Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The little triangular field just across the lane from the our barn now has stock in it again.
Towards the end of last week Heather came and loosed a ruck* of ewes and lambs out. The lambs are little scraps of things and seem so vulnerable. The weather could have given them a better welcome - we've had rain and wind since their arrival.

However if you look closely you'll see that this one has a coat on - something not disimilar to the old-style pacamacs.

The Pacamac was (and here I quote) 'in vogue in the 1960s. The precurser to the cagoule, it consisted of a large sheet of coloured polythene, cut and moulded into the shape of a coat, pliable enough to fold very small so you could keep it handy in your pocket and if it rained you could pull it out, put it on and spend the duration of the shower looking like a Durex Fiesta. The Pacamac had two drawbacks. First, it wasn't waterproof, and second, it made you sweat so much there was no point in wearing it in the first place. The modern equivalent of Pacamac wearers are people who wear transparent plastic raincoats with transparent hoods, obviously with the sole intention of imitating a large packet of crisps.' Also on Google I found a vaguely pervy German site - something to do with 'funplastics' where Pacamacs had found a home....but we'll gloss over that.

I don't remember the Pacamac as being even remotely vogueish - more an item of derision and to be forgotten on our school's 'Field Day'. (To be found lacking a Pacamac on Field Day meant banishment from the school sports' field - which was OK by me.) I suspect those who thought it vogueish then have since migrated to Bournemouth and wear them still.

Anyway these little lambs have coats on to keep the rain and wind at bay. They don't know they look silly and rustle like crisp packets. They'll grow out of them soon.

(*note the use of the vernacular here to describe putting a dozen sheep in a field. A local touch.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Super Cub View

Here we have an aerial view of the place we call home as taken by the SuperCub camera. Looks alright to us though I imagine one or two out there might be thinking 'Hmm, not my idea of where I'd want to lay my hat...'

You must try and imagine the rolling hills that surround us and the whispering conifers of Badnage Wood beyond, the handful of sheep with their box-fresh lambs, and lichens clinging to slate and branch because the air is soooo clean. And even now, as I write this - past 9.00pm with a part moon part seen through passing clouds - hearing eerie echoey owl sounds that reverberate round the dingle.

Each to his own I suppose.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

That Magnificent Man....

...and his Flying Machine.

The Great Trelystan Aeronautical Extravaganza and Fly Past took about 8 minutes from start to finish. The rain held off long enough for us to take our places in the field and, shivering only slightly in the chill breeze, watch Harry put his flying machine through its paces. Our crowd of 3 watched as the little plane ducked and dived, circled the dingle and wove its way through Ash and Sycamore - narrowly avoiding entanglement in the twiggy treetops.

A flock of starlings, surprised, rose as one bird and winged it to a hedge-line a safe distance away. The pony Stevie, grazing in the adjacent paddock, afforded this strange buzzing insect an insouciant toss of the head. Our pilot planned his descent, circled field and dingle and finally made a text-book landing against a strong headwind. Phew. Well done that man! Cups of tea all round.

We're now awaiting the release of the movie - the Cub took off with a camera strapped to the undercarriage - so hopefully we'll get a look at our rolling acres from another angle.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Guess what's under MY table?

Like it says on the box....

This is perhaps one of the odder artefacts held by the Powysland Museum in Welshpool. The skull of a horse. It was one of 24 found in the fabric of Gunley Hall near Marton during restoration work in the 1960's. So it is, as it says on the box: 'House fittings'.

Doreen and I went today to take a look and it was brought out of store for us to photograph.

Questions questions.....But why were they interred? And when? There a few cases of such burials elsewhere in Wales - in Ireland too - and speculation that horses' skulls were put beneath the hearth to guard against evil spirits. Another theory I have heard is that skulls were there to improve the acoustics of a room.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Here's the cast assembled at the last rehearsal on Tuesday. The performance in the village was last night. The Hall was full - children on benches at the front gorging on fizzy pop and chattering like little monkeys, adults filling the chairs behind, a glass of wine and Draw tickets in hand. (Remember there's always a Draw.)

All went well - as ever it would - any faux pas were affectionately received by an indulgent audience and applause was generous. Then time for 'cheese and wine' and the serious business of discussing the finer points of farming.

The first Young Farmers' production we saw was 4 years ago. We sat in the Hall, knowing no one save our local farmer and his wife. We were ever so slightly bemused I think and certainly aware of being objects of curiosity. Just who were we, these strangers? It was a bit like being teleported down from another planet. Planet Manchester - they do things differently there. But we've lived to tell the tale - the natives were friendly - and now I realise that of the crowd in the hall a large percentage have familiar faces. That previous life sometimes seems a world away.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bonfire Day

I had a bonfire today - and it was good. This might have been because it was my very own bonfire. (I've noticed that fires tend to be a man thing - started with a generous dash of petrol and cries of 'Stand Well Back' as the whole thing goes up with a dramatic woosh and clouds of choking acrid smoke blanket the area.) I took two matches and a girly pile of dry twigs and we were away. The addition of a bit of dried grass and then some prunings, then a few twigs and logs that were lying untidily around formed the basis of a good blaze. Pretty soon all the garden rubbish that won't compost had gone up in smoke. Job done. Quite satisfying too. And mine, all mine.

It was a fine morning to be in the garden. Beyond me, over Badnage Wood, a pair of buzzards mewed as they rode the thermals above the little valley. Swooping, sweeping and soaring. Every so often they were joined by ravens which flew from the conifers, their cry a bark-like 'gronk-gronk'. (This is guaranteed to tantalise Chester - who must think they are flying dogs and pursues them on the ground with a throaty bark of his own.)

The dingle was loud with birdsong and from the pond a couple of frogs croaked a duet - perhaps there'll be spawn before long. It was a reminder that the world's waking up and that spring is around the corner - although without doubt we've a way to go yet.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I've just been visiting 'Minutes' - a series of 60 second pieces which are, in the photographer's own words, 'shot as video with sound, but set up and framed as still photos. Sound is there to capture some of the ambiance along with each photo – the rain pattering on the window, distant police sirens, the muffled sound of the TV in the next room, whatever. And although the camera is fixed there will also be some movement in the image.'

How atmospheric and mesmeric each fragment is. Amazing detail amongst the roar that is the melange of sound that accompanies humanity's passage: traffic, sewage and electricity - joined by a whoop and a whisper, a rythmn, a pulse. And then those sights that pass unseen: the silver trickle of water in a gutter. A drip, and fall. Confusions of smoke and clouds.

I am now more than ever convinced that we miss so much in our race to get from A to B. While I'm not advocating that we should all gaze at a puddle with rapt attention for 60 seconds but maybe once in a while take the time to look at the small things. And listen too.

Thanks Gridrunner.


First of all remember this is February 18th. Nobody should be mowing the lawn in mid-February. We've had some wacky weather. I drove to Whitchurch on Friday evening through torrential rain. The return journey was hampered by thick fog. Yesterday was warm and sunny. Only a week previously we'd had about 30cms of snow and storm force winds before that.

So if next week we have a heatwave I wouldn't be at all suprised.

And here's Wilson - or at least the back half of him - I think there's something fascinating at the bottom of this redundant badger sett.

Whitchurch - Friday

It's a grim place, Whitchurch Civic Centre - a brutal concrete edifice in the 'modern' style; car boot sale architecture. Horrid. Soul-less and callously placed amidst the half-timbered and Georgian facades of this old town - named Mediolanum by the Romans who marched through en route to further outposts of their Empire.

Inside and in the dark, furnished in municipal style with brown interlocking chairs and sticky vinyl flooring it passes muster - but step behind the scenes and the decor goes downhill fast. Bare concrete stairways and dressing rooms reminiscent of those old tiled pubs in Birmingham which could be hosed down at the end of a beery evening. At every turn one is admonished by a plethora of laminated signs: "Do Not Smoke'. 'Do Not Open Doors - Alarmed' 'No Entry'. Just Don't. Outside in windswept alleys (where litter tumbles like sage brush in the old Westerns) the town's youth forgather to smoke, lob beer cans and jeer at passers by.
It was at this monument to crass town planning, home to passing pantomimes, tribute bands and other minor entertainments, that Shropshire Young Farmers held their annual drama competition. Performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday and the Day of Judgement yesterday. A total of 10 clubs presented one act dramas and a number of others did short sketches in between.

All things considered Chirbury and Marton made a good fist of it and we were proud of them. I was apprehensive and all I had to do was stand backstage with a script in my hand. It was an immense relief when the curtains closed - we'd reached the end with hardly a hiccup. The cast got a good and well deserved round of applause - and Maureen and I could now breathe easily. My only photograph - a fairly pathetic one - shows the cast hovering on stage just before curtain-up. My 'broken leg' can be seen in the background.

We were hugely disappointed not to have been placed and quite suprised to discover who the winners were. We Woz Robbed! It will be interesting to read the mark sheet which the adjudicators give to each club and find out what our weak and strong points were.

Anyway on Wednesday the humble surroundings of Marton Village Hall will be the next venue - modifications to the scenery are taking place at this very moment - and I know they'll receive a very good reception on home ground.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I'm tired, Maureen's tired, but Chirbury and Marton Young Farmers are all hyped up and ready to party - with the exception of Dan who says he's knacked and is going home to sleep. Perhaps it's something to do with Valentine's night and lurve being in the air?

It's been a long week for Maureen and myself - her newly appointed apprentice.

The Young Farmers enter the County drama competition each year and each year Maureeen draws on her experience as village pantomime organiser to whip them into some sort of shape, persuade them they have skills and tease out that latent talent. This one woman dynamo also finds time to paint scenery, find props, costumes and sound effects. I came along to wield a paintbrush but have found myself drawn into the whole jamboree... As usual the request for help came at the last minute. A great deal of work has had to go into a very short space of time and it's been a steep learning curve for all.

This week has been a blur of 12 hour days trying to get these young people, whose primary skills are not stagecraft, performing a one act drama to go before the judges on Friday night. It has been hard. Very hard. A bit like herding cats. Best of all has been the boundless enthusiasm. Lines have been learned in milking parlours, on tractors and whilst lambing, but judging by tonight's rehearsal - forgotten in those self-same places.

Tonight was one of those nights when we perhaps should have forgotten rehearsing and all put our feet up. The Young Farmers minds were collectively elsewhere. So after one run through we called it a day and made for home (us) or the pub (them). Tomorrow, Maureen threatens 'We're staying 'til we've got it right even if we're here on Friday morning...' At least tonight we have gone away knowing the set, sounds, props and costumes are in place - including a 'broken leg' of which I am inordinately proud.

The competition's the day after tomorrow at Whitchurch. Eeek!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Sunday Times Strikes Again

A Dior clad model graces the cover of this Sunday's Style supplement. She is beautiful and statuesque. A peony in her hat matches the liberally applied pink shadow around her eyes and the bow that is her lips. Her dress - the colours of green and blue in springtime - is gorgeous. This is fantasy land but we can all dream.

So thus enticed I fell upon the magazine, promising as it did to 'Unleash my Fashion Mojo.' After all we all need to cut loose from that utilitarian jeans and T-shirt combo from time to time and this article might just be that spur to more creative dressing. Ha! As if.....

First up my eye was caught by Shane Watson's article 'It's all pants' - the essence of which, after meandering round the Sienna Miller-wears-big-pants-over-tights shock-horror - seemed to be that clothes are what you wear, but fashion is about the way you wear them. And if I read it correctly you can only achieve that cutting edge (whatever) look if you really don't give a damn.

The column concludes:
'Contrary to what you might think that is why it is so hard to be good at fashion beyond your forties. It's not necessarily that you look pants in the clothes, it's that you are too concerned with making the most of what you've got to play the game with any conviction. The moment you start caring about how sexy you look (and if you're going to be warm enough later), it's pretty much over.'
Two pages in and I might as well close the magazine now.

Anyway, on to unleashing my mojo; apparently I don't have to be young, skinny, rich or pampered. (That's good news because I don't score highly in any of those categories.) I do need to have confidence in my appearance and I have to work my style mojo - my smojo. (My what?)
I am reminded that if I feel I look sexy and unique, then anything is possible.....Now bear in mind the previous article and this 'sexy' reference turns out to be the second of many in this one. ('The wifebeater vest - it's a definative, sexy, effortless bit of unisex clothing.' 'Be a femme fatale in a turned up collar on windy days.' 'The all-occasion throw-on dress - There's nothing more instant than getting 'dressed' You don't need anything else. Its just pure sexiness.....')

Sexiness and allure are apparently very covetable attributes. Now I am confused.

Anyway - cut to the chase. What do I need in terms of kit? I was doing quite well - ticking lots of things off on the must-have list. Soft, natural fibres - tick. Camisole tops etc - tick? Basic jewellery - tick. Cashmere jumper - tick. Black opaque tights - tick. Ballet pumps ditto. Jeans ditto. White shirt - yep. Accessories - yep. Painter's trousers. Painter's trousers?......a great undiscovered fashion secret. You can get them at most hardware stores, and they are always a great cut. Big and summery, they crumple beautifully.

And sadly, thenceforward, the list and I parted company. But I might dash out tomorrow to Boyes and Bowden to see if I can rustle up a Donkey Jacket and the aforesaid Painter's trousers before visiting Welshpool's 7 charity shops in search of that classic but iconic tracky jacket and some jewellery for peacock-like seduction. (sic)

And don't forget readers - 'Headgear - it frames your face.'

Saturday, February 10, 2007

An observant person will have noticed that yesterday the snow barely covered a bull terrier's toes. Today however - behold - it is up to his knees. (A couple of hours later - believe me - we would have lost him altogether if he weren't such a grubby critter.) We've had snow to the point of excitement.

And in a world of black/grey/white appreciate these berries before the thrushes eat them.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing!

The colour has gone from the landscape. There is white and there is black and there are shades in between. It is far from monotonous but stark and dramatic, brutal even. It is a landscape for those pied birds - the wagtail, magpie and Great Spotted Woodpecker -the splash of red on the latter's rump a gaudy jewel.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

-6.5 degrees celsius here this morning and another crispy white frost. An absolutely glorious day followed - sky the colour of well, very-very blue - that's 10BB 22/318 on my Dulux colour chart. And warm to boot - but only in the sun. I noticed that where the sun didn't reach the frost was still here this evening.

And after such a day it's hard to believe that snow is forecast. The airwaves are heavy with warnings of imminent severe weather, the media whipping itself up into a snow-chaos-hits-Britain frenzy - makes a change from Blair bashing and Bird Flu I suppose.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Three New Lambs

'.......Look, I was up half the night having these lambs, I'm tired and my fleece is disheveled - just don't mess with me. (Stamps foot crossly and petulantly) Go. Away. Now.'

These are the first of the lambs from the hills around us - triplets born last night and penned in the barn for shelter and to bond. The babes looked wobbly and wrinkled and mum looked as if she could do with a nice cup of tea and a bit of a lie down.

They're the first of many due any day. Snow is forecast for the middle of the week and tonight John and Heather are bringing the sheep down off the hill. Lambing's hard, hard work and snow will not make it any easier.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Wilson having a lovely time

Hmm.....that's not going to win a Golden Globe or an Oscar is it?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

As I write this the sun has gone down on a beautiful day and the first star of the evening in low in the sky towards the south west. Venus I think. The sky is clear - no cloud cover at all so tonight will probably bring frost again. This morning we drove over Long Mountain to collect the dogs from kennels - the fields were white over and to the east the Rea Valley between us and the Stiperstones was filled with mist. The dogs, now released from incarceration, are sprawled on a Persian rug in front of the log burner toasting their bellies. It's a dog's life eh?

We finally made it home yesterday despite Arriva Trains Wales best efforts to send us back to Birmingham instead of onwards to Welshpool. I did say that the Birmingham - Welshpool leg of the journey was too stressful to contemplate and yesterday's debacle was no exception. Suffice to say we were lucky enough to realise in time we had been directed to the wrong train (but there must have been a dozen other passengers that remained in blissful ignorance.....) but not lucky enough to catch the right one. That chugged off at speed leaving us on Shrewsbury station. 'nuff said.

An excellent few days away. I've come back thinking - as I always do - that there's just so much stuff in London, so much choice. (Jealous - moi? Not really but when I notice that yet another charity shop is opening on Welshpool's High Street my heart does sink a little. That will be 7 in total.) We sourced some replacement table lights, had a wonderful night at the opera, ate in Clerkenwell at Moro, in Pimlico at Poule au Pot and at Bibendum's Oyster Bar. We gawped at treasures in the British Museum. We walked and walked and walked. Alan bought a chair.....

......which should be delivered some time next week.