Thursday, August 30, 2007

Send them Victoria's*

This tree came to us as a slim twiggy stick. I think we planted it sometime last spring. It's a Victoria Plum on a dwarf rootstock.

It is probably about as tall as I am - and like me won't get any taller. It is hung about with fruit - pounds - kilos, call the quantity what you will, there is a lot of it. This little tree looks like an illustration from a horticultural catalogue where the fruit has been added in Photoshop. This is for real. Trust me.

Plums for tea. Sweet and juicy. Clafouti, jam, pickle and chutney. Suggestions please.

*Dilemma: Does Victoria's need an apostrophe or not? They are definitely plural but they don't necessarily belong to Victoria. But the plural of Victoria - 'Victorias' looked very odd. I suppose this is greengrocer territory so my bewilderment is understandable.....

Dottin' the T's and crossin' the I's.....

The dust's settled now. The display boards are back with their rightful owners and I've a pile of very informative panels looking for a home. We're looking back at a successful few days. The carrier bag of notes and assorted coinage has been counted (several times) and distributed (thank goodness). It no longer hides, furtively in the drawer of our dresser. We raised an astonishing sum of money - and as this was not the ambition we are both a bit dumbfounded. Expenses have been paid to everyone's satisfaction and we've given a donation to the organisers of the Flower Festival which ran at the same time - I guess this will go towards the on-going costs of maintaining the little church in the centre of the village - so next time you're driving through and spot a new bit of coping stone or slate, think on about the lung-fulls of spray mount I inhaled for the cause.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Food for Free

I've noticed that exhibitions come down with a good deal more speed than they go up. All the work's up front. Come closing time panels are demounted with a quick unzip of velcro. A clatter of boards folded, stacked and a-bundled into a trailer - which disappears with a squeal of tyres. The door's locked. The money is counted. Done and dusted.

Time on hands now. Ho hum, twiddling of thumbs....What to do next?

Well, with that time on my hands and little ambition, I went out in search of blackberries - brambles (call them what you will). This will be a good season for fruit - a benevolent spring, plenty of water and now a mellow autumn. Hawthorn, Hip, Rowan, Crab-apple and even Sloe are already much in evidence. There for the taking. Food for free.

A walk along our lane yielded 4lbs or so of fruit - that's 2kgs - with very little effort. The picking was slow and easy - with other pleasures, and time to think along the way. The sun shone and insects buzzed in the hedgerow. Overhead, and occasionally, a buzzard would mew or a raven 'gronk'. A scruffy flock of sheep grazed alongside the lane. Such solitude. A wonderful opportunity to see late summer flowers still colourful - honeysuckle creamy and pink, hard-heads and willow herb. Nettles now at their most fierce. Where brambles twine through the hedge, nettles stand guard below - the one to rip your elbow and the other to assault ankle and knee. And don't forget the briar roses too - if one thorn doesn't snag you, another one will. How like life is that?

The berries are now dripping through a jelly-bag - tomorrow I'll add sugar and boil up the fruity juice until the syrup turns to jelly. Three or four jars will be my reward - a taste of summer on the pantry shelf to spread on toast on a winter's day.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Marton Memories

Tomorrow we get the key to the Village Hall and tomorrow we make merry with display boards, pins and velcro. The working title 'Marton Memories' has been cast aside and 'Marton, the story of a Shropshire Village' opens the following day at 10.00am. All welcome. Please visit the Flower Festival at St Mark's Church, Marton, too.

I finished the mammoth task of mounting our material yesterday. Doreen has been chiefly responsible for ferreting out information - she has haunted the County Archives and cajoled anyone with a tale to tell. I have been the side-kick; Tonto to her Lone Ranger. Lewis/Morse. Something like that. We have gathered a fantastic amount of stuff - and even at the last minute it continued to pour in. 'Too late, too late' I cried, as drowning in a miasma of spray glue became a real possibility. We're both aware that there are a lot of areas left uncovered, things not done - but then, we do need something to move on to next....

Today has been the calm before the storm - R 'n R in the garden. And such a beautiful day it was too. A taste of summer at last.

At the end of the day picked the last of the peas to eat at supper. (Our veggies have been a dead loss this year - with the exception of the peas which we are still enjoying.) Alongside the edible peas are 3 wigwams of Sweet Peas, finally in bloom - probably only 6 weeks late. The air in that corner of the garden is filled with their scent.

On a whim I gather a huge bunch - they need picking to keep flowering I believe. I have fond memories of Sweet Peas in my childhood home. The same pastel colours - longer stemmed and arranged in a curious old pot - with catmint - nepetia. I still think it the perfect combination. I see them now on the glass-topped revolving bookcase that my mother put so much store by.

Sweet Peas were a favourite of my father, to be grown up canes as if for exhibition. My job was to pinch out tendrils and side shoots to encourage long stems and more blooms - if I were good I might put the rings round pea and cane. Such a responsible job for a small child. Then came the magic moment when, the plants having reached the top of the cane, they were released and brought down to lay along the ground so that the leading shoot could start up all over again. I'm not disciplined enough to do all that and my sweet peas grow sweet and higgledy-piggledy over whatever canes I've bound together. I love them so and none-the-less.

Fast-forward thirty years. We have all moved around a bit. I am now a wife and mother. My father is a widower. He still grows sweet peas. He lives in a little Yorkshire village, near Pickering. It's called Marton too. On visits to us across the Pennines he would, on arrival, pull from his bag a crumpled posy of sweet peas, picked that morning from the garden, still fragrant. For old times sake perhaps, a father's gift to his child. Because I loved them so.

Those are my other Marton memories.

What a beautiful day

Blue skies and butterflies.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Here grows grass and herbage in variety. Tender exotics favour more sheltered crannies - here on the top, trees adopt a braced posture against the winds that holler in from up the valley.

Today the top of a (low) Welsh mountain yielded a fig. Soft and ripe, ready to be photographed as lasting proof of its existence - or even eaten perhaps. Now what did it taste like? I can't be certain. This was the last I saw of it:

That dog will eat almost anything.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Fallen. And the Demolished

I think I am under influence of spray glue. It hangs heavily in the air.

The project proceeds. The village has progressed from boggy hollow with attendant Iron Age finds, via tithes and enclosures, railways and dams that never were, to 'Within Living Memory'.

I'm just compiling a sheet entitled 'Lest We Forget' as someone has been industrious enough to research the names on the village war memorial. All is neatly aligned; the names and details of the 9 who fell in the conflict (WAR damn it) of 1914-18 and the 1 man who lost his life in 1940. Euphemisms. All euphemisms.

I have 2 fading photographs to place, tenderly, alongside these names. Such handsome young men sent marching from the shires, caught forever by the camera's eye. Harry Oliver the shopkeepers' son and 22 years later, John Evans from Woodmoor - 20 years old when he died - 'missing in action'. Boys, both of them, really.

'Had he the choice of his end - he would have chosen - as he has done - that of giving all for his country.' Here I quote from the commanding officer's letter of consolation to the grieving Mr and Mrs Evans. How I wish I believed that: 'The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.'

I'm going to move on now, as the world moves on - and with only a slightly moistened eye - to make sense of a jumble of information about the Lowfield Pub which has made its mark in the story of Marton by being demolished.

As I write it is rising again, phoenix-like in its old footprint and pretty soon it'll be business as ├ža change.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Weaning. Doesn't it sound like the most peaceful of things? All part of growing up for man and beast. Memories stir of sweet mush; love, licks and cuddles proffered.........

Tell that to the sheep which until yesterday grazed peacefully on the rag-end of pasture hereabouts.

Suddenly, a whoop, a whistle and a dog had ewes to the left and lambs to the right. The lane which held the divided flock apart was loud with the anguished bleats and bawls that marked their separation. Ewes, shorn and run-ragged stood stamping on the little hill beyond while their great bewildered woolly lambs clustered in a gate a field away. The noise. The terrible heart rending sound of yearning. That's it. Apart. Forever.

They'll gradually drift away up the fields, ewes and lambs - milk will be but a memory. A few days grace and those stocky, and now independent, lambs will be on the way to our tables.

It doesn't do to dwell on on all this too much. I am a mother and it will break my heart if I let it.

'It's got to be done' says Heather. 'It's got to be done.'

And yes, I think I agree.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

How to explain?

If I imagine my brain is like a bit of skirting board (bear with me on this one...) then the bit over there by the door has got an annoying itsy Tom 'n Gerryesque mousehole in it - and the most annoying thing is, it's getting bigger by the day. Not satisfactory. Keeping with the same analogy I think the rest of the skirting board is fine - the bit behind the sideboard has a cosy layer of dust and dross and most of the bits on show are wiped and clean. Ce la vie n'est ce pas?

This blog is in need of a little light relief - so here are 'The Happy Snappy Girls'.
Who were they? I don't know. You tell me
This 'mousehole' is the village history project. It is to be an exhibition and it has a deadline. It will not be a grand thing, more a work in progress - but this does not stop me from hauling out rusty graphic skills to make it coherant, visually interesting and professional looking. My co-conspirator, Doreen has been the driving force in retrieving information - of which we have reams, tapes, files and albums. I am slowly working my way through presenting them - remembering that people like pictures, line lengths should not be too long and Always Check Facts. So far so good.

However, daily, essential extra facts and pictures come winging my way. Small and vital in the scheme of things, but where will they go, this rushing tide of 'faces and places and things'?

That said, a large chunk of the village's history is now neatly displayed and today, because it was a tidy package, I moved on to more recent times and organised 'The Fallen'. If I look over my shoulder I see much more waiting in the much information, pictures and words...still to do. It is slightly worrying. I am not panicking yet.

Just a slight frisson of unease........eeek!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Afternoon tea

'I've been sorting things out' says Dr N. pointing to a bulging bin bag in the corner. 'No point in keeping bits of correspondence - no interest to any one - African days, old friends. They've all passed on. I'm 86. I've not got much longer. It can all go.' The silence of the room is broken by the ticking of a clock and the roar of some agricultural machine on the hill beyond. 'Now he,' Dr N continues, nodding to the door though which his brother has ventured in search of some artifact or other, 'is a different matter. Everything. He keeps everything.'

In our quest for reminiscences Doreen and I have come to talk and take tea with these two elderly brothers. We present ourselves at the back door. Now 'Mother' is no longer here, the front door and best rooms are locked and barred and we are shown, through the scullery, into what we might best describe as the kitchen. It's grimy - the dishcloth defies description and odd boxes of 'things used' stand around. There is much strange plumbing and pipework, a tap bears the urgent label: 'DO NOT USE, bells to summon the ghosts of servants past are still in place and calendars of years gone by line the walls. However, we are obviously expected - 4 chipped, mix-matched cups and saucers are on the table which has a cover of newspaper. I didn't think to get its date. The room is warm, almost uncomfortably so. We sit and we wait for the stories to creep out and tell themselves. Doreen's hand edges towards her notebook and mine towards the camera.

From the papers and directories come faces and places and things. 'Mother' came from hereabouts, married and raised these boys in South Africa. TB or the War brought them home to Bristol. Then, widowed and her sons independent, she returned to the county of her birth and to this old vicarage which they named, obliquely, after a township on the West Cape. Dr N joined his mother here nearly 30 years ago leaving medical practice in the bush for a garden on a south facing Shropshire hillside.

His brother returns from behind the closed door. He brings a newspaper which we are not allowed to touch. 'Fragile, so fragile.' It is a copy of the Shrewsbury Chronicle from August 1865. His long and once elegant fingers judderingly trace some detail or other and I think both he and it are slowly decaying in this place. His once acute and legal mind struggles to come up with the reason for bringing the newspaper into the room and finds only a flaky blur. He does keep everything, in trunks and drawers, files and boxes. The rooms behind that door, which we are not to allowed to enter, must be a treasure trove for anyone with a nose for the past.

The paper carried a report of a proposed railway, which like a proposed dam, was never built. The flat Rea valley remains an unspoiled vista from the drawing room they never use.

Just before the clock strikes 5 we leave, all talked out. Our hosts, as if reluctant to lose us, unlock outbuildings and stables for our perusal. The glory days of the Anglican clergy have unfolded before our eyes this afternoon; 4 acres of glebe, a living of £45 per annum, a vicarage, stable with hayloft, wash house - and these are only the earthly delights.......

'What did you make of those two?' Doreen asks me as we drive away down the lane, steering cautiously to avoid the ruts that threatened the axles on the way up.

I don't know. I really don't know. Shadows and echoes?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mostly white

The concept of white is very simple indeed - it's well, white. As you can see the reality is much more complicated, especially in the garden.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Funny sort of week. Bit of this. Bit of that.

The sun shone, albeit begrudgingly and an amber moon was spotted full and low on the horizon.

Colourful in parts; white currants were picked and turned to jelly - a bewitching process which turns these pearly berries a transluscent rosy red.
Peas were picked - only a month late - sweet, green and toothsome.

The young Magnolia grandiflora produced flowers of a stature far beyond its tender years. Whitegorgeousblowsywaxy blooms too beautiful to last - and fade they do, even as we watch the petals unfold.

The hovel building project moves on apace - see, we now have timbers in place. Well done that man! Each piece of wood has a name; wall plate, tie beam, joist, rafter, king post, queen post - whatever. This airy structure now has a sense of volume and reminds me of an early art school project where, with limited materials and imagination we made 'space frames'. 'nuf said.

Wilson is much better, thank you. Having visited the vets' 5 days running we are both hoping That's It. Chester, who has been under the surgeon's knife having his cruciate ligament repaired (ouch) is currently a three-legged dog sporting a shaved leg and an impressive blanket-stitched wound. 6 weeks Complete Rest have been ordered. No running, jumping, skipping or other exhuberant dog activity. Quite how we are going to achieve that I'm not sure.

Me? When I've not been hanging about on the end of a dog lead or wooden spoon I've been mounting the 'village life' exhibition to go on display in the village hall at the end of the month. Nothing like a deadline to spur one into action is there? Have definately breathed in too much spray mount today.

Not much of a week really......and at the end of it, up here on the Long Mountain there is a sweet and gentle bit of drizzle in the air. The News has just reported a case of Foot and Mouth in Surrey. No stars tonight.