Wednesday, October 31, 2007

1812 and all that.

As any fule kno 1812 was quite a year. On the international scene the US declared war on the United Kingdom and the Napoleonic wars continued; the pivotal and bloody battle of Borodino took place and Napolean's army both entered and retreated from Moscow. The words 'gerrymandering' and 'Luddite' entered the vocabulary, the latter acknowledging the destruction of machinery brought in to mechanise the cloth industry and which stirred social unrest especially in the mill towns of the north west.

Closer to home, on the slopes of the Long Mountain and in the meadows and leasowes of the Rea Valley, the natives were a little restless too. The feudal system of land ownership and farming was drawing to a close. The Lords and Ladies of the Manor, their tenant farmers, Freeholders and cottagers alike were getting to grips with the new Enclosure Awards. Land previously held in 'several' was now to be divided up and fenced. Boundaries were redrawn and Commons and wastes - over which villagers had grazing rights - came into private ownership.
In the archives yesterday I summoned up a yellowed sheet of paper - an Account for clerical work done on behalf of Mr WM Jones, the Commissioner appointed to oversee the Enclosures - and what a story it told. (I don't know who the writer was - a surveyor or even a magistrate perhaps.) Nobody finds change easy - and the villagers of Marton were no exception. This 'ere enclosure was regarded with much suspicion - and reading between the crumpled lines I gather that sulks and hissy fits were the order of the day.

Our unfortunate man sets about his task - if not with enthusiasm then with an administrative thoroughness that is still recognisable today. It is the usual story of meetings convened and letters sent ,'i's dotted and 't's' crossed, Leets attended etc. There are parchment and stamps to be bought, drafts and copies made and advertisements placed. A hellish amount of paperwork - though they drew the line at hand bills. (Not necessary.)For travel expenses read 'a day's horse hire'.
A Perambulation of Marton Mountain draws a crowd of villagers equipped with maps - following which, a Mr Perkins refused, inexplicably, to sign the Agreement. Grrr. One senses the growing frustration of the writer.

He has become even more irritable 2 years later when he writes to the Commissioner saying 'it's high time this Marton Mountain business should come to an end' AND hinting strongly that he should get on, make the Award and pay him what he's owed - in the region of £60. The affair drags on and on. The final entry is on October 30th 1815 when the Award is finally Executed. Hoorah! With a flourish the grand total of £41-8s-11d is scratched onto the parchment. This flamboyant ending is spoiled slightly by a miscalculation. The sum due for 3 years work is actually £38-8s-11d. I suspect our man is now past caring.

Marton Mountain has been successfully parcelled up and the villagers appeased - they have been allotted small parcels of land on which they will be able to grow some food. It is a small democratic concession. A victory of sorts.

Later, I drove home along the lane which winds up Marton Mountain. It is no wider now than it was 200 years ago. The pattern of fields is much the same too, pasture and ploughland is still divided by hedges of hawthorn, hazel and field maple, amongst which twine woodbine and dog rose. They have a certain uniformity now of course, being lopped by a mighty machine rather than by a man with a bill'ook. To all intents and purposes these are the same boundaries which were argued over in 1812 when a grumpy crowd assembled, maps and measures to hand, to pace, point and demand their rights.

A crumpled piece of paper seems to have revealed so much - I half expect to see the ghostly figures of ancient Gentlemen and farmers as I wind my way home. I feel as if I would know them well by now.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

...a dog in the dingle

One of my greatest fears is that one day some bright spark will say: 'Let's film the Archers'. It would make sound business sense and give Emmerdale a run for its money. I dread the outcome. I do not want to see the Archers, Ambridge or Borsetshire. I've been through the trauma before - in my formative years - with an 'A' Level set text - and the film of 'Wuthering Heights'. Suffice to say Lawrence Olivier did not do it for me as Heathcliff. Too mannered. Far too creepy. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Where was the wild tormented feral soul that Emily Brontë's words evoked? Merle Oberon, Vivien No. NO. The pictures that radio - and the written word - conjure up in our minds are far better than anything that the cinematographer can devise.

So with this in mind - and hoping I do not disappoint one very dear friend in particular - here is a picture of the white dog, Wilson on the very edge of our dingle. This friend has a picture of a dingle in his head. I can't imagine what it is like but can say this is our reality. (For the uninitiated a 'dingle' hereabouts is a wooded valley - I suspect there's usually a stream involved too.) This dingle is to be found at the end of our field, the conifers of Badnage Wood rise darkly beyond and the little stream which rises mysteriously beneath the beech tree flows down through the larger Beach Dingle to join Marton Pool in the Rea Valley about a mile away to the east. (And Beach in this context is a topographical description - not to be confused with, as here, its planting of Beech trees. Confused? Me too.)

The dogs and I rambled round the field in the low late afternoon sunshine. I am beguiled by the light which catches the leaves of oak, ash, beech and birch and turns them to shades of burnished gold. Dogs follow noses, finding information in blades of grass and the damp worminess hidden beneath a mossy log. The brown dog, built to run, lopes around the field and Wilson, agenda unknown, wanders hock deep in wet musky grass. I do not like to think what he has found and eaten. Dogs!

Save for a wisp of cloud the sky is the clearest blue. Above us a couple of ravens roll and tumble, making their strange and 'gronking' call. A buzzard mews. Then silence. Whatever the picture in your head, take it from me, this is one fantastic afternoon

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

'The Cries of Manchester', etc.

Manchester. Noise is everywhere. Yattering and traffic. At each turn we hear the bleat: 'Big i-shoooo, beeg i-shoo' matter how many times we decline the vendors' offers the refrain will be repeated again and again on every corner. It's the Greek chorus in the drama of urban life perhaps....white noise.

We have been away, and now we are back.

Now, the dogs are lying like spoons in front of the log burner. The little white one is cradled in Chester's long brown legs. We say 'OK dogs?' There is no reply but two tails thump in unison. We take that as a 'Yes'. They're back from Kennels. In front of the fire. Only a bone would make life better than this.

Unfortunately a few days away for us means incarceration for dogs - so kennels it was while we went up to Manchester on Tuesday. Places to go, accountants to see....

Four years ago - almost to the day - we'd made this journey in reverse having handed over the keys to the family home in Stockport to head southwards to a new life on the slopes of a low mountain on the Shropshire/Powys border. An absence of 4 years makes changes easier to spot; the wholesome, middle-class sensibilities of Heaton Moor have given way to a hipper set of values. Where the suburb's ample matrons with lumpen, sullen and sensibly clad daughters in tow once shopped for sensible wholesome produce we find bars, tequila slammers, tapas, deli's' and estate agents. The grocers, greengrocers and fishmongers have long gone - following the haberdasher, whose cards of knicker elastic, suspender buttons and darning wool gathered dust before selling out to a sandwich shop. It is now possible to get good food from more places than I have fingers to count on in Heaton Moor. There's even an Ikea within striking distance....

In Manchester too - with a ruck of new build dominating the skyline - there is an air of vibrant prosperity. I do my very best to adopt an urban persona - but feel very much like a monkey with a piece of glass. I notice retailing's subtle shift from here to there......King Street isn't quite as select as once it was. Retailers have headed towards the newest 'hot spot' - which seems to be as close to Harvey Nic's as possible. The hoi polloi still congregate on Market Street - this I find reassuring. I can avoid both. The open space between Selfridges and the Triangle - landscaped by no less a person than Martha Schwartz only short years ago - a terrific scheme - is now cluttered with street furniture and an imposing ferris wheel which overwhelms and cramps the area. Ugly. Ugly. Why? Why?

There is Stuff in abundance, mountains of it; fashion, accessories, home wares, electronics. Christmas crassness this way comes. Much is covetable and life-enhancing - after all, what's there not to like about a cashmere sweater or some frivolous lingerie? But much is dross and, to my untutored and cynical eye, looks as if it has come from (or will shortly be going to) the next car boot sale. So, so much. Again, overwhelming. This is the 'white noise' of consumerism.

As the Selfridge's assistant said of the music which was the aural backdrop to the Computer department - music which made any conversation or transaction difficult:

'White noise, gets in yer head. Yer block it out. Innit.'


Sunday, October 21, 2007

In the shape of a heart....

I've stalked this little tree as one might stalk a wary animal. From one angle only and for a few short days it is a perfect heart. A breathe of wind now and those golden leaves will be gone. Sic Transit Gloria....

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Isn't it just the best thing when you discover that somebody else likes to go 'off-roading' too?

High streets, main roads and squares are fine, sucking in shopper and tourist alike for bread and stamps and photographs. But not when there are alleys, allées, shuts, passages, snickets, ginnels, jiggers, green lanes and back ways to be explored that is......A narrow space between two buildings beckons, a lane winds between overhanging hedges, where does it lead? What's over that wall? Smile at the old fellas with rakes and spades, stroke cats and whistle at blackbirds.... to take these twists and turns is to become involved in the world about you. We should get off-road more often.

So yesterday to Clun, an ancient south Shropshire town which still carries with it some of the old ways. You might call it sleepy. I'd call it half-awake but there's nothing wrong with that. It's a handsome small town built of stone and brick. A river runs through it, crossed by a pack horse bridge under which a motley flock of ducks dabble. There's a Spar and a gifty/craft shop, some pubs and a cafe or two. Matt Fothergill has a leather shop here - we have only once found it open so my handbag cravings must usually go unsatisfied. Small cottages jostle with grander buildings; the medieval street pattern still survives I believe. The ruins of the castle built in the 13th century rise over the town with a commanding view up and down the valley, reminding us of less peaceful times.

I went with a fellow blogger, Snailbeachshepherdess and her partner in crime, C, and together, in the autumn sunshine we explored some of Clun's by-ways, paths and tracks.

Stepping off the main street, through a gateway, we entered both the grounds of Trinity Hospital and another world. A small garden, surrounded on three sides by low buildings of soft grey stone, showed a little autumn colour behind close clipped box hedging; pansies and the like. This little group of almshouses and their chapel were built originally to house 12 old men of good character from the parish of Clun. These days the rules have relaxed a little so couples may now be accommodated too. The little chapel, reached by arched cloisters is simple and tranquil. Box pews of polished oak, with knobs and hinges of gleaming brass work, will seat two persons. Good characters? I don't know. The almshouses themselves are small in scale. I believe that some of them retain their original 'miniature' four poster beds. Maybe comfort was not an issue. It was certainly the proverbial oasis of calm, the only sounds being birdsong and far distant traffic noise.

Outside the gates again to a Clun which is marginally more frantic. A small cat washes its back leg and a car creeps past. We amble here and there, down lanes and alleys, peeking over hedges and behind walls, through the windows of empty houses. My head holds a hotchpotch of images: the swirling blue roses of stained old wallpaper, geese, quince, glasses and bottles, plough and churn, green men. Cabbages.

We took the back way to the castle 'twixt back gardens and sports field, and climbed the motte to stand amongst the stone work of the ruined tower where the wind rushed through, to look down over the town. Beneath us the landscape was a neat patchwork of green, russet and brown, in the distance a tractor ploughed a field, below us sheep grazed. A buzzard probably mewed.

Finally, via the curiously named Buffalo Lane, across the bridge and up the hill to St George's Church. A big old place dressed in harvest festival finery - the displays dwarfed somewhat by the building's scale. Some careful restoration has taken place but the Norman origins are there to see in massive pillars in the nave. We wander through the graveyard where stones stand like old teeth, propped and crooked, their inscriptions melting in wind and rain. (Read them while you can.) Ahead of us are the graves of playwright John Osbourne and his wife Helen. Their memorials are matching slabs of slate, simply and elegantly incised.

Behind these two stones - but not in their shadow - is a memorial to a young girl; a monolith of slate with the legend 'Bless her spirit'. On the reverse a moon-gazing hound sits under gilded stars, captured in eternal contemplation of the night sky. Too young. Too young. Even I, who never knew her, feel the pain of her loss and the vastforeveremptiness of without her.

My visit to Clun might have ended there and with the drive home had I not on my return gone down a few more untrodden tracks, albeit metaphorical ones.

I wandered off in pursuit of the letter-cutter's art and my search lead me to the work of the late David Kindersley and that of the pupil who became his wife, Lida Cordoza. Would that I were eloquent enough to describe their skillful transformation of the symbols that are letters into lasting poetry that delights both eye and ear. I recall my love for letter forms....I have an idea for a sun dial.........

Secondly, having looked unsuccessfully for 'The Hurst' earlier in the day, I 'googled'. We will all be pleased to know that it was the home of John Osbourne in the years preceding his death and is now one of the four Arvon 'writing houses' - and it's just down the road, in Clun. I feel better for knowing that.

Monday, October 15, 2007

If I ruled the world....

A couple of weeks ago I watched the wonderful 'Passport to Pimlico' - one of Ealing Studio's finest. Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford, a cast of Cockney stereotypes, bomb craters and plucky post-war Brits. Children being clipped round the ear without a social worker in sight - you know the sort of thing. On reflection - and seeing how it all panned out in the end - it was probably an exercise to demonstrate that deviating too far from the machinations of Whitehall was not a good idea. A great film though. Much food for thought........

I've mulled it over for the past fortnight and well, I've got the germ of an idea! And what a great idea it is methinks! Stop taking things for granted and declare independence. I could be King - or Queen - of an empire of approximately 6 acres. This could be the sparsely populated 'People's Republic of Trelystan'. (I think we'll shade our nation pale blue on the map. I like pale blue.) Can anyone think of a good idea why I can't be head of my own independent state? Is there any sound reason why I have to be part of England or Wales?

There will be a few practical implications but none insurmountable. We will harvest our own water (before we generously allow the surplus to drain downhill and supply Severn Trent). We will have sculptural windmills to generate electricity and a compost heap of municipal proportions. Other stuff; sewage, rubbish and the lane we seem to sort out for ourselves anyway - and we've not seen a policeman or streetlight since we arrived. So no change there then.

Foreign policy? We won't be having an army and A. has been told to keep his catapult in the gun cabinet. I expect we'll invade a Greek island periodically - but we come in peace and expectation of kalimari and cold beer.

What would my nation be like? I quite like it as underpopulated as it is - so visas would be very difficult to obtain. (DNA matches or historical precedence necessary perhaps and sheep welcomed as migrant workers.) Paperwork will be kept to a minimum. I have a very nice rubber stamp of a dove which I might use to endorse the odd document. The arts will be funded generously and infinitives split only rarely. It would be a peaceable kingdom too.

Once a year - at the state opening of parliament - I will put on a posh frock and my most gorgeous pearls, invite our friends to dinner and make a speech - the words of which will be scattered by the 4 winds onto the fields and flowers. My speech will begin:

......Floreat Trelystan!
Edward Hicks - A Peaceable Kingdom

Edited to add:
'Simple Gifts'

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.'

When true simplicity is gain'd
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.'

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Short night walk

The white dog Wilson (he of the noble profile), would I thought, benefit from a late night walk. And me too. In fact any exercise at all would be beneficial. Leads and boots are fitted to man and beast - or dog and woman. Whatever. I grab the torch - it's dark outside.

Indeed it is. Barely a cloud in the sky and moonless too. The air is crisp yet dank. The torch will be useful when manoeuvring the pitfalls and potholes outside the gate.

It takes a while for our eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. I don't think animals need their eyes to see in the dark as we do. I may be wrong. Wilson makes his way unwillingly, by smell. Individual blades of grass are particularly fascinating tonight. I sense inertia and the call of the warm. I haul him up the lane into the darkness where the beech trees over hang the road. Without torchlight I make my way up past the old quarry - now stacked with plastic wrapped silage which exudes a sweet reek - by feeling the squashymossy centre of the lane with my feet. Reaching the top at last, and with my heart pounding, we emerge from the tunnel of trees and into the most exhilarating of open spaces. Here the sky is vast above us and hills fall away to south and east, rising again in the distance lit by pinpricks of light. There's a bright glow which must be Shrewsbury - way over there - maybe 20 miles away. Nearer, some other orange and ugly lights are perhaps in Minsterley and should be shot down immediately. Below me, nearer still and nestled cosily like some birdie's home in a fold of the hills, are the lights at Lower House. We live there, it's home, but still too bright I think.

I follow the grey slick of road and the spectral white dog trotting a lead's length in front. It's a great time of night to lean on a gate and breathe in. Above is that most wondrous panoply of stars, the Milky Way - the lot - and passing through with only the quietest roar - a jet plane. ('Get out of my most perfect sky' ) Otherwise it's very quiet. Tonight nothing scuttles, snorts, hoots or yelps. No eyes flash as I scan the field with the torch. I do some wondering about being scared of the night and its mysteries. Perhaps this is what being grown up is all about, no longer being afraid of the dark.

The white dog has by now done a volte face and is up for a mega-walk, a four miler round the lanes. Sorry Wilson. Time to turn round and head for home. I've done stumbling around in the dark - for tonight at least.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Badly drawn world

'How much is it?' I asked.

'Don't know,' he said, 'I'll have to ask Mother.'

Mother was disciplining a small and excitable Jack Russell which sported a natty but unnecessary tartan coat. The dog was called Willy and rushed snappily at the ankles of anyone foolish enough to get within a lead's-length. Mother, sniffing a sale, quickly bundled the dog into the boot of the car and said she could 'Do it for £2.00.'

'It's old,' she added to clinch the deal. I could only agree and didn't feel like arguing anyway. I handed over a couple of coins which disappeared into the pouch strapped to her generous belly.

It's another little treasure from the car boot sale at Tuffins in Churchstoke. Not profound and not great literature - drivel in fact. I'm not sure I'd want to expose young children to Enid Blyton's 'imaginings' and the crude line drawings of Olive. F. Openshaw. Seen with our eyes it's an unsophisticated period piece. I expect 60 years hence the things that today's children flick through will probably seem equally ridiculous.

A weird world indeed - and badly drawn too. Scary. Don't go there.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The most handsome dog in Trelystan?

For lovers of Bull Terriers everywhere, here's Wilson sitting in the sunshine. What a noble profile......what a poser.

Monday, October 01, 2007

We've got a man on a roof...

Only short days to go now until the luminous green roof of this little building ceases to be a landmark visible from space. From closer to home it's a bit of a blot on the landscape too - and I'll be oh-so-happy when it is clad in slate.

The man on the roof - our nimble footed son Dan - is tapping the slates into place even as I type. It won't be long now until we have the summer house of our dreams - we only have to wait for the year to go round again before we can use it comfortably.

It formed part of the old farmyard here at Lower House. We converted the sturdy stone-built barn into a dwelling and the yard itself into a formal garden. This little hovel with its one stone wall and timber frame was a calf house perhaps or home to a couple of overwintering beasts. I've heard it called the 'bull shed' too.

It's not an important building by any means - but it is a reminder, as is our barn, of the days when agriculture was practised on a smaller scale. No mechanised means then to scoop out the muck from a shed full of 50 cattle - just a man with a fork and barrow - the same man who shook in some fresh straw from a bale and hang up the sisal twine from a nail under the roof of random slates. The floor was of slate too - big chunky slabs which we found under a layer of fruity rich manure. Doors were smaller, roofs lower. I can relate to this scale.

Alan stripped the building back - much could not be salvaged. The wood was largely worm eaten and the roof slates crumbled. The floor slabs will be returned in due course. Eventually only the wall was left standing and this too was close to disintegrating - a weak mortar mix barely held the stones together. But with time and patience it was re-pointed - leaving holes for nesting birds. (Work was held up for a while last year when Redstarts moved in and reared a brood.) Using the original construction as a model and the summer house in the Font Garden at Wollerton Old Hall as inspiration Alan put the timber work into place. Square oak posts hold the roof up in the front - which will be open so we can sit and enjoy the last of the sun on a summer's evening. Roses will ramble up the stonework and fragrant flowers scramble in the border alongside. There is a weather vane to sit on the roof too, made by Alan at welding classes. What a handy man he is.

At last it is nearly complete - only the garden side to slate now. Excited? Moi? Yes, very. I see an opening ceremony taking place in the very near future....