Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Always carry a camera....

Somewhere beneath this foggy blanket lies the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan - hidden from view like some earthbound Atlantis. It's down there, tucked into its cleft at the end of the Long Mountain, but not as we know it - otherworldly today.

My photograph does not do justice to the fantastic cloudscape which presented itself this morning. So breathtaking I stopped and reached for the camera. I am standing in bright sunshine and the valley below is lost from view. A few skeletal trees poke out. Corndon can be seen to the left. The temperature is still well into the minus figures.
I take few pictures - the camera shows signs of running out of battery - which may be because of the cold. I snatch a few more - knowing what I want to capture but uncertain of what I have got. What I have got turns out to be decidedly mediocre and I should really go back and take some more.

But there are sticky toffee puddings to be made and home, although swathed in fog, is enticingly warm. I stay in. By mid afternoon the fog has rolled away and we are bathed in sunshine. Now as I type this the light is fading and a thin white mist is creeping up the dingle to close us in. Tomorrow will be much the same I think and I'll take the camera and my party-tired head out for some wholesome creative fun.

New Year's Resolutions? Just the one and achievable I think. Get to grips with the Nikon.

Monday, December 29, 2008


As I changed beds this morning - hauling duvets into clean duvet covers and debating with myself if this less frequent ritual is preferable to the daily and now out-moded performance with sheets, blankets, bed spreads and eiderdowns - the radio prattled on amiably on the bedside table. As I bustled between airing cupboard and bedroom I found myself slowing down in order to listen. Each pillow got an extra 'plump' and the duvet was straightened to within an inch of its life...

Women's Hour's Martha Kearney was in conversation with Beth Chatto at the latter's garden in Elmhust, Essex. As a keen gardener I found it a compelling bit of radio and wandered with the pair through the now famous 'gravel garden' and onto the wood, water and scree areas which Beth has developed over the last 40 years from an unpromising piece of wasteland. I remind myself not to moan about the wrong environment - just find the right plants. Her chance remark that gardeners not so many years ago had fewer plants available than we do today did make me stop and think. The cornucopia that is today's average garden centre would make a latter day gardener weak at the knees - a thrill for them may well have been the arrival of a newspaper wrapped bare-rooted perennial or something now we might consider quite ordinary. Chrysanths, Gladdies or Montbretia for example. Bor-ing.

Let's say that when the Thompson and Morgan ('Experts in the garden since 1855') catalogue dropped into the post box an hour later I was in a receptive mood. The year is at its coldest and darkest - the earth is hard as iron and the hens are chipping their beaks on water like a stone*....and here is promise of fruitfulness - strawberries as big as babies, blight resistant potatoes, carrots to piss off the carrot fly, beans, peas, giant pumpkins, flowers bright and beautiful and apples to put the garden of Eden to shame. The slug - that bane of our lives is corralled by nematodes. The family feeds off the contents of the window box! It's sweeter, less stringy - tastier! It's New! Improved! Free? What optimists we are. Dream on.

But how can I resist? Even now I'm twitching to order seeds and reaching out for that little piece of plastic with which to pay. There are old favourites to re-order and the temptation of the new - just to try. (There's so much promise in those little packets.) Who knows what will grow on the top of a low mountain in Wales? And 2009 will have the perfect summer won't it?

* I exaggerate to make a point of course. I've changed their water twice today already.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The time in Tokyo?

Well, in case you are wondering, it's 7.50pm. New York loiters at 5.50, while Paris (ever the front-runner) ticks over an hour ahead of GMT - that's 9.50pm as I type this.
Courtesy of the eyechild I now have a handy multi-coloured, multi-continental clock over my desk. Alan observes that it looks as if it might have come from the Lehman Brothers 'knock-down' sale. Me? - I suspect it comes from the Lehman Brother's crêche 'clear-out'...but who knows? I love it to pieces. It ticks and reminds me that 'tempus fugit'....must crack on.

I've been indulged and showered with lovely gifts this Christmas - for which many, many thanks to all. I see sybaritic times ahead.

Gifts are easy stuff - time with our visiting sons is precious. There's not enough of it - but maybe sufficient for us all to welcome some more later in the year. (Paxos. Greek time. I am excited already.) And there are days and weekends in between to look forward to of course.

They leave; the trail of damp towels, unmade beds and beer cans in curious places now take on a peculiar charm as the car known as 'the shadow of the beast' heads off up the lane. (I'm sure they all once knew where the towel rail, laundry basket and rubbish bin were.) I am left muttering 'take care', 'drive safely'.....'watch out for....................' and they are gone.

Silence descends and Alan and I settle into our usual routines again. He's doing something mysterious and bendy with wood in his shed. I collect an egg from a hen. The brown dog catches the scent of a burrowing vole in the dingle while the white one frets at the field gate. How ordinary everything is. We're under a heavy grey sky. It didn't seem to get light until just before 8.00am and 4.30pm seems dark enough for a torch. Time seems to stand still.

Come to think of it I'm not even sure what day of the week it is either.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How still it is...

Yes, how still it is. Not a breath of air twitches. This might be one ordinary night meteorologically speaking, starless and overcast - but it's heavy with extraordinary anticipation. Christmas Eve - 'special' is in the air. We've done cardspresentsparties, tomorrow we will dine, en famille, on roast duck. Crackers? yeah - there'll be crackers too.

But tonight, in the stillness, when it is not possible to buy, prepare or cook anything else it's good just to sit and drink in silence. This is my favourite moment.

Help yourselves to a mince pie - I made them earlier. They should still be warm.

Happy Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Crepuscular thoughts

'Crepuscular' - what a fantastic word to roll around one's tongue at the end of a gloomy December afternoon. My dictionary confirms that it means 'Resembling or relating to twilight'. I find it hard to shake off the feeling that it might be a good description for a pock-marked cartoon planet. Whatever. I am having midwinter crepuscular thoughts.

It's 4.20pm. Twilight and the light is fading fast; in fact the landscape is imbued with an eerie, curious and sulphurous glow. The land is sodden under my boots, our sticky clay oozes water. It's hard to love this time of year.

Across the field, in the dark fastness of Badnage wood, I can hear the panicked calls of pheasants as they launch themselves up into the swaying conifers and out of the reach of foxy jaws.

My hens - I have come to shut them into their huts for the night - have already taken themselves indoors. They are making what I take to be argumentative hen-talk - clucks and squawks - as they jostle for pole position on the perch. I have a stern word or two with the cockerels. They have been crowing at 5.00 in the morning for heaven's sake - a time when birds should surely have their heads under their wings. Dawn's earliest light is then still at least 2 hours hence.

Yesterday of course was the shortest day of the year - the day when the sun reached its lowest point in the sky, the Winter Solstice. The thought of the days now getting longer is a cheering one - although I suspect we'll get to February before we notice the difference.With hens shut in I trudge back up to the house. It's bedecked for Christmas with greenery and sparkling baubles. Our pretty tree's fairy lights are reflected into infinity by the glass of the garden room and the stove is set, ready to put a match to - soon orange tongues of flame will lick the darkness.

What bliss, the magic of fire in winter's deepest days - light and warmth. I shall sit for a while and watch the night descend before putting on my party frock to attend some latter day Saturnalian revels - the first of many Christmas parties. Mulled wine here we come....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time to Talk

And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, 'What is it?'
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

Robert Frost

Today I delivered our local Christmas cards and some newsletters too; a simple enough task. Shouldn't take all day... My route was planned and I laid them out in neat piles on the passenger seat of the car - a plan which failed at the first bend of our narrow lane when an 'emergency stop' sent my filing into the footwell and complete disorder. No matter - we'll busk it.

'Easy-peasy,' I thought as I slipped the first few cards through letterboxes - nobody's home. I was sniffed at by muddy farm dogs - which proceeded to pee nonchalantly but with purposeful dog-reason against the car wheels to spread their dog-messages the breadth of the parish. I was snorted at by beasts in barns, their heavy breath hanging in misty clouds before their kind faces - but I met no one. Marton could well have been the Marie Celeste of villages. Easy-peasy indeed.

Nope. Not far up the road it appears this is not going to be the case. Up the road everybody was at home and everybody was going to be sociable:

'Coffee? Or tea perhaps? Go on - have a small sherry.....'

I can barely push open a garden gate or negotiate the pot holes on a lane before I am offered refreshment. I chat. I drink coffee - most welcome. I chat some more. I avoid tea. No, I won't come in thank you. More coffee? Sherry? - no thanks - later perhaps. Chatter. Lunch - No, no, I'll let you get on. Tea? Another time thank you. Finally I sit with the ancient Mrs T, who opens the door with hands floured from the pastry bowl and we talk for a while of this and that, her hands getting less and less floury as she winds them in her lap. It is very peaceable in her kitchen; a kitchen clock ticks and there's a vague electrical hum which might be the cooker or a fridge. I sense mince pies. I could sit here for quite a while. I could probably go to sleep. I am all talked out.

Talk - that's what I have mainly done today. Talked of nothing of any real consequence but made the chit chat that binds a community together - a bit like that farm dog peeing on the car tyre.

It doesn't matter, does it, that there are a hundred and one pressing tasks to do before dusk? Cliche or not, it's good to talk.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ding-dong merrily...

Things to do today. Leaflets to print, parcels to post and, most importantly, Christmas shopping to be started. Everything on my list has a degree of urgency - a deadline - and I can almost hear the ticking of a clock as the countdown gets underway.....

The most urgent things on my list take me to the far side of Shrewsbury - the unlovely bit that no one would want to visit. Tourists on the town's Darwin Trail don't make it this far; the attractive town centre with its winding shuts and passages and half-timbered buildings gives way to the utilitarian, the business units, car show rooms, light industry and the sort of useful places that are handy to know about should you need a small obscure fitting for an obscure part of your life that is falling apart.

I fetch up at Sundorne Retail Park - the gateway to this development is guarded by an almost abstract (can there be such a thing?) sculpture. As I wait for the lights to change I decide it probably represents the sun, on a stick. It's a grey old place, unloved, devoid of cheer. The vast sheds, housing the usual suspects - DFS, Allied Carpets, Staples, Homebase wave optimistic banners urging us in, but on this dull morning they too are flagging. The car parks are empty and the municipal planting is ragged at the edges. There's a scurry of activity over at MFI whose closing down 'Everything Must Go!!' sale has attracted kitchen fitters from across the county. Those fitters can be seen hauling pieces of show kitchens into anonymous white vans, pausing only to light up or clamp a mobile phone to their ear. Nothing like a bargain is there?I wonder - and am seriously tempted - if I could do all my Christmas shopping here thus avoiding the crush in town itself. This is obviously what the retailers in Sundorne are hoping I'll decide to do. They have pulled out all the stops to entice me with what may not be traditional Christmas fayre but might be an interesting alternative. Homebase's purple and pink themed point of sale cards are a case in point: 'Oh look!' I hear some lucky recipient exclaim 'A Daisy Ironing Board!' or, and more curiously, how about some festive decorating filler? Great price! Fab!
I impulse buy a fitted sheet and some new lights for the tree. A can of de-icer seems a good idea too. It's stacked incongruously under some gross little decorated trees and some 'Good Girl' Christmas Cat Stockings. I ponder the grammar of this for a while before taking it at face value. I do not know any cats who would welcome a Christmas stocking filled with cat treats so they stay on the shelf. Things crossed off shopping list - nil.

In Staples I could do much better - I have a love of stationery and this is stationery heaven. Give me a paperclip and a ream of paper and I'm happy indeed. But I don't think my nearest and dearest share this love - so again nothing ticked off the list. Allied Carpets, DFS and Dunelm Mill? Nah. There'll be no carpets, couches and curtains under our tree this year.

So there was nothing for it but to head into town where the spirit was a bit more festive but ever so slightly subdued. Do I scent an air of retail desperation? Not even Woolworth in its cut-price death throes seemed busy - maybe everyone was slogging it out in the basement out of sight. With that clock ticking away I trudged the streets - everything started to look much the same after a while and my purse remained firmly closed. All this stuff - all this material flim-flam - all looking for a buyer. How much is really needed or wanted?

And the outcome of my trip? I bought a book (for me) and a DVD as a gift, and 3 packs of cards and an M & S Chinese meal. Not a very productive shopping trip was it? Which means I'll have to go back next week. With a list and a plan. Groan....

PS I'm easy to please - as I said above, a box of colourful paperclips will do nicely.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The brown egg of the little blue hen

Did I put out a call for eggs only a day ago?

Today in the nest box, on a bed of straw, hunkered up against the inspirational 'pot egg' was the sweetest little brown egg. This is the first from the new hens; one of the Blue Marans has come into lay. Hopefully it will be the first of many.The Cream Legbars should be next - that'll be blue eggs from little brown hens....

Sunday, December 07, 2008

4 new red hens

Got me 4 new red hens. (Thanks to SBS - and to Mr SBS in particular - his wish to see the rejects, runts, waifs and strays of the animal kingdom in caring homes made this addition to Trelystan's national flock possible.) They're installed in a clean hen hut on a bed of shavings and protected from the inquisitive pecks of their neighbours by a sturdy pen. We'll let them aclimatise to life on a draughty hilltop before giving them the freedom of the larger compound.

I've mentioned before that getting a good photograph of a hen is a very difficult - and it proved nigh impossible to snap the new foursome. So here's a picture of another, fairly new, red hen instead:Now all we need are eggs

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Stove and I.

The man from Scan and his side-kick Craig-our-fitter stand in front of our new and recalcitrant woodburner. It's not an unattractive thing, in a designery sort of way, and suits the room well. It's just that one or two minor glitches need sorting out - the thing wobbles for heaven's sake, the smoke stack is slightly out of true and I can't stop the glass from smoking up. (This last finds me on my knees like a true skivvy scrubbing at the soot with a damp cloth dipped in wood ash. How Victorian is that? You will be pleased to know I draw the line at black-leading - the Zeebo will remain in the cupboard. My hands are filthy enough as it is.) Oh, and finally, the door handle has found against returning to its neat closed position. This is a top of the range stove from a reputable manufacturer, for which we have dug deep in our pockets. I put on my best 'get it sorted or else' face .... and go to make a brew for the workers.

The wobble is resolved by a bit of lateral thinking; the adustable feet now hidden beneath the stove are adjusted by sliding a saw blade underneath the plinth, connecting it with the feet and, using the gentlest of sawing motions, turning them up or down until stability is achieved. A twiddle with an allen key sorts out the door - but I am left with the distinct impression this is something I should have done for myself. Sorry, Mr Scan at the price we paid for this critter we almost expect it to light itself. (I do though make a mental note to put tools within easy reach.)
Craig is let off straightening the smoke stack today - the weather is foul and the roof slippy - I'm not that hard a task master.We address the problem of the smoky glass - it's all to do with putting more wood on when the fire is at the right temperature, wood that is dry, wood of the right size. Little and often. I'm beginning to see that this woodburner - unlike the dragon we have in the sitting room- needs coaxing and pampering. It is obviously a prima donna amongst stoves, needing to be cajoled and fed only the finest seasoned dry oak or ash (of which we are lucky to have plenty) and supplied with copious gulps of oxygen. Don't forget to empty the ash pan either...The man from Scan assures me that all this should do the trick - assures me too that 'it's just a matter of getting used to it'. Sounds like an inordinate amount of bother too.

They gather up their tools and leave. Stove and I look at each other. 'OK Stove' I say, 'Just burn hot and clean with typical Nordic efficiency....'

I swear it said 'Ja.... måske.'* But that might just have been the sound of the door swinging shut.

* I hope it means 'Yes...perhaps.' Perhaps some passing Dane can confirm that.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sartorially shite

I hoike up my jeans to half-mast - rolling them neatly to reveal pale winter-hairy legs, blue socks and Birkenstocks and pull on my wellies. I zip up a quilted body warmer and pull a fleeced hoody* on over the top. Gloves. Mustn't forget the gloves. (Knitted, plastic-palmed, gardening - for the use of.) Somewhere beneath all this my vest is well tucked in. My best-ever gardening hat (with it's 'nothing is ordinary' badge firmly afixed) is yanked firmly down over my ears, add a slick of lip-salve and I'm dressed and ready for action. We'll ignore the whiff of je ne sais quois - the miasma of compost, poultry and wood smoke which walks alongside me. Is there a hint of Worzel Gummidge in my appearance? Perhaps. Thank goodness it's dark you might think.

Sadly this passes for day wear too.....I hear fashion correspondents the world over weep as their advice re accessories and shoeboots, silk, cashmere and must-have hand-wrought tweed apparently falls on deaf ears. But now I am going to walk a dog. In the dark.

Out on the frosty lane and under the stars - it is one fantastic night. Wilson, the most handsome bull terrier in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan, leads the way up the lane - his nose picking up bright night smells. What information is there to be read on the breeze, in a stone or blade of grass?

...Let's turn off the torch for a while and let the stars do the lighting - how I wish I knew their names. The Milky Way is, tonight, a creamy swoosh across the sky. I wonder, as I always do, what other lives and loves are out there in that vastness. At the top of the lane and across the valley we see the scattered and earthly lights of Montgomery and to the east Minsterley and Snailbeach. We stop, lean on a gate to take in the night. We see no one and (I think) no one sees us. (Considering my costume this may be a Good Thing.)

Our own house lights glow warmly beneath us. We strode up the hill with confidence, our feet crunching on the icy gravel, but make our way down again with caution; two days of frost have left a surface like glass. My multi-layered look has kept me warm - and I'm reassured that should I fall I will be well padded too. Wilson tows me home; he goes to his stinky dog bed and I come here to tell you the news as it happens: freezin' keen, ice underfoot, clear starry sky and the prospect of sunny intervals tomorrow.

Meanwhile some fog and frost pictures from this weekend:
This little patch of the Long Mountain was like the promised land on Saturday - bathed in sunshine - while fog hangs in the valley below.
The frosted landscape this morning as seen from our field.

Boxing hares in Saturday's fog.

and erm...frosty things**:

*Said fleece first saw light of day in the early nineties when it was bought as a bit of edgy street wear for one son or another - in retrospect what a good buy it has been. An early hoodie - now Vintage - it's a real bit of wash and go.

** ...not sure about the 'snowflakes'...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My best-ever present...

Psst! Don't let on. Don't breathe a word...Somewhere in the vastness of the United States Pam's small son Jack has asked Father Christmas (or maybe there he's called Santa Claus) to bring him a bike. Now I know - and blog world knows - that Pam has, on behalf of F. Christmas found the bike of his dreams and that on Christmas morning one small boy will be very happy indeed. We'll keep it a surprise.

What, asked Pam as an afterthought, were her readers' favourite presents?

It didn't take much head scratching to remember a Christmas in the mid sixties when, along with the painting by numbers set and the 'sensible dressing gown from hell' I unwrapped the neatest little transistor radio - the iPod of its day. This picture - found on some radio geek's site - does not do it justice - it was immeasurably more gorgeous. It sat in all its hard plastic glory in a tan leather case. It had a strap - I think aspiring hipsters were meant to sling it over their shoulder for music on the go - which I discarded immediately as 'not cool' - although I'm not sure if 'cool' had reached south Warwickshire as early as 1960 something....

It was a license to listen and listen I did; indoors and outdoors, under the covers, in the bath or on interminable car journeys where, with it clutched to my ear, I would hope for a signal. It saw me through school and university, first home and at least 1 child. I discovered drama and comedy and to distrust anything labeled 'light entertainment.' The batteries - big chunky jobs - lasted forever. No complicated knobs, buttons and dials - I seem to remember one for volume and one for tuning; the Home Service and The Light Programme. How primitive it all seems now.

Being so far inland, pirate stations London and Caroline were but whispers in my ear - but lying in bed on a school night with my radio alongside me on the pillow I would strain to listen to John Peel's idiosyncratic 'Perfumed Garden Show' a pot pourri of blues, folk, rock and West Coast wackiness. Radio Luxembourg with its crackles and whistles was never quite as enticing. And Radio 1, the hip answer to the Light Programme? I suppose it had its moments.

I can't remember when we parted company. I wonder if something more sophisticated* came on the market. It's more likely that old age and one accident too many involving bath water meant an untimely end. RIP little radio. Gone but not forgotten.

* I've just remembered. Indeed it did - in the form of a 'Brixton Briefcase' - a 'ghetto blaster'; an amalgam of cassette decks, loudspeakers, controls, aerials, bells and whistles. What a waste of space that was.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pimp that Trug...

My glamorous assistant has been busy in his shed making these trugs. They are made of English Oak, have bent beech handles, copper rivets and copper rose-head nails. I want to keep all of them; one for the garden, one for kindling, one for odds and ends, one for my embroidery....etc, etc, but they are destined for the Craft Fair to be held in Marton tomorrow. All made in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan - there's a usp.

I wonder if they will sell - not sure if Marton is a 'truggish' sort of place or whether its inhabitants can be persuaded to buy at what might be described as rather un-Marton prices. Perhaps I will have one for every occasion after all.

Not wishing to put all his energies into one basket, so to speak, there is also a small sideline in decorative bird houses:
We have Chalet-style, New England Ecclesiastical and the Neo-Classical. A bargain at a tenner apiece.

I have fruit jellies; crab apple, quince, red, black and white currant and blackberry. £2.00 a pop. Does that sound about right?

Anyway, if you're passing - the village hall doors open at 10.00am. Do call in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Now what?

There's now a big Latin shaped hole in my week - the 8 week course delving into the mysteries of medieval Latin finished yesterday. No more homework; no nouns to decline or verbs to conjugate today and the photocopied sheets we have pored over and tried to read remain in the folder. The crabbed handwriting of the clerk will remain undeciphered....

No, no, no. I am curious enough to continue - and nosey enough too. Court Rolls, Parish Registers, Deeds, Charters and Wills afford a look into lives far removed from our own. Go beyond the jargon - and I feel even the clerks grew tired of jargon with their shorthand of curls and squiggles - to find the minutiae of life. (Their shorthand incidently makes extra work for the transcriber - not only must medieval Latin be translated into English but the handwriting must be interpreted too. Master that only to find that writers used a series of abbreviations in place of parts of words.....) Drill down to catch a glimpse of the lives of the common man. It's all there: 'litle calffes', Ewe shippes', 'Brasse potts' and 'Brandardes'. (Bequests of 'peticoats' and gowns too - who wants to wear dead mens' shoes these days?)

Life in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan is not much different in some ways even now - I feel the husband's spelling and that of the medieval clerk have much in common....the shippes on the hill nibble peacefully and we have litle calffes in the barne. The fire of Oke and Ashe which rises from our hearth, its pungent smoke wafted by a brisk north westerly wind tonight, would be familiar too.

So a sort of aimless day here; planted a tulip bulb or two, swept some floors.....photographed a sunset. Went to bed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In which we are asked to keep our eyes open....

Towards the end of the afternoon yesterday there was a rap on the door. Heather stood outside.

'No,' she said. She wouldn't come in right now: 'Dirty boots see.'

She'd come down to see to the cattle in the shed; there are some cows and calves and a wheezing bull - which may or may not be impotent - in there for the winter. Over the next few months they'll munch their way through the bales of hay which are stacked in an adjacent barn - feed which is supplemented by an eagerly awaited daily ration of nuts.

'Could you keep your eyes and ears open' she asked, nodding towards the barn ominously - 'and if you were to smell smoke.....loose out the cattle straight away. Straight away - just let 'em go.'

She made an expansive gesture. 'Just loose 'em all out, it doesn't matter where.' Her arm indicated that anywhere in Powys would be better than a blazing barn.

Our farmers are worried; a fourth farm blaze has got them rattled. The Fire Service cagily recommend vigilance and urge landowners to keep an eye on their property and to check the temperature of stored hay. Hay, if stored with the moisture levels too high, can spontaneously combust - this year a lot of grass was cut late and in less than ideal conditions. This is a plausible explanation. However, our neighbours suspect a more sinister cause: arson.

What a terrible and terrifying act, especially senseless and cruel when livestock is involved. We will, of course, 'loose 'em out' if the worst comes to the worst. I make a mental note to work out in advance how best to do this - bearing in mind that it will undoubtably be dark, raining and we would be dealing with frightened large animals.

Heather leaves to go up to Fir House to pass on her message there and we contemplate what an uphill struggle farming must be at times; the battle with the elements, the escalating costs of feed and fuel, the low prices at market, the endless bureaucracy...the devastation that was Foot and Mouth and the threat of Blue Tongue which is omnipresent. The list is a long one. They cope.

.....then out of the blue comes a fool with a box of matches.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Laundry God

This is the other piece I submitted in the writing competition:

The Laundry God

In my utility room - just over there by the sink and held in the tiny gap twixt broom cupboard and wall - is a small black and white photograph. It is of my father.The picture was taken some time ago in the early 1980s and marks his retirement. It’s an informal shot; after a lifetime’s teaching he’s casually dressed, perhaps in anticipation of leisurely days ahead. The local newspaper printed it alongside some words about years of loyal service, the love of a good woman and happy families – the usual platitudes. We didn’t really need to read it. We knew our Dad.

He was to enjoy a good few years of retirement; widowed he seemed to discover a new sense of freedom and independence. He saw his grandchildren grow up and became a dear friend as well as a parent to us, his own children, too.

He died. We mourned. It was on one of the house-clearing sorties in the dark days that followed that I found the picture amongst a lifetime’s ephemera and stuffed it for safe-keeping into the back pocket of my jeans. It emerged only slightly crumpled and narrowly missed a cycle in the washing machine. I smoothed out a crease or two and wedged it out of harm’s way behind the pipes of our basement laundry and got on with life. My guilt at putting my recently deceased father’s photograph behind a cold water pipe gradually diminished as he, overlooking the daily laundry attained the status of Household God.

We moved on about 5 years ago. I packed up methodically – the very model of organisation. Room by room, like with like; into the box of washing powders, soap and Stain Devils went my father. He emerged 100 miles down the road, slightly more care worn but so sweetly scented. In the flurry of unpacking I found him a new niche and tucked him up where he is to be found today.

He smiles down at me from here, his kind face as creased and lined as the paper it is printed on. He is my Laundry God. ‘O spare me from shrinkage and fugitive colours’ I beseech as I sort whites from coloureds or indulge in the rare ceremony of hand-washing.

Perhaps he deserves a more venerated home than the laundry. I remind myself that ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’. He would see the joke.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Something to read on a rainy day

It would be easy to blether on about the weather...rain blah blah, more rain, blah, blah, blah. Oh yes - my hens would be better off with webbed feet. It really is that bad, and we are on the top of a mountain blah blah...

Instead I offer up my entry in the 'WI Life' magazine 'Write a Column Competition', which apparently put me in the shortlist (of 150 entries). On Friday I learned that I will not be that columnist. In truth it's a relief not to win. This is not a club I want to belong to.

The topic was: What is the greatest challenge facing the Women's Institute today? 400 words - this is what I wrote:
A Question of Age

The Ladies of Marton WI are once again discussing the increase in Subs. They need little provocation - the slightest hint of things financial and they’re off; complaints and observations rise to a shrill and muddled crescendo. To my left I hear, like distant thunder, a rumble of discontent about ‘That Magazine.’ To my right Lil, oblivious to war of words around her, is trying to interest Margaret in the current state of her bandaged leg.

I’m sitting at a table at the front of the room next to El Presidente who attempts to maintain a modicum of order. I’m endeavouring to keep track of this multi-level discussion in order that it can be recorded for posterity in the Record Book. We are going over familiar ground; I suspect that if I switch off now and tune in again later I won’t have missed much. A bit like following the Archers really.

I find myself idly counting heads. We are a small group of only 16 members.

11 of those heads are grey; another 3 have taken steps to appear otherwise. The hair atop our 2 newest members is the glossy auburn of comparative youth. A quick sum in the margin of the agenda shows the combined ages of our ladies is in excess of 1,000 years. Crikey! Another reveals our average age to be 68. I foresee problems ahead when the inevitable happens and age and infirmity take their toll.

This problem is not ours alone – I’ve attended County meetings with a similar demographic. I reflect we may be part of an outward-looking organisation for modern women but we fail to attract the younger ones. At this rate the survival of the organisation is threatened. What sort of future do we have without new blood?

It’s about image versus reality – the public perception of the WI remains that of ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ regardless of how many ‘sexy’ press releases leave the offices of the National Federation. How do we persuade young women that the WI has opportunities for them but needs their involvement to inject the vibrancy they perceive it lacks at present?

I am saved from finding a solution by a jab in the ribs from El Presidente. Shortly we will learn to crochet and be refreshed with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Time to go and set the world on fire?
The other piece - again 400 words - was to be on a subject we cared deeply about. I wrote about my father's unique role as the 'Laundry God'. I'll save that for another rainy day.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fog. All alone in the world.

Perhaps it was foolish of me to take the road that snakes across the top of the Long Mountain when there is a sensible alternative, but I do like to think that even at 10.00 o'clock at night the spirit of adventure lives on.

In the 5 years we've lived here this 8 mile stretch has wormed its way into my affections and, given the choice, that's the road I'll take for journeys to or from Shrewsbury. Like all love affairs it's irrational - common sense would take me along the valley bottom on a road which is fast and efficient but also carries more traffic. Up here on the spine of the mountain is solitude. It's unusual to meet more than a couple of vehicles along its length - 5 or 6 constitutes 'very busy'. I can dawdle along undisturbed taking in the verges, the hedgerows and the changing scenery and seasons. Wales falls away to the west and Shropshire's Blue Remembered Hills are to the east. I find, even in the wildest weather, a sense of stillness here atop the world. There's room to contemplate and collect one's thoughts and drift off into a state of blissful relaxation. Wait! Watch out! This is a road for heaven's sake and it definitely pays to stay alert.

As I climb up out of the village of Westbury, on to Vennington and through Vron Gate (where the old pub The Seven Stars is being reburbished) there is a hint of mist in the air; mist which thickens as the car climbs up the narrow road. The radio prattles amicably in the background, I am cocooned and warm. All is fine and dandy. As I drive past Dot and Dave's (I'm looking forward to their Christmas Lights again) and then past Mountain Farm I realise that my field of vision has become very limited indeed - the light from my headlights glares as it bounces back at me. The beams seem solid - carved out of light, almost as if some child had drawn them. Dipping them seems to help. Up at Nant-y-myssels the mist is thick fog, swirling grey flannel blankets of it. I am driving - and will drive for the next 5 miles or so - relying on the edge of the road to be my guide.I creep along, hunched over the wheel now, my eyes searching for the road under the lights' glare. Every so often a field gate or farm lane interupts the edge of the road and I have lost my guiding line. I could be anywhere, moving in shapeless, undefined space. As a driver, moving and not knowing where is a disturbing experience. My concentration is absolute. I am dis-orientated, though realise that I know more or less where I am from the shapes of the road sides and verges which I can see. This is some comfort.

Up on Heldre Hill - where the common land is - and a bleak old windswept place at the best of times - I'm going so slowly I stop. Curiousity gets the better of me. What's it like out there?

I roll the window down the better to look and listen, letting the cold wet air creep into the car and over my face. Without the engine it is an eery world indeed, not a sound to be heard, only muffled silence, oddly still. It is a night for imagining the ghostly shapes of the long forgotten peoples who once laid their kinfolk to rest on this hill. A sacred place for them; their tumuli are over to my right. It's a night when one might hear the tramp of a Legionnaire's boot as he marched from Forden Gaer to Wroxeter, cursing the deplorable weather and food of this benighted island and longing for the sighing pines and thyme scented hills of Rome.

What else might be in the shadows? It's better not to whisper 'Is there anybody there?' too loudly lest I conjure up some lonely wraith.... We won't go there.

I am utterly alone in a little fuzzy world of grey, surrounded by walls of fog. No light. No sound bar the thump of what must be my heart pumping. Nothing.

With a shiver and a flick of the key we're motoring again - slowly, as before. Gradually as the road drops down the hill I leave the fog behind and see the twinkle of house-lights in the distance. Back into the real world again it seems.

Edited 07.11.2008
My photos are not of course taken at night. Wanting to capture some of landscape's atmosphere, I nipped back in daylight with the camera.

Monday, November 03, 2008

'Clever with Clothes'

How could I resist this slim little book with its orange dust jacket? It draws me like a beacon when I find it amongst a ruck of others - the usual dusty fare of the second-hand stall. I'm attracted by the slim and elegant figure sketched on its front; she's pert of breast and trim-waisted, the epitome of poise and chic. This capable gal taps her foot and menacingly points her scissors at the matronly gown on her dressmaker's dummy. This capable gal means business. What lies within 'Clever with Clothes' I wonder. For £1.00 I can find out.

I do not have to look far; the first - and only - colour plate encourages me to make blouses and aprons out of mens' shirts. This is 'a book of renovation ideas.' Aha! It might come in handy in these recessionary times.

I get the picture - it was published in 1946. Hostilities had ended and the country was no longer at war. However, Peace had not yet bestowed the blessings of plenty and Britain still did not flow with milk and honey. The nation must continue to make do and mend. Our plucky women must continue to use their skills and ingenuity to feed and cloth their families. Knitted garments were carefully unravelled to be knitted up again, coats become jackets, stockings were re-footed. Why not make a cardigan and a skirt from a man's suit? Why not make crocheted covers for the linoleum soles of your new (home-made) slippers - or you might use plaited string?
'Slipper making is a very worth-while form of sewing, for you can make these necessary items almost without cost for every member of the family. It is quick too; you can make a slipper in an evening, perhaps even the pair, and you can do the work pleasantly in an armchair, or pick it up at any odd moment.'
Yes, that's as maybe. Underwear and nightgowns apparently are a problem, wearing out as they do. Well, mend them. Unpick and resew the worn seams. Combine the good fabric from two garments to make one new one. 'Build' yourself a brassiere - a veritable over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder - click the image for details. Renew your knickers; let in extra strips of fabric if necessary - shorten your worn out woven directoire knickers into panties to wear under cami-knickers.... I am losing the plot here - pants under pants?Nothing is wasted; not a scrap. It might 'come in' - and it might need to 'come in' until clothing rationing ends in 1949. Until then the likes of 'Clever with Clothes' will firmly and cheerfully guide the sewing kits of the nation.

I think about L P Hartley's now almost proverbial quotation: 'The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there'. This, our recent past, is within the living memory of a sizeable proportion of the population but so removed are we today in terms of life style and culture we may as well be considering Medieval or Tudor times. We are strangers to frugality, strangers to making do and mending. We want stuff and we want it now. But how much do we actually need?

I flick through the pages of my little book again. Nope, I'm not inspired to remake old clothes otherwise destined for the charity shop or for gardening in - and I do think the place for old underwear is in the bin - but I'm filled with admiration for the women who set to with needle and thread and did just that. In fact any woman who can achieve the covetable embonpoint of the clever seamstress on the cover with the sole aid of a home made bra deserves the highest award.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


What's there not to like about this fantastic addition to my poultry empire? I'm so chuffed with it I might even move in there myself. I think Ikea are well versed in the art of fitting out small spaces....

It has everything the pampered bird might crave; perches, popholes, ventilation, doors and 4 pretty red wheels. A panel lifts off at the back for ease of cleaning. Provision has been made for a nest box but in the first instance we hope to raise a few birds for the table so that is blanked off at present.

Above, my glamorous assistant demonstrates how to open the door. He also designed and built it. I'm very proud of him. I'm not sure how easy it would be to persuade him to built another one though. For light relief he has moved on to the next project - carving a 'decoy' lapwing. (If you are all very good I shall photograph the finished product.)

PS: I forgot to mention the towing hook - firmly attached so we can haul it behind the pick-up into position on the field. Come to think of it, in these credit-crunched times my new hen house could double up as a touring caravan. Or perhaps not.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another well known phrase or saying.

What's this I hear from the hen-house-on-wheels, home to my small and motley flock of poultry? It's a rousing 'cock-a-doodle-doo'. As I open the door the birds come spilling out - and here they are at my feet milling expectantly for pellets and grain. The cockerel struts about in that macho way beloved of the male of the species everywhere. I'm glad he's crowing - it's what cockerels do and it's a real sound of the countryside.

But from the interior of the hen-house-on-wheels his crow is answered by another. What? What's this? I only have one cockerel and he's here, outside.

I investigate. Up on the perch, with head thrown back and throat stretched to the heavens sits the Cuckoo Maran - crowing her heart out. 'Tis flying in the face of nature - a crowing hen - and there I was expecting an egg from her any day now....
'Limp wristed - moi?'
I Google. It's a good place isn't it, the t'internet, for everyman and his dog to put their 'two penneth' in? The wild and wacky, the sane, the scientist and the slap-happy amateur all rub shoulders in a glorious melting pot of idea and opinion. Who knows what my search criteria: 'crowing hen' will throw up.

I'd rather hoped to have found a more rational explanation than 'it's the Devil's work...'

A crowing hen is apparently not an unheard of phenomena - Google throws up over 50,000 references. (Sadly none of them suggest that 'Crowing Hen' was big chief of an obscure Native American tribe.) There are not many scientific explanations either - I'm thinking hormonal here - which might account for 'her' behaviour. (I have already begun to think of her as male.) She's well developed and quite assertive - but that's probably a characteristic of her breed. I'm none the wiser.

It seems that 'A whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men'. I read with foreboding that a crowing hen might portend misfortune, or worse still, a death in the house. Oooh er....Folk tales are pretty strong magic and on a cold dark evening with long shadows in the corner of the room I feel a little spooked by this. It seems to be a global belief too. I tell myself, bearing in mind there is probably a grain of truth in most maxims, that eons of experience have shown that a hen showing this male characteristic is unlikely to be a good layer and will not be worth her keep. How sensible is that?

I'm going to keep an eye on her. Her vocal outburst may amount to nothing and a deep brown egg will prove she was just a 'tomboy' at heart and this to be a passing phase. In the meantime I've winged an email to my brother ('poultry keeper extraordinaire'), a guru in hen-world, because if he doesn't know the answer I don't know who will. And there's not much point in having an expert in the family if you can't make use of their talents is there?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Out and In

It's a funny old cold-wet afternoon. Not inviting at all. I can't summon up the enthusiasm to don boots, hat, coat and gloves and set about the numerous autumnal tidy-up jobs which await me out there in the garden. There are things aplenty to cut down, haul away and compost. The greenhouse needs a thorough 'bottoming' to rid it of the air of neglect I sense as I slide the door open - the summer's tomato plants are now sorry specimens hung with a ragbag of half-ripened fruit; peppers are sticky with whitefly; a lone cucumber is swollen and flabby on the vine....

And leaves....leaves in abundance. Leaves falling like confetti, ginger as freckles, tumbled into crackling heaps. I have raked and scooped 'til my back aches but a glance skywards shows more and more waiting for the whip of the wind to direct them earthwards. I don't relish the prospect of wheeling yet another barrow load to the compost bin even if it does mean more of the brown gold that is leaf-mould.Through the glass of my window and from the corner of my eye I spy a beech tree, brilliant as a beacon against the sombre conifers of Badnage Wood. In truth it's hard to miss and like all good beacons draws me towards it. I am out and how good it is to be up here on the hill with the land falling away beneath me - a stream of golds and browns and greens tumbling away down the side of the Long Mountain. How I wish I could fly and soar over this magnificent landscape with its myriad twists and turns, clefts and hollows.

It's cold and the air is wet but I'm glad I stirred my stumps. The hardest thing I think is getting through the door.

Then, from my vantage point on the hill, I hear Heather, Karl and Phil over there in the Little Triangle Field gathering in the last of the cows and calves. Phil is out on the flank somewhere while Heather urges them on and Karl thwacks his boot with a stick. It's the odd rhythmic thump which attracts my attention - and that of the hens as well. The birds stand with heads cocked and listen to the cavalcade of men and animals move across the field. There's a young bull amongst them too and I can hear him snorting heavily as they move towards the yard. He's a lumbering, muscular, ginger beast amongst the lighter-weight cows and their liquorice-allsorts calves. There's a wagon in the yard waiting to take them down off the hill to their winter quarters. The tail-gate shuts, the lorry strains its way up our narrow lane and they are gone. Silence.

That's it 'til spring then; only sheep left to nibble back and forth, seemingly oblivious to the elements.

I turn my back on the burnished landscape, head into the wind and rain and sprint for the warmth of home. Time for me to be in too.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Normal service will be resumed....

....probably some time tomorrow.

We have a guest; a guest we are very pleased to see and of whom we are both very fond. However, the change of routine which hospitality entails is beginning to take its toll.

There's no selfish, solitary half hour hunched over the crossword at breakfast - instead I must make bright conversation. There are no self-indulgent forays into cyberspace for minutes which stretch into hours - I must find entertaining earthly diversions instead. There's the need to sustain a sparkling social smile when, frankly, I'd prefer to snarl. I have face ache.

But hey! Our guest enjoys seeing the countryside from the comfort of the car so each visit takes us deeper into the Welsh countryside. Yesterday we went to Ruthin, enjoying a day of near perfect autumn weather and fantastic scenery.

We visited the new Ruthin Craft Centre which opened with fanfares earlier this year. It's a great complex of buildings, shop, work spaces, galleries and a cafeteria. It looks good. We did our usual trick of arriving at a gallery either a week too early or a week too late - one exhibition had finished and the next was in the process of being staged. We toured the shop instead, peering into the glass cabinets which held the jewellery, ceramics, glass and objets beloved of craft galleries nationwide. I must admit here to having a problem with this kind of 'craft' which I find hard to define. Yes, it is almost always beautifully made but it is neither 'Art' nor is it 'Design'. It has a twee uniformity; a sameness, a lack of vigour. I would have like to have seen the work of artisans, of the weavers, the basket makers, the tilers, the wood and iron workers et al who marry beauty with function and form. It's my problem and maybe I'll get over it.

By contrast today we've 'done' the Christmas extravaganza at the local garden centre. What you see is what you get; lots of plastic sparkle. Lots of glittery tat. Made in China. What good honest fun. No pretension.

Anyway, tomorrow things should be back to normal.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hens on the field

The electric fencing kit I ordered following last week's fox attack arrived very quickly but it took me a couple of days to digest the instructions. There was something grey and photographic which showed me how to unroll netting and stick stakes in the ground. There was something in very small type for the technically minded telling me where to stick the energiser (that's the thing which converts the power from the battery into pulses....I think.) and what to attach the various clips to. Finally, by dredging up enough schoolgirl French I could read what to do with the little light thingy which flashes in the dark to show me it's all working. Not too difficult after all.

I did a fair bit of pacing - I know my best-ever stride is exactly a metre - to achieve a square of my 50 metres of netting. Stakes were stuck in, ditto corner posts. I made a little gate too. Then because all the instructions stress that any vegetation touching the green netting would 'short' the circuit we laid plastic damp-proof course along the bottom. This of course showed that my 'square' was not exactly erm, square and wandered all over the place. (Alan did a lot of sighing at this point.) Alan did manly things like hammering in the earth spike and attaching guy ropes to the corner posts - all those years as a boy scout were not wasted after all were they? I should add that he came to help at the eleventh hour - as I was fixing the last corner post and had nearly finished the job. Apparently I shouldn't have done it like 'that' - I should have done it like 'this'. It's said that a little help is worth a lot of sympathy (by whom?) so I resisted clocking him over the head with the mallet and shut up. Patient, moi?

We attached the battery to the energiser and the energiser to the fence and 'thwack' - as Alan didn't let go soon enough and leapt back clutching his thumb we realised we had power. Hurrah.The hen houses were rolled into place and the birds released into their new home. It does look pretty good.

After a week's confinement in tiny runs I'd like to think they were delighted with their new surroundings. They're in the lee of the hill, have sun and shade and should be out of the worst of the prevailing winds. I've incorporated a big log pile for shelter and added interest.

I've left the small run in in case they need to get out of Mr Buzzard's way. Mr Buzzard has been hovering lately and won't be deterred by a bit of netting - he'll just drop in. We hope the birds will now be safe from the murderous fox too of course.

None of them are laying at the moment - the old ones are going through the moult and the young ones are not quite mature enough. Shouldn't be long though.

A clutch of Fabergé eggs would be very welcome. Can you manage that girls? It would go a long way towards to recouping my expenses.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hues' news

Today we are mostly doing orange....

A puff of wind, a shot of frost and all this wonderful colour will be gone. Catch it while you can.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This week...

Latin class. We hit the ground running. The classes' collective bums have not had the opportunity to settle comfortably into the classes' seats before questions of declensions, conjugations and the minutiae of grammar are fired at us. My pea-sized brain finds recalling English grammar difficult enough so tackling the nominative, accusative, genative, dative and ablative in another language is challenging. We aim to be able to read some Medieval Latin at the end of this 8 week course. If turning Latin sentences into English ones were not enough we need also to read the script - so some paleography is involved too. And then, after we've translated the words and deciphered the text, we must understand the quirky code of symbols and abbreviations that contemporary writers used. I'm not sure if 8 weeks will be time enough but I relish the challenge.

First up I lose a chicken to the fox so in addition to the one that hopped off its mortal coil on Sunday due to a mystery ailment I am now 2 birds down. Grr. Keeping my little flock safe in the future will now involve buying electric fencing at great expense. A rough calculation shows each hen will probably have to lay in excess of 300 eggs before I even approach break-even. I'm a bit fed up with economics at the moment.

It's the night of the WI programme planning meeting. Only 6 of us forgather in the local pub to see what we can put together for the next 12 months. It's the same recipe as forever I think; a health thing, a hands-on thing, some history, cooking, travel, a visit here and a visit there. It will be interesting but the same old, same old. Yawn?

We're in the comfort zone here - no challenges but hardly the stuff to set the world on fire either. How on earth will this organisation ever attract the new members it needs to survive? If there is anyone out there who might join a group - what would you like to listen to/take part in at a monthly meeting? Serious question - I really would like to know.

Anyway, as we deliberate around our table my eye is caught by the couple - she's potential WI material - sitting on the couch over there in front of the pub's wood burning stove. It's hard to avoid them actually. They're not youngsters - probably in their 30's but they're snogging. Really loved up. A mixture of intertwined arms, legs and lips - there is no one else in their world. Probably not a good time to ask if she'd like to join our group....

Here's the bit which is probably too much information - Sweet memories of snogging in the hollows of the very saggy couch in the residents 'lounge' of the White Lion in Banbury, but reading Baudelaire too and drinkingsweetMartinieatingchicken'n'mushroompie. No one else in our world. No names, no pack drill. Happy days.

And I wouldn't have wanted to join the WI then either.

To the hills across the flat Rea Valley and an afternoon with blogging friends in Snailbeach.

What a fantastically strange place this is, especially on a dank autumnal day. Actually to call it dank is a tad untrue - we were blessed with clear blue skies which lit up leaves, hips and haws. Whatever. We're in a post-industrial landscape. The mines here produced, at the height of production, the largest quantity of lead in Europe but since their decline in the dying years of the 19th century the landscape has reclaimed its own.

Those lumps and bumps you see may be spoil heaps or a tumble-down settlement. The Shropshire Mines Trust has the industrial buildings and the mines themselves in its care and have worked to safe-guard this local history for future generations. The village itself, clinging to the hillside, is a mix of old and new. Incongruous executive homes have been built as infill on plots here and there and they dwarf the little worker's cottages that remain. I never entirely escape the feeling that here the 'old ways' are just beneath the surface - maybe one day a year a mist rolls in and the past comes to life again.

I'm interested in the lives of the common man - and woman. What was it like to be alive then? Curiously shaped patches, plots and pieces are the miners' gardens - if you are shown where to look you may spot a 'root store' where potatoes would be stored for winter use. Boundary hedges have grown into trees. Snailbeach is quiet now - the pulsing of the mighty engines that drove the processing machinery and was the community's heart beat have long been silent - sent for scrap. There's only bird song and our chatter as SBS leads us through the network of lanes that knits this little village together. She points out curiousities as we go: fact and fantasy, faces, places and people - this is my sort of history. We meet sheep and rare wood ants. We stand above the village and are awed by a magnificent view over Shropshire and into Wales and north to the Cheshire plain.

We enjoy a very late lunch around SBS's table. Chatter, gossip and laughter - strangers from blog-world, now friends. Thank you J for a lovely day.

Ah! The Bangers 'n' Mash Supper. More fun in a Village Hall.

First sweep your village hall and remove industrial quantities of crud. Scrub well and curse ineffectual 'caretaker'. Tape over holes around perimeter of floor thus stopping icy draughts whistling up ladies' frocks. Remember that this is yet another fund-raiser to build a new hall so that one day none of this will be necessary.

Set up bar. Panic that there is not enough beer. Buy more. Peel, boil and mash 6lbs of potatoes.

Turn up at hall In Good Time with potatoes to find that at least 70 people are there already.

Take up position behind makeshift bar and assume role as barmaid. I had assumed that my days of being leched over are long gone - but no, there are still lascivious old goats out there. Sad and creepy. Sigh.

Crikey, these people can eat. Food is served school dinner style and a long queue forms quickly. They return to their tables with plates bending with the weight of sausages, beans and mash, eat and then go back for more. Perhaps they need to stoke up before the dancing begins, because when it does they are all on their feet and the hall is shaking. Those in the know share a grimace of concern - the joists which hold the floor up have - shall we say? - seen better days. All is well however and the hall is rockin' to the music of Alan Herbert. And crikey, can these people dance? They're up and on their feet stomping the night away. I reflect that fun isn't the sole preserve of the young. There are few people on the floor, if any, under the age of 40. A conga forms and winds through every room of the hall. It's very surreal. The sense of fun and sheer enjoyment is tangible.

At 12.00 Alan H. plays a smoochy last waltz and the night winds down. It's all over bar the totting up and the debriefing. There seems to be a lot of beer left over.

I make my way home up Marton Hill. There is a thin drizzle falling and a dead badger in the lane. Finally get to bed about 1.30. Sleep. Eventually. The night is very quiet.

Hmm - do nothing. Yes!!

As James Thurber might have said: 'My world and welcome to it...'

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On such a glorious morning....

The land is glowing, suffused with golden light; an illusion helped I suppose by the amount of yellow in the fading vegetation. The grass is still heavy with dew and shimmers in the autumn sun. Was there a hint of frost this morning? Maybe.

The 16 sheep in our field have brought themselves out from the shelter of the hill into the sunshine and now lie chewing their cud. Just chillin'. A buzzard is mobbed by a trio of ravens - the foursome roll and tumble clumsily against the dark backdrop of Badnage Wood. This wood changes little with the seasons - it's mostly coniferous - but here and there Birch and Larch are dull and tinged with yellow. In fact these few acres have probably not changed significantly for centuries......

Close by my window and seen through a purply haze of Michaelmas daisy, a blue tit pecks an apple, reminding me that I should get them picked. I must gather Squash too. I must harvest and store against the coming cold.

It's so damned tranquil here that I would rather sit and stare. There is nothing wrong with that methinks.

How hard it is to imagine the world outside the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan, a world where headlines scream 'Global Down turn!', 'Bank bail-out!', 'Crisis!', 'Recession! Doom.....Despair!' It seems a world gone mad and it will touch all our lives. I think I am just a little bit afraid.

I walk on the field, calling to my small flock of poultry, with a dish of grain to scatter. The 3 old birds come running; that's The Evil Mrs Black, Mrs Scraggy-neck and the Bantie. 3 Blue Marans, one, two and three - tick - are soon pecking the ground. The little Cuckoo Maran - tick - she's at my feet too. The Cockerel and one Cream Legbar pullet - and another - that's 2. They're here. But where's the third? A bird is missing. I walk the perimeter of the field calling 'Chick, chick, chick - birdie, birdie, birdie' and shaking my dish of corn. (You might have heard me.) She does not come running.

She's inside a fox - that's where she is. A pile of feathers and a patch of gore. The bastard's seized its opportunity and snarfed her. I'll shoulder some of the blame - I should have kept them penned in - but hey! this is paradise. So even here - as in the wider world we suffer 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' and here too we can be wise after the event and feel the consequences.

Me? I've shut them all in and am off to host the inaugural meet of the Trelystan Hunt. Hunting's banned? Tough, this is my kingdom and I mean business.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Things to do in Autumn

Bowling home last night along the road that follows the spine of Long Mountain I kept my eyes peeled for a glimpse of the new moon. It seems forever since we have had a clear sky and this night was no exception - indeed as I neared home a misty and persistent drizzle fell and I drove the last few miles lulled by the rhythmic slap of the windscreen wipers and a fascinating tale on the car radio. (One of those programmes that make you want to drive around for a few more miles just to hear the ending.) I'd been to Shrewsbury and the County Archives where D and I have embarked on a short course of Medieval Latin. (I think I shall need to explain this venture at a later date.) Suffice to say I wish I had paid more attention at school because by 9 0'clock my brain felt like it had fought 10 rounds with something harder-hitting than grammar.

I fell into bed declining nouns and conjugating verbs. It's a good way to send yourself to sleep - maybe better than counting sheep.

On waking the litany of 'amo, amas, amat' hadn't quite cleared from my head - but hurrah! - a gutsy wind was blowing the cloud away and give or take a few spots of rain the weather looked set fair. A good day to take stock of the garden in early autumn; what has been successful, what can be composted and what was a complete waste of time. It's a job best done with the sun on one's back and a mug of tea to sip while making mental notes. Ever the optimist I know I will be beguiled by such fripperies as fennel and sweetcorn - the evidence in front of my eyes should make me question the sense of trying to grow the like on the top of a low Welsh mountain.

There are still vegetables to harvest and winter greens and roots still in the ground but we are clearing beds and applying compost and muck in readiness for next year. There are apples to be gathered in and bulbs to be planted too for a splash of welcome colour when spring comes round again. The flower borders, so exuberant in spring and summer, have something of the Matto Grosso about them now (so dense is the vegetation that there may indeed be lost civilisations hiding there). I need to summon up much energy and enthusiasm to start tidying them. This will not be a job to do today.

So today under a bright and beautiful sky I pressed onion sets into newly tilled earth - exhorting them as always to 'grow, damn you, grow' - and planted garlic. It's good to get things growing - both I hope will be ready in the early summer. Thus the cycle begins again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Earworm

I'm blaming Geranium Cat for my present predicament.

She posts a perfectly normal post illustrated with a photograph of the landscape as seen from her garden - the glorious Cheviot hills. So far so good - nothing remotely irritating about that. The subsequent observation that 'A good Protestant upbringing has left me with a store of psalms that are in my head whether I want them or not...' is not irritating either. And I too am fond and familiar with Psalm 121 which begins 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills...'

I reply with a comment along the lines of having had a similar education. Indeed from aged 5 - 18 the school day started with hymns in Assembly - and there was no pandering to the tastes of small children either, it was straight into 'Hymns Ancient and Modern.' At secondary school along with a hymn book (for which we must embroider a purple felt cover) we were presented with a psalter. On Tuesdays we sang psalms which were then, to my untutored ear, ugly things.

Now the point of this small diversion is that after 13+ years of school assemblies and school in general there are a lot of words and music imprinted on my brain. It doesn't take much for a thought or a picture to bring a tune, religious or secular, to mind. On this occasion Geranium Cat saw her hills and thought Psalm 121. I saw her hills and now have the hymn 'Hills of the North Rejoice' on a continuous loop in my head. That's all the words and all the verses. It is a long hymn. Grrr. I'll add that seeing the motorway signs which state prophetically 'The North' have the same effect. Somethings are obviously going to be best avoided.

It's an earworm - an Ohrwurm - a sticky tune that keeps repeating itself. Apparently its a very common phenomena and has been described as a 'cognitive itch' by Professor Kellaris of Cincinnati University. Repeating the tune/phrase persistently is a way of scratching the itch. There doesn't seem to be much of a 'cure' either - as one runs the risk of replacing one irritating worm with another.

I have some 'favourites' all of which are truly awful:
  1. 'How Much is that Doggy in the Window?'
  2. Tie a Yellow Ribbon'
  3. 'Agadoo' (particularly bad)
  4. The song from the Young Farmers pantomime in 2006 - the name of which escapes me right now and which I'm not going to try very hard to remember. Just in case.
Actually after all that, I think it's gone now. Good.