Sunday, July 29, 2007


9.53pm. If I stand, just so, on the lane, and look out over there I can see tonight's full moon hanging huge and amber in the east. It is not a still thing and before many minutes pass - time and space I measure in leaves and twigs and branches - it has risen further. There is a star to the south too. In the little field, twin calves born yesterday - drawn into life by the pull of the moon perhaps - are tentatively exploring their new landscape. Grassnettlesthistles, only warm milky mother is a sure thing.

After the cloudy foreverness of the last few weeks all this is wonderful indeed.

Behind me 2 large black cows are as statues silhouetted against the limpid western sky. They are watching me moon gazing, an interloper in their twilight zone.

I hold onto a fence post. I think just to tether me to here, elsewise I might just be off and away into the moonlight......

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sick as a dog

Question: What's the difference between a dog and a dustbin?

Answer: Not a lot. Especially if your name is Wilson.

Who knows what has gone down his gullet - and it's probably better not to ask. Things fowl and fetid certainly - and yes, I have a vague recollection that he was seen licking up 'used' hen food with a fervour usually reserved for collectors of rare and esoteric objects.

As ever it would it ends in tears, or if not in tears, with invoices and £££ signs. Wilson and his aching belly, which rang like a drum, have been to the vet. The vet (hardly out of short trousers) adopts a stern face beyond his years and warns of bloating, twisting stomachs, sudden death. I am alarmed. No punches left unpulled in this practice obviously.

Wilson is x-rayed and endoscoped. There is no obstruction in the throat (hurrah) and what can be seen of the stomach through the mass of herbage he's snarfed as an emetic reveals inflamation. Poor dog. Things will be prescribed.

Wilson of course knows none of this - only what instinct tells him; pain hurts and that dog pharmacopeia leads him to anything green. I wish the other bit of animal wisdom would kick in - lie low and rest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Amongst other things, a dead cow.

Woke this morning to a clear blue sky. Joy of joys. 'God's in His heaven - All's right with the world!' etc. With a spring in our steps we set about the daily round. What a difference some sunshine makes.

A couple of mornings ago under leaden skies and sheeting rain J & H fetched the cattle off the top fields. 50 or 60 mighty beasts thundered down the lane beside the barn, their hooves churning up the already potholed surface. H was bringing up the rear with the halt and lame, toting a short length of blue alkythene pipe the better to urge on any stragglers.

We exchanged pleasantries. No news but weatherweatherweather. The land can hold no more water. It is saturated. The stock is poaching the land. It's not good, not good at all. There will be harvest....but when and what? What implications will there be for winter feed? H has told her son he won't see the like of this again. I hope this is the case.

As we stand in the rain watching the cattle pass down the lane under the morning's grey sky I detect a note of quiet melancholy in H's voice. They are custodians of the land, putting meat on the nation's table. Muck and toil. Daybreak to dusk. This is what they do. Is This not sufficient? A shrug as if to shake off thoughts of it being any other way than this.

Then as if enough were not enough she adds: 'The cow in the shed, she died in the night too.' Another blow. That's life though, this death.

I watch the herd go down the dingle and up the other side - to a field on the hill where maybe the grass is, if not proverbially greener, then maybe firmer underfoot. Perhaps it's wisest not to be too introspective but, like the cattle, keep moving on.

The 'knacker's man' came for the cow yesterday morning, collecting her papers from the shed before hauling the corpse into his wagon with little ceremony. Yes, even in death she needed a passport to travel.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Good Things...

This is the book of the pie. You remember? The one I made earlier? Hot water crust with a pork and game filling.......'bristols'?
Come on, keep up.

All I know about making a raised pie comes from this book: Jane Grigson's 'Good Things'.

Here is food writing at its best - eminently readable, knowledgeable, earnest and sound. This is a re-issue of the original 1971 edition, so no glossy primped studio pictures here - just simple line drawings and pictures drawn by good prose. Here I discovered the alchemy of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary - carrots, herring, walnuts, kippers. Along the way references and histories, reminiscence and practical advice; for a temporary escargotière, for example, you will find that an up-turned bucket does very well when pierced with small air holes and weighted down - the collective lifting power of a gang of snails is apparently a thing to behold.

This is where I learned to put gooseberry sauce with mackerel, to make Gâteau de Pithiviers Feuilleté, about eau de vie and marc, to brine meat, kippers from Craster and salted spiced herring. I flick through the pages and am reassured to find them the same as in my old paperback copy which met its end in the mouth of a young dog some years ago.

Jane's daughter Sophie holds the copyright. I'm glad it's in those good hands.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines

In 1851 my great great grandfather Samuel Cross, then aged 40, was a lead miner working the rich veins of ore in one or other of the lead mines then at peak of production here in the south Shropshire hills. His father and uncles before him, brothers and neighbours too, all were employed here. Some years later his sons would also wield the pick and shovel, processing the ore above ground or hewing it from the bed-rock deep below. Large sprawling families, industrious and God-fearing, eking out a living - the miner's wage supplemented by a patch of land and good husbandry.

Towards the end of the century economic forces and foreign competition sent the industry into decline and the labour force had to seek employment elsewhere. Thus began the great Cross diaspora. My family went in all directions and now I have returned.

They are all strangers to me of course - the blood that runs through my veins is probably quite dilute by now- nothing in common but this slender thread of ancestry. I've studied the census returns and pored over parish records and I've gathered a lot of facts and statistics; I know who was who's neighbour and who married who - but am ever more curious about their day-to-day lives. I would like flesh put on these old bones.

This evening, via a narrow gated entrance in a hillside in Snailbeach I waded stooped and damp into the miners' world. Lit for us by the luxury of torchlight - no flickering, guttering candles for us - a rough hewn landscape revealed itself - hard and wet. These 'levels', long abandoned and only lately valued as part of our industrial heritage, are extensive - it's hard to grasp their scale and breadth and to comprehend that this labyrinthine complex was made by manpower and a little black powder. Hard and dangerous labour indeed.

We venture what seems like deep into the system - though I imagine unfamiliarity makes our journey appear longer than it actually is - and stand, somewhat in awe, in a 'stope'. This cavernous void has been mined out - this is the space that's left when the vein of ore is removed. Above us, nothingess for as far as a torch beam reaches. Somewhere - outside - way above, is a wooded hill, dappled shade and sunlight.

I put my hands on the rough hewn walls and feel the wetness that seeps through slim fissures and soaks the dark rock. It's chill. We turn out our torches and stand in utter blackness. No one moves or speaks. It takes a leap of imagination to see this as a workplace; to visualise its exhausting physicality, the loud and ugly brutality of the act of breaking rock, the smell of mud, sweat and explosive, the banter and camaraderie of shared experience. I try. With eyes wide open staring into black and my hand gingerly groping for the roughwet wall, I am sharing. Their world. Now.

Outside again it is still evening and the air is warm and sweet. Over the Long Mountain the sun is throwing a golden light down across the valley. We all stand tall again, remove our helmets and trudge down the lane, en route for home. Ever it was thus I suppose at the end of the day.

Home into the sunset with a fragment of song:

'Where it's dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew.
Where the danger is double and the pleasures are few.
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines,
it's dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.'

To the east reflected light on clouds over the Stiperstones

To the west, the setting sun over the Long Mountain

Rain tomorrow perhaps.

Mud, mud..........

.....glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me follow down to the hollow
And there let me wallow in glorious mud.....

The heavens opened as we passed through the turnstiles onto the showground at Tatton Park for the RHS Flower Show, but I imagine that the previous fortnight's incessant rain had already taken its toll. The brief but heavy shower passed over but the sodden ground already resembled a mudbath. The gardens, largely protected from the public's feet, remained pristine, but elsewhere - glorious mud.

Those with their wits about them had come equipped with wellies - the sturdy green and rural Hunters and Aigles - or whimsical suburban Cath Kidson inspired floral boots. The clog de nos jours , the Croc was much in evidence too. By some miracle of forward planning I had taken and was wearing my ancient gardening Birkenstocks. Then there were the ghastly trainers - now even worse for their clarted-upness. At the bottom of the 'come-equipped' heap were those whose footwear made no concession to the weather whatsoever. They were to be seen with grey mud oozing between toes........nice.

Trench foot aside the show was rather lacklustre - some nice bits of planting and construction here and there but little to set the world on fire. Chelsea of the north it wasn't. Perhaps we won't bother again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hurrah for me!

I don't think I've ever been awarded an award. Nothing. Zilch, nada, diddley squat. Sigh. I was one of the girls at Speech Day who never made the long and lonesome trek to receive, in exchange for a handshake, a hard backed worthy tome or certificate. Sigh again. And as this is blog world - :(

So what's this? Mopsa has bestowed a schmooze award upon this 'ere blogger. Am I chuffed or what? Don't quite know what to do with it so I've stuck it on the virtual mantelpiece for the time being.

But what is this schmoozing? 'Schmoozing as defined by is the ability “to converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection.” When it comes to blogging, schmoozing is your ticket to making new friends, getting yourself noticed and building a reputation. Some bloggers are gifted with the ability to effectively schmooze and others not so much.' So now we know.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Small night thoughts

Outside, right now, the air has quite a wet metallic tang. The electric storm passed over, throwing down some rain, rumbling and grumbling a bit, threatening but nothing serious after all.

My hens have gone to roost. They perch in a line crooning night sounds. Overhead a raven flies out from Badnage Wood and somewhere above the Dingle croaks out his night song too.

Over on the little field a huge cow, silhouetted against the eastern skyline, flicks her tongue from her mouth and brusquely licks a small black calf, which in its turn pushes into her flank in search of warm warm milk. An old ewe's bawling for a misplaced lamb a couple of fields away. It's a sound to break your heart.

A first bat flutters and the kitchen lights look welcoming indeed.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pies and not smoking.

Now and then - probably every couple of months - a pack of something frosted and mysterious emerges from the freezer. Pheasant, partridge or rabbit perhaps. We look at it from all angles, this unprepossessing lump of frozen flesh - and inevitably decide: 'Pie? We'll make a pie.'

Not just any old pie though: a hot-water crust pie, stuffed with spicy pork, game, fruit and nuts.
Not a true raised pie - this one's made in a tin lined with the soft warm pastry, stuffed with meat and then, when cooked, topped up with stock which jellies on cooling. With tomato chutney or pickle and salad leaves from the garden it will be a tasty lunch.

The game sits defrosting on the side and Alan is sent hunting in Welshpool for the other meaty ingredients: belly pork and bacon. If he stalks the butcher on a Wednesday, pigs' trotters - the basis of a gelatinous stock - can be had for free.

Into a pastry case goes minced and seasoned meat - layered with strips of game and apricots or prunes, hazelnuts or pistachios. Moisten the edge, put the lid on and crimp neatly. Make a neat hole in the top to let the steam out. Reach for cigarette packet..........

Stop. What?

The hole in the top is kept open by inserting a tube of thin card - and when I first made a pie manymanymany years ago, a handy fag packet made the perfect 'bristol' (for that is the name given to this hole-keeper-opener). A smoker no longer, I still cast around for that perfect piece of card - the Silk Cut carton - which is no longer in my gift. Regretfully I substitute something snipped from the recycling and bung all into the oven.

Probably that's the only thing I miss about smoking....

My reference to 'bristols' comes from Jane Grigson's 'Good Things' - an excellent book from many points of view. So good that the dog ate it. I must get another copy asap.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cinder patch bandit?

I'm not alone in my observation - in fact I might go as far as to say that it's universally acknowledged - that there are certain professions where integrity is flagged up but only occasionally practised. Politicians, estate agents and (dare I say it?) some less scrupulous members of the fourth estate come top of my list of those who, early in their careers, have made a pact with the devil. Recent experience has added the silver-tongued car salesman to that inglorious roll.

But - as they say - needs must when the devil drives.....

And it was only a short drive that took us to a used car patch on the side of the busy 'A' road that snakes along the border between England and Wales and where a suitable 'pre-owned' vehicle had been spotted.

There was no obvious sign that our man practised the dark arts; no pentagrams, sigils, goats or overt signs of faerie witchcraft, just a shabby shopfront behind a windblown patch on the Welsh side of the road in a has-been town. Out front a line-up of vehicles of 'a certain age' gathered dust, their windscreen banners exclaiming virtues: 'Air conditioning!!' 'Air Bags!!' 'Stereo!!' 'Electric Windows!!' and the inevitable optimistic prices. Not promising.

Our man lurched unenthusiastically from his sales office proffering help. I resisted the temptation to ask the first question that sprang to my lips, the naive 'Does it, ermm, go?' I tried harder. Mileage. Yep, it had mileage. Service history. MOT. Possibly. Cam belt? (Always a good 'un). We jiggled the steering wheel and stepped on the brakes, checked the mirrors and played with the petrol cap release thingey. We got the engine turning and it sounded OK. We stood around in the way of car buyers the world over, kicking a tyre occasionally and squinting along the bodywork. We were not actively being sold this car. This was a take it or leave it situation.

We ran out of questions and in the ensuing silence our man admitted he had a bad back. This non sequitur was followed by 'Used to be a builder'. This was somewhat reassuring. Not a dyed-in-the-wool car salesman then. Arthur Daly he wasn't. A couple of telephone calls, a couple of questions and a little negotiation later and this W reg. Peugeot estate was ours - or more correctly will be our son's.

A deposit changed hands in the office - a shambles of a room with, incongruously, a chiller cabinet and the trappings of butcher's shop in the corner. Obviously they do things differently here. We will drive it away on Friday with fingers crossed, a 3 month warranty and a reassuring 12 months MOT.

I hope we don't regret this.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

My sentiments entirely

It's light-hearted but thought provoking isn't it?

Design: Kate Charlesworth© Cath Tate Cards

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The rain blog.

If the truth were told this picture's a bit of cheat. I took it a while ago - one of many attempts to capture the transient wisps of cloud that drift across the conifers of Bagnage Wood.

It seems that if the mist isn't hugging the Rea Valley at the bottom of the hill then it's settled around our shoulders up here. Perhaps it's the price one pays for living at the top of a low mountain. On a day like today, for mist read 'rain'. Badnage Wood is barely visible; sky, field and trees are merged in an amorphous grey mass. It seems to have been raining forever and the foreseeable future looks fairly damp too. I'm now writing the blog I wasn't going to write. The one about rain.Depressed? Down-hearted? Moi? Not really - just vaguely frustrated that the possibilities of the English summer are passing by. Long leisurely sun-drenched days are myth or memory, roses waterlogged, perennials sagging, vegetables refusing steadfastly to grow, a wardrobe of summer clothes unworn. (Although my plight can't be as bad as M & S's who surely have rails of flimsy garments hanging unsold while punters rummage elsewhere for cashmere and fleece.) I've missed long summer evenings sitting in the gloaming, watching the swallows swoop their way to roost and then dodging bats a-flutter as the stars come out.

Hey ho! Is the cream jug half full or the milk jug half empty? I come down on the side of optimism; the cream jug is half full. Even when the box of optimism looks fairly depleted I can always find a few bits at the bottom. You know the sort of thing - raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.....

Rain, rubbish weather - from my perspective this is still a pretty good place to be.

As luck would have it....

I've been tagged. Again.
(I have snailbeachshepherdess to thank this time.)

- 5 things to pick you up from being down:

'Worse things happen at sea' - This profound pearl of wisdom came from my brother when we were aged 8 and 10 respectively and a small friend cut her foot wading in a pond. Yep, it's true isn't it? Boats sink. Sharks have sharp teeth......Why am I moaning - there are others far worse off than me. Put things in perspective.

Do something - Get out. Walk. Weed. Dig. Listen. Talk. Shop. Get involved in something. Anything but introspection.

Whistle a happy tune....'I'm H. A. P.P. Y. cos I'm S. A. V.E .D. G. L. O. R. Y. has made F. R. double EE.' Hmm. Maybe not that one - but I do remember a friend at school singing it and falling about laughing. Sing. Make a joyful noise. Make it loud.

Put things in small boxes - compartments - don't try to eat the elephant in one go.

Remember nothing lasts forever - everything passes. What's a wave on a pond today is a ripple tomorrow and still water the day after.

If I could have a 6th it would be stillness.