside my visit left me unmoved - no that's not entirely true - left me sad that this was not a more uplifting occasion.

The liturgy was dreary - where was the poetry, the majesty of the words? The vicar could have been reading out a supermarket receipt - the facts were there alright but the awe, the passion.....the celebration? Is it sufficient to preach to the converted - who no doubt were satisfied with this offering? The unconverted were unlikely to be moved by this dull, dry offering. Except in the direction of the nearest door.

And the carols? Oh dear. Dire.

So it was a long hour on a bench until we spilled out into the night - the communicants feeling spiritually uplifted presumably. Next year I'll stay home.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Thomas Hardy

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Earlier this evening, 6 o clockish - John frightened the living daylights out of me, looming as he did out of the darkness and asking for the loan of a torch. Of course. Certainly. Straight away.

It seems that he'd come to collect a cow that had calved, to take her and her calf back down to the farm at Woodmoor. But now in the dark he couldn't find the cow in the shed. I guess she'd be one of the black ones too. Then having found the cow; the calf was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, in the dim beam of our somewhat domestic torch it came to light - hidden, hunkered down amidst the straw the other side of the rails.

So there's another myth dispelled. We think that farmers have most eventualities covered; the contents of the average farm vehicle would certainly include baler twine, oily rag, sheep drench, spanner, wrench, crisp packet, receipt from Wynnstays, dog, calving device, mud, dust, diesel, grain and assorted bits that have fallen off tractors and sheep. All essential kit. But apparently no torch. Hmm.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I suppose we should have realised that Shrewsbury, 2 days from Christmas, would be shopping hell. Frantic, mad, crowded and cliched - and curiously, in spite of all this retail frenzy, the mounds of gift-related tat did not seem diminished one iota.

It was possible to walk from one end of the town to the other, from shop to shop and never miss a beat of 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.....' Definitely the tune de nos jours. Definitely ad nauseum.

We have the makings of our Christmas dinner - as it says on the box: a goose 'Produced on a REAL farm in Shropshire'. All sorts of thoughts occur. What other sorts of farms are there? Could a fantasy farm rear a tangible goose - a flock of tangible geese even? When is a farm a real farm as opposed to an unreal farm? Or, to distill the arguement down further - what is a farm? What is real?

Anyway here's a view of the clear blue sky over 'downtown' Trelystan:

I think the small white blob on the LHS of this picture might be Stevie, our neighbours' pony. The village church is amongst the conifers towards the centre. (Ancient site. Why there. Don't know.)

......and then bounding over the frosty field is Wilson.
Full of the joys of being a dog on a field.
Full of the joys of just being.
A dog.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Shortest day

It may well have been....

......but it was also the quickest way to empty one's purse - go to Costco and do some bulk buying. Now have cupboard full of such mis-matched items as coconut milk, kitchen rolls, pop-corn and pancetta. Some sandwich that'll make.

Drove home into the sunset - seemingly only a few moments before 15.30pm - rosy sun in milky sky. The fog, which apparently paralyses the country is nowhere to to seen.

The Long Mountain is in sharp relief, a few lights twinkling on its flank as we drive round and up to Trelystan. The temperature gauge reads 1 degree celsius. The sky is clear and we are looking out for a skinny new moon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fog blog.

Here at Lower House we're in the clouds today - from down in Welshpool, Long Mountain looked less like a mountain and more like a crouching white cat. The temperature has dropped to a chilly 2 degrees celsius. Brrrrr. Not long now until the winter solstice on the 21st and the days will start 'drawing out' - imperceptably, but 'drawing out' nonetheless. Hoorah.

Today a combination of fog and diminishing day length has meant a particulary claustrophic atmoshere. The landscape is barely revealed, ghostly shapes and skeletal trees emerge as the mist ebbs and flows. At one point the sun almost burnt through the cloud and we were lit by a glorious pearly light. But for too short a time, the sun lost the battle and gloom descended once more.

In the dying light at the end of the afternoon - the dogs and I went down to check on the hens. They were still scratching around after the last of the worms and grubs before going to roost. The dogs raced around the dingle - Chester in pursuit of pheasants which were coming to roost in our trees out of reach of Charlie's tooth and claw. They are, of course, slightly brighter than a galumphing dog and perch high above his head where he can't see them. His hyper-sensitive nose tells him they're there alright and he stands below the tree whining and yelping.

Our Christmas tree stands down the dingle too - waiting to be hauled indoors. It's a Scots Pine - which one day will be planted out - not a conventional tree, but quite a dramatic shape which will look well draped in simple white lights. If we can get it in that is. It's quite tall. The sort of tree you might find a squirrel in. That would be sport for dogs.....

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An observant bird flying en route 'twixt Shrewsbury and Montgomery yesterday afternoon would have noticed a pungent and seasonal aroma wafting up from the villages of Trelystan and Marton - and no, not the usual pong we usually associate with this agricultural landscape but something fragrant, sweet and spicy........

........The village ladies had fired up their Rayburns and Agas and slammed oven doors shut on tray after tray of mince pies in preparation for the evening's jollifications - the switch-on the of the first-ever Village Christmas Tree and Christmas Music.

It was to be another of those 'Am I really doing this?' evenings.

A scratch choir had been formed for the event - basically anyone who could open their mouth was welcome to join - and sang a medley of Christmas songs. The Young Farmers foregathered, adorned themselves in what, to the untutored eye looked like Maureen's old curtains, and sang a medley of Christmas songs. The Vicar in a racy festive pullover played the piano accordian to accompany an audience which sang with gusto......a medley of Christmas songs. A sketch (because in this neck of the woods people still perform sketches) by two 'Old Farmers' was a welcome diversion, involving lots of local names and the exchange of groceries. The audience was in stitches. How we laughed.

Mulled wine was glugged and mince pies munched. Silence fell as the raffle was drawn and tickets were retrieved from pocket, purse and bag. The wise didn't find their tickets until the 'major' prize had been won - this being an enormous knitted snowman 'mascot' - Mr Jolly Jingles. In another place, another time it would not have gone amiss in some post-ironic show at Tate Modern - I wondered if, with a few inappropriate embellishments, Grayson Perry or the Chapman brothers might have approved. Alan won an amaryllis - a prize of seemingly such low status that it remained on the table long after the shower gel, the Santa tea-light holder and the box of Matchmakers had been claimed.

Eventually the hall emptied and, leaving the lights on the Christmas tree to twinkle, we made our various ways home, some more steadily than others - that mulled wine was a potent brew.

Our neighbour wondered as we sat eating a late-late supper, why it had been such an inexpensive evening. Why hadn't more money been raised? But I think the whole point was on this occasion just to get together, be a community and not dig deep into one's pockets again. There'll be plenty of opportunity for that in the future for sure.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Wanted - fairy godmother....

Marton Village Hall is an unlovely place. Over a hundred years old now and never built to last it stands against the odds. There's not much in its favour - expensive to heat and maintain, dusty and hard to keep clean. Whilst it has both kitchen and toilets neither would gain many marks out of 10. It is, as they say, past its sell-by date.

Over the years its walls have resonated with plays, pantomine and song. Societies have formed, met and disbanded here. There have been countless extravaganzas, bazaars, fairs, fetes - spring, summer, autumn and Christmas, and functions both public and private too numerous to mention. Venue for wake and wedding feast, for laughter and tears, the gamut of emotions has run here.

Despite its decrepitude it's still well used; most days of the week it provides, in its way, a hub for this small rural community. A foot clinic, an exercise class, acupuncture and a youth club bring services to the community and an opportunity to meet and chat.

Plans are in place to build a new hall on the site - purpose built, user friendly, cost effective. All those things that right now Marton can only dream of. Fund-raising is underway - and though I understand that grants are available and will (hopefully) provide the lion's share of the money villagers are pulling out all the stops to make this new building a reality in the near future. So much commitment and so much hard work is going into this project I do hope they succeed and soon.

I wonder, does it irk to see so much money going into a project such as (dare I say it?) the London Olympics which are unlikely to have any tangible effect on our lives here on the borders? Our small project needs but a small fraction of the costs involved to bring the Games to fruition and yet its fulfillment would so enchance this community. I do wonder.

In the meantime we'll hold onto the dream and keep selling the raffle tickets.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

netlag world webcam map

This is (and I quote): 'an impressive reality video of 1609 different webcams positioned around the world. specially developed software called 'picksucker' saved an image of each camera every ten minutes (from 29-01-2004 until 30-01-2004 18:40 GTM), which are placed on a geographical world map & become animated according to time. created by pleix, a community of digital artists (graphic designers, 3d artists, musicians...).'

Techie stuff? Just another way to watch the world go by? Quite mesmeric.

Also for those who enjoy flying dogs - click on 'Birds'......

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wet Wednesday

I suppose looking at these three sombre pictures it's easy to see why one might lose the will to live or start chewing one's limbs off in desperation.........indeed, the light levels were about as low as could be and the wetness was not only descending but wicking up from the grass as well.

But the devil's in the detail - the roar and woosh of the wind - its suck and flow. Silvery droplets on every blade of grass, on every twig.

A mysterious lichen - whole universes on a mossy branch. And the vastness of sky hunkered over this sullen landscape. And the things we cannot see that send a dog careering back and forth, quartering and turning, nose into the wind. So much.

There is no such thing as bad weather apparently - only bad clothes. Get out there. Keep dry and warm. Enjoy.
I'm sitting here gazing out of the window, trying to summon up the enthusiasm to go down to Welshpool for a newspaper - oh, and a tube of Smarties, a large bar of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut and a fork handle. (Don't ask, you really have better things to think about. I wish I had.)

I imagine that from a distance Long Mountain will be swathed in cloud. Rain is certainly sweeping across Badnage Wood. Great sheets of it. We're having Big Rain. Crazy wind too, pushing the trees. And roaring.

All the colour has gone from the landscape. A muted palette of grey and green remains - such complex colours though, and difficult to describe - perhaps those wordsmiths in the paint-naming department at Dulux can help me out.

OK. Enough inertia. Time to come down from the mountain. I'll pick up a paint chart too.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Barn Owl

Home late this afternoon after a pre-Christmas drinks party at a village a few miles from here.

Along the narrow winding lanes of the Rea Valley we head towards home. The Long Mountain rises to the west and the craggy Stiperstones are a black shape in the east. Tiny lights twinkle in ones and twos through darkness on the hillsides. A day of sunshine has given way to yet more rain - the windscreen wipers slap slowly and rhythmically.

The final part of our journey takes us back up Long Mountain, up Marton Hill. A lane which twists and turns, has sharp bends and is deeply incised, bounded by tall banks and leafless hedges.

And there ahead, in the hedge, pale and ghostly, sits the owl. Staring, unblinking, unbothered by the headlights' glare it's black eyes watch us watch it. Huge eyes in white face. Then off with a sweeping swoop, great white wings outstretched and away through the canyon of the lane. We creep forwards and follow the bird's passage. Before us - spectral in the lane's darkness - there is no colour; dipping and flapping and soaring.

For too short a time we follow this beautiful bird through the lane 'til finally it rises, clears the hedge and is gone from view. What a privilege these few moments have been.

This is a link to a Barn Owl site with a live web-cam. Be patient. See owls.

Thank you Sir Christopher

Suddenly I have so many new friends at BT that we could hold quite a party. It looks as if Sir Christopher says the word and these guys jump. I have numbers to call and people to ask for by name. I will receive calls at times to suit me - and then more calls to ensure that I've been called. What?

It's a bit of a shame that this level of service wasn't around last weekend when steam was hissing from my ears - well, any level of service would have been good.

And, as is fairly obvious, I've got a broadband connection again - which kind of indicates to me that my kit's fine and that something out there in our puny exchange is at fault. (And maybe I'll get somebody to admit that that is the case. If I can get that sorted then all this ranting will not have been in vain.)

Enough of this. Time to change the subject.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. Blue sky and birds are singing etc. The hens have laid two eggs already. I have had a broadband connection for 24 hours non-stop.

Ever-such-a-nice-man has phoned from the BT Complaints Dept. - undoubtably as a result of my letter to Sir Christopher. He listened patiently to my tale of woe and promised to liaise between myself and a UK based technical support team. So we have a bit of positive movement there too. Just to be listened to makes an enormous difference. My experience of the last week has shown that for a company whose very remit is communications, BT's lack of ability to communicate with its customers is somewhat ironic.

Even as I put the phone down from talking to my new friend we were visited by a man trawling the highways and byeways to recruit support for a local radio based broadband service. Basically a signal bounces (for lack of a better word) from building to building and any need for BT exchanges and lines is done away with. It seems that his connection issues are more dire than mine - i.e. he has none at all, ever. Needless to say we'll support his campaign.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Broadband moment..

I don't want to go on about it but....I don't think the BT Broadband issue is entirely resolved - and neither have I had a reply from Sir Christophor Bland.

Tuesday pathetic. Yesterday the connection came and went. But today - fine. Just fine. Tomorrow? Who knows.

My new, close friends from BT Technical Support can insist that all's fine and dandy and that the fault's down to my wiring and equipment, but me, I'm convinced it's all down to how many logs the engineer's thrown on the boiler down at our local 'steam driven' exchange.....Get it stoked up. Get it running to speed for heaven's sake.

We're remote and rural but we shouldn't have to put up with a second class service. What happened to inclusivity?
Just because I've not mentioned the weather recently doesn't mean we haven't had any. We've had it in buckets and gales for the past week - a strong wind from the south west bringing torrential rain. On a personal note, as I write it's crashing against the front of the house and I'm praying the roof is firmly attached. Locally the River Severn has broken its banks, closing a couple of roads on the outskirts of Welshpool and flooding surrounding fields. In Shrewsbury too water is surging through the town but flood defences erected a few years ago must surely have prevented even greater ingress. Ducks are having a great time bobbing on their new-found territory and oblivious of the tarmac beneath their webbed feet.

This is how some motorists found their cars when they returned to the Frankwell car park after late night shopping. ( Photo by Gareth Griffiths.) Oh dear.

Powerful stuff water, not to be underestimated.

We are thankful to be living on high ground.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jedi meatballs

Roast Guinea Fowl and Jedi meatballs - worth getting out of bed for Harry?

Planting a hedge

Just when I thought my days of sounding like Joyce Grenfell in her school teacher mode were long gone, it's time to go and help plant a hedge with the children of Leighton Primary School.

My heart sank when I saw the 300 odd assorted 'sticks' that needed planting. But I had forgotten what a power-house an enthusiastic child can be - especially when armed with a spade. And I had, over the course of the afternoon, about 50 helpers of various ages, shapes and sizes. In the twinkling of an eye (almost) holes had been dug, worms examined and the hawthorn, field maple and hazel tucked into the ground more or less where they were meant to be. This has the makings of a good hedge - these things, like children, are programmed to grow and by the spring will be off to a flying start.

The school is creating more space for nature and wildlife in the school grounds. Its setting is amongst some of the most unspoiled countryside in the British Isles and the pupils are mostly from rural backgrounds. In addition they also have lessons at a local 'Forest School' - which is exactly what it sounds like - erm, lessons in the middle of a forest about foresty things. They are not strangers to the countryside and the natural world, lucky things. I am minded of the phrase 'taking coals to Newcastle'. This is a project that I would love to take to an inner city school where a hedge between the children and the constant roar of passing traffic would be a welcome relief.

I'm sure somebody will remember how hard Mr Comer looked for the only wildlife to be found alongside the busy A6 in Heaton Chapel- mini-beasts - a motley collection of earwigs, beetles and woodlice. But they did look scary under a magnifying glass, didn't they children? And those sea gulls - moonlighting from their day job at the corporation dump - which came and snatched crisps from the hands of children at playtime? Those were the days.

On Friday I received this card from my little helpers in the reception class - isn't it the sweetest thing?

If you look carefully you'll see a picture of Charlie. Charlie spent the entire session sitting in the soil (and I do mean 'in') digging with his hands. Apparently that's what he does. By the time we'd finished there was almost more mud than boy. Everybody else spent the session saying 'Charlie, don't do that.' Charlie, No.' But as with Joyce Grenfell's naughty boy George all words fell on deaf ears and Charlie continued to follow his own obscure curriculum. Anyway, what's a little mud between friends?

No change.

This is not much fun.

BT Broadband continues to be a pain. So far today we have had 3 minutes of 'on' followed by 2 hours of 'off'. (Damn the router's flickering light.) Appreciably better than the past 48 hours when there has been nothing. See what an optimist I am?

However, and this is a BIG FINGERS-CROSSED MOMENT, that green light has stayed contant now for at least 4 minutes so perhaps I'm winning. Frankly if it's down to talking to Mumbai again I might as well stay in bed with the sheets over my head.

Gone. Again. Back soon?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A BT rant. Sorry.

I’ll bet Sir Christopher Bland never loses his Broadband connection and enters that strange ‘Groundhog Day’ loop known as BT Technical support and as a result almost loses the will to live. The problem’s no nearer getting resolved either and oh, was that more money leaving my bank account for 3 days service not received? Again.

So here at the top of my low mountain I’m not a happy bunny tonight. My initial frustration, that of inexplicable loss of Broadband connection, is now compounded by my dealings with so-called BT Technical Support. I can just feel the steam coming from my ears – automated calls – press button this, press button that, wait 20 minutes, listen to the jangly music. Change the micro-filter. (We all have a spare micro-filter lying around don't we?) Try the master socket, remove the cover (find screwdriver) and try the test-socket. Get cut off. I want to talk to a person not hear platitudes. This is not service. This is rubbish treatment. (I'll guarantee that the Sales and Payment options aren't as alienating as this.)

Three lengthy telephone calls to ‘Technical Support’ have resulted in nothing, ‘nada’, ‘diddly squat’ and ‘sod all’. Subsequent calls to various UK customer services, much button pushing, several long waits, rants and explanations later I get to talk to another Ranjeev – who tells me that my ‘issue’ has been marked as ‘cleared’. Not. Basically I’ve been lied to. Three times. He promises to take action and get me an engineer. I wish I believed him but have now entered such a sceptical mode that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if nothing happened.

Which is why I should like to hold Sir Christopher to account. I wonder if he is sitting in corporate state at BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street, London EC1A 7AJ in smug confidence that all is fine and dandy, confident that the profits are rolling in and the bonus is assured for the coming financial year? Wouldn’t you just like to kick the ass of some fat cats? I considered getting some of my agricultural chums and a load of slurry - just so he'd know what it was like to feel like shit too - but decided that was too much like harassment. And I'm not that sort of person.

But I shall be writing to him, with little hope of a reply. His address is above if you also feel the urge to tell BT what you think about them.

I’m writing this up with the hope of pasting it in at a later date, and in the meantime hoping that the connection will miraculously and inexplicably reappear.

Let’s face it - a miracle will probably be quicker than waiting for the man in the van from ‘Open Reach’. At this point my frustration at dealing with this lying, button-pushing, ineffectual oranisation is greater than that caused by the loss of service.

PS. The connection did miraculously reappear - QED. No thanks to BT at home or abroad. Some dusky maiden from 'BT Fault's Department' phoned and we went through the identification, plugging and unplugging ritual. She then cut herself off and has not reappeared since.