Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chill factor

I've just fired up the stove - piled it high with kindling and hawthorn logs - and am waiting for the warmth to kick in. It's been a dreary old day with little to recommend it. Clouds akin to grey flannel drape the hills. Things drip. Damp pheasants hunker down in the hedge bottom keeping out of the drizzle, emerging only for a desultory peck at anything green that grows (damn them). The killer sheep in the field across the lane nibble their way across the field and back. (It's difficult to say if they notice their surroundings at all.) Shortly after four o'clock the hens go to roost and I light the fire.

Fond as I am of the Long Mountain's low and rolling contours, clefts, humps and dingles, I have to admit this season does not show it in the best light. Extremes I think are good; hottestcoldestblowyfreshgreenicesnow - whiteover..........whatever.

I have been reading - courtesy of The Eyechild - John Christopher's 'The World in Winter'.

I'm not a great fan of Sci-Fi - my inability to suspend belief perhaps - but having run out of other words to read it was this or nothing. First published in 1962 - this Penguin edition dates from '63 - this novel is the story of an arctic winter ushering in a contemporary Ice Age and, as the blurb says 'a cold cold nightmare'. 'Solar radiation decline' brings permafrost to the northern hemisphere and London's familiar cityscape becomes one of ice and privation where society as we know it has broken down. Think frozen Thames, ice floes beyond Tower Bridge and omnipresent thuggery. Scary. Brrr. A recognisable London appears to be populated by 4 named people and 'the mob beyond The Pale'. Refuge is sought in Africa - Nigeria - from where, eventually, a sort of reverse expeditionary force sets out to England - in erm, a fleet of hovercrafts.

It's a bit of a period piece - lots of smoking - and its characters more than a little two dimensional, naively and literally black and white. It's uncomfortable reading in these post colonial, multicultural times.

The notion of cold weather being the enemy sends - no pun intended - a chill through me though. There's nothing we can do about the elements is there? They are ultimately all-powerful - as anyone who has watched a little stream become a raging torrent will testify. This winter when the world outside gets a little cold and crispy, white all over, I shall be looking out of my window with a frisson of unease. Just in case.

PS Did covers get better than this, by Bruce Robertson for Penguin Books? Simple, stylish and understated. A lovely bit of design.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Moon walk

Up on the field this evening, when I go to close the doors on roosting hens, the grass is already crisp underfoot with frost. Over in Badnage Wood the last pheasants are going up into the sanctuary of the trees, their alarm calls loud in the cold still air. Their night is terrifyingly dark - Brer Fox's teeth and claws an ever present threat.

The sky is clear, on the horizon the palest pink melds into aquamarine which in turn becomes inky black. The moon, which may or may not be full, has risen and hangs over the trees of our dingle. As my eyes become accustomed to the darkness I find I do not need a torch such is the brightness of the silvery light.

I make my way back through the field towards the house with moonlight falling on my back. But what's that? There - on the ground in front of me? Oh, most wonderful. I have a moon shadow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Killer Sheep

We need some sheep on our field. Just a few, to keep the grass in order.

'I've just the thing' said Heather 'The killer sheep - the ones on the Triangle field - could do with moving on. You can have them. No problem.'

It turns out of course that these aren't Uzi toting ewes with attitude but some poor old gals, short of teeth, destined for the cull.

We can rest easy in our beds knowing that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Extremes of weather here mean powercuts - a line goes down and we are in darkness. While this dusting of snow can hardly be called an extreme it's obviously been enough to interrupt supply. A couple of lights glow for a couple of minutes then fade to black. We look at each other - or rather we look at the blackness where we assume the other to be - before groping for candles and matches. We eat the remainder of our dinner by candlelight.

How quiet the room has suddenly become - the ambient and electric sounds are missing - but not I think, missed. Fridge, Aga, heating, lights, TV, computer, phones. Gone. The Kitchen Clock marks time - we have not noticed it before - but now its tick is like a heartbeat. The night is serene and dark and peaceful. We glow in the silky warmth of candlelight and hear the wind whisper beyond the door. A log tumbles to ashes on the fire - we hear that too - and the crick and crack of cooling appliances cut off from their electric lifelines.

It wouldn't do forever, but tonight surrounded by snowy fields, candlelight and the fire's glow this silence is quite a magic thing.


We've been to Chester today; Alan to his icon painting class and me to a rather mediochre Bead Fair held at the Racecourse, followed by a mooch round the shops.

I'm sure Alan was snug and warm as he sat in Stanley Palace applying gold leaf and egg tempra but outside it was a different matter. Chester City centre, twinkling with Christmas lights, was cold and crowded - a miserable place to be - and I for one was quite glad to get back in the car and head for home.

The temperature dropped as we drove south down the A483, the road that straddles English/Welsh border. From a distance we could see the bulk of Long Mountain blurred by grey cloud. As we rose up the lane that leads to home the drizzly rain, which had fallen all the way from Chester, turned to sleet and then to snow - which continues to a fall. A couple of hours later the landscape is white-over, punctuated by black skeletal shapes that are trees and hedges. It's a monochrome world out there.
We've shut the night out and lit the wood burner - the dogs have already found the warmth and are sprawled on the rug, toasting their bellies. How cosy is that?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stirring stuff?

Here in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan I've been mulling over the idea of a national motto. Is it something we might adopt ourselves perhaps?

I guess when our esteemed leader G.Brown proposed just such a thing he was thinking along more aspirational lines than ‘Dipso, fatso, bingo, asbo, Tesco - one of many mottoes suggested on the CommentCentral blog. But isn't it a corker? What an apposite and pithy use of 5 words to sum up the state of the nation - encapsulating the sort of seediness that seems to permeate television, town centres and retail parks of late. Judging by many of the suggestions we're a pretty jaded and cynical bunch of citizens too.
Even though they were written in jest they make pretty depressing reading.

Do the British need a motto though - we seem to have managed quite well without for long enough. The last thing we need is this nanny state telling us what to think as well as what to eat and drink.

Ah well, 'Mustn't grumble'. That'll do nicely.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Not a happy blogger I'm afraid. Broadband has gone walkabout again - as mysteriously and inexplicably as ever. I am cast into the technological wasteland where there is much wailing, moaning, gnashing of teeth and calls to the BT help desk on the Indian sub-continent. And anyone who's been there knows that the will to live will shortly be lost.

I do all the things required by Ranjeet's checklist, change micro filters, switch off, switch on, unscrew test sockets, unplug this, unplug that.........everything bar examining the entrails of a slaughtered goat and all to no avail. I am utterly, utterly convinced it that fault of BT feeble infrastructure - not due to be updated until autumn 2009 - and they, on the basis of a few checked boxes in India, are convinced that I've got my wiring in a twist. Stalemate. I try asking a few theoretical questions: 'What if...? 'Could it be...?' but Ranjeev is not for leaving the comfort of his checklist and I am hastily put through to the 'Fault Line Department' - or it might be the 'Line Fault Department'. Whatever. We do the checklist again. The call ends inconclusively except I receive two calls late in the evening promising that an engineer will visit on Tuesday.

This time might be different - but going by previous experience, Broadband will mysteriously reappear - a bit like a cat which has decided to go and spend some time lapping cream with the neighbours and returns all innocent to take up its place by the fire again. That is the 'best case scenario'. This time it might not. I've not given a thought to plan B yet. It will probably involve spending money. It usually does.

So - 3 million boos to BT and a long, loud, resounding 'Hurrah!' for 'Switch on Shropshire' - the project which lets me sit in the local shop on a Sunday morning and reconnect with my cyber world. Normal service might be resumed....

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Ballot Box.'s a ballot box. Nul points to anyone who says 'Nah, it's an ice-cream box covered with some old-school bathroom wallpaper'.

It's a ballot box. It says so. Not only that - it's Marton WI's ballot box. It's been taken to the AGM down at the Village Hall on the first Wednesday in November for many years. It has seen the rise and fall of many a committee. There's never been the need for a better, 'designer' one. Who am I to come along all smart and knowing? It's OK. It does the business.

Now if this were an artefact brought back from an Amazon-deep expedition we might be a little bit in awe - and instead of it spending 364 days stashed under a table it might be spending 365 days on a subtly lit shelf. We'd blether on about the workmanship of its primitive makers, their ingenuity in using such everyday materials to craft an object both functional and pleasing in its simplicity.

It's not anything of the sort of course. It's an ice cream box covered in wallpaper, a bit of late 20th century decoupage. However, I'll argue long and hard with anyone who cares - and stop sniggering now - that it's in the spirit of Folk Art.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Just to prove I don't spend all my time with my nose in the air looking skyward at the clouds scudding by, here are some things from ground level:

Strange beauties. I'm ashamed to say I haven't a clue what any of them are called though I suspect the phallic one may be a junior Shaggy Ink Cap. I've studied the field guide at length; it comes with many instructions and warnings in bold type but does draw the line at 'skull and cross bone' type symbols to denote toxicity. The words CAUTION and POISONOUS occur too frequently for my liking.

It may be that these weird critters are totally innocent, but until I know that for certain I'm off to Sainsbury's when I fancy a mushroom risotto.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Dog. Brains. Possibly......not.

The brown dog, Chester is nearly 5 years old. He has lived here for nearly half his life and in those 2½ years has spent quite a lot of time on one side of the door or the other. If he's in, he wants to be out - if he's out he wants to be in. You get the picture; he is no stranger to our glass doors.

I have just watched him spend a good 5 minutes investigating the wire-haired Pointer standing just inches from his nose on the other side of the glass. His reflection of course. Ears were cocked as he viewed it from all angles. A low throaty growl began to rumble. The other dog wasn't going away. In fact it began to look quite aggresive. He gave one tremendous bark. I let him out and of course there was no dog there.

As far as he was concerned he'd seen it off and there was much strutting round the garden. A sort of canine 'Victory Roll' methinks. What a hero.

Dumb dog. Bless 'im.

A weather report from the Kingdom of Trelystan

I think I knew there was going to be something special about today when I woke at first light to the sound of birdsong. A wren had flown into the bedroom and stood, bobbing and tweeting only a couple of feet from where I lay. We studied each other for a few seconds before the little bird flew back out of the window. What a tiny, delicate and perfect thing it was. Surely a good omen? Coincidentally, the previous day a robin had flown in too and perched on the dressing table before crashing frantically against the windows in an bid for freedom. It didn't seem to have the wit to go out the same way that it came in.

We've had a number of birds coming in recently - Chester had great sport earlier in the week when he discovered another wren perched high on the beams in the kitchen - he is a hunting dog after all. Judging by the little splots and splashes left here, there and everywhere, the little bird had flown through the house and roosted overnight in the study, having come down from upstairs the day before. (I should add that small birds are fine - but anything much larger- pigeons, pheasants, ravens or buzzards for example - just aren't welcome. The mess. Imagine the mess. And those big scary beaks.)
Enough of birds - save to say the wren flew out into a shimmery shiny morning. All looked well with the world. It was one of those mornings when living on the top of a mountain has its advantages - we were bathed in sunlight, the sky clear and blue with only a wisp or two of cloud. Cool but not cold. In the valleys, dips and dingles below us however, swirling grey mist hugged the contours - indeed as we went down the lane an hour later we could have been entering another world. We left our sunlit uplands and entered Stygian darkness and gloom.......where people were talking about the 'terrible fog'.
And now it's a golden afternoon, glowing in fact. Long shadows are already stretching across the field. There's probably just enough time left before the light drops to shuffle through the leaves in the dingle and take the dogs out onto the field. Boots on. Jacket on. Off I go.....