Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Flora and Fauna

Been shopping for props today:

Big Knickers
Fishing Net
Fat Hairy Spiders

Certainly makes a change from cheese, carrots, bacon and broccoli...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Galanthus nivalis

At last, snowdrops.

Just a few, shoving their way through the grass and leaf litter. Spring will happen.

Playing with water

A bit of self-indulgent whimsy:

Nothing is ordinary, is it?

Amongst other things

Well, it's called 'Isa Fidler Coach Tours' and rehearsals start again tonight. (There have been a couple of days of inactivity while the hall was otherwise engaged.)

Dismantling the scenery was a useful exercise. Each group has to stage a performance lasting no longer than 30 minutes, including the time to get scenery on and off stage. A glimpse at the robust, complicated structure that Chirbury and Marton have devised suggests that we might have problems here as the play itself is slightly over 20 minutes in length. On the first practice it took a scary and chaotic 4½ minutes to take down. Scaffolding poles, heavy wooden boards and Young Farmers were flying in all directions - I think we need hard hats. Second time round they'd improved this to 3½ minutes and nobody had suffered too much bruising. It goes up again tonight and they are looking to improve on the 6 minutes it takes to create a double decker bus out of a pile of wood and some metal poles.

Last night Marton celebrated the birth of Rabbie Burns in the accustomed manner. That the speeches and toasts had a very definite Welsh lilt didn't matter at all.

With whisky sipped and supped the Hall's foundations were shaken by some very vigourous country dancing. The floor bounced alarmingly.

Here our piper, a local man, prepares to pipe in the haggis. It was a lively creature and loathe to stay on the plate - though I imagine that if you knew your fate was to be an encounter with a Sgian Dubh, you too would be making a bid for freedom.

Anyway, no peace for the wicked. Rehearsals beckon.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Like herding cats...

It's that time of the year again - the Young Farmers' Drama competition is on the horizon.

Chirbury and Marton YFC are due on stage in Whitchurch on February 7th - that's just over 2 weeks hence. They're a terrific bunch of young people, brim full of confidence and enthusiasm. Their forward planning skills are a little undeveloped however, and while it will be difficult to instill any sense of urgency whatsoever, working with them will be great fun.

Tonight, with the deadline a little too close for comfort, rehearsals have started. Just. Sort of...

I'm a general dogsbody, a willing slave. The real help and guidance comes from Maureen who draws on many years' experience to bring out the very best in the cast and backstage team. The hardest part I think is getting everyone together, getting them to listen, switch phones off....stop talking - you think you've got everyone only to discover that someone's sloped off to eat chips or make a text.

What hasn't become clear to me yet is what the production is called - a minor detail. I can tell you that we have an open-topped double decker bus under construction, a cast of 'passengers' learning their lines and many more rehearsals in the village hall before they're ready to take to the road.

I know it's a cliché, but it'll be alright on the night. Probably.

Wet weekend in Welshpool

Haven't we had some rain this week?

It's pretty wet on the top of the Long Mountain - and the heaviness of the sky promises more rain to come. The ground is sodden and very squelchy underfoot - one of the penalties of our clay soil. With wellies on though, the inner child can have a mighty fine time. What's there not to like about splashing through puddles?
We're on a hill and our water will drain away in all directions. It's programmed to do that. I imagine that those folk living 3 miles down the road are taking a somewhat less charitable view of this watery abundance.

Down the hill to the west the usually green Severn Valley has become a silvery lake almost as far as the eye can see. Trees and hedges rise incongruously out of the wet.

The river which usually winds slowly and sinuously towards Shrewsbury has burst its banks, filling streams and flooding roads. Here and there, patches of higher ground are safe dry havens for the houses and farms so wisely built on them. On the fringes of the water sheep huddle out of the wet too, on banks and under hedges.

I am reminded that the Severn was probably Welshpool's raison d'etre: a strategic place, a crossing point and an important commercial route - oaks from Montgomeryshire were taken downstream to Bristol to build Britain's Naval fleet. The town developed to the west of the river, a few, but crucial inches, above the flood plain. When the rain falls or the snow melts on the hills which border this flat and fertile valley it still becomes a very wet place indeed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Alan has been spending his Sundays in Chester recently learning the fine and contemplative art of icon painting. Here is his first piece, an archangel - Gabriel I believe:

Isn't this just the most beautiful of things? Well done that artist.

PS The hunting dog, whose name also happens to be Chester, is inexplicably fascinated by this little picture. His big hunting nose scents the air as he passes by. We wonder if it is something to do with the egg tempra and some residual eggy smell.

Hot mince pies on a grey day

I've just run up a batch of unseasonable mince pies - and here they are, hot from the oven and dusted with icing sugar. The kitchen is imbued with the homely smell of baking; sugar and spice and all things nice. I'm almost inclined to eat one....

This is one unimaginably dreary day, devoid of colour; the grey flannel landscape is as weary as a worn pair of old school trousers.

It's a day for staying indoors and well, eating mince pies.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

'The dogged owd ewes' - part 2

Forget producing lambs, this lot will be laying eggs soon.

They get a ration of sheep nuts daily but can still find room to snack on layers' pellets and poultry corn. One of the ewes inside the pen is on her knees so she can push her head through the pop-hole the better to reach the food.

Had I wanted to get two ewes into a confined space it would probably have taken me all morning and many curses. The hen house door was open for, hmm.....probably all of 45 seconds and they were in. Water was syphoned up, food located and food snarfed. Done and dusted.

.........and they do say 'All flesh is grass.'

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A dusting of snow on Heldre hill

I drove home over the Long Mountain at dusk, bowling along a white ribbon of road. There had been a light dusting of snow, fine and gritty.

On Heldre Hill, where the wind takes no prisoners on its way from Siberia to Wales, the snowy road was patterned like lace; a filigree of ripples and rivulets where the wind had blown amongst it.

Up here, on this exposed common land sheep graze, year in, year out. Sometimes there are rangy cattle as well - woolly backed against the elements, gnawing at the rough and thistly grass. But only sheep today and their fleeces have a dusting of snow too. It's -2° out there - not truly cold I know - but fairly inhospitable - and I'm glad to be passing through in the comfort of a heated car, heading for the warmth of home.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The cure for Cabin Fever

Lovely as the holidays are - a boozy, foodie, frantic, friend and family fest - it's somehow quite a relief when January 2nd rolls around. With chores done and dusted and the household gods appeased, I sniffled round the house today. (I remember that warm embraces should come with health warnings and welcome guests bring unwelcome microbes. Thanks all.) I'm beginning to feel a little bit confined. Caged. Cabin Fever. It's time to venture out.

Without much enthusiasm on my part the white dog and I take to the road and hey - it's wonderful out there! There is light and air - clean and bright and fresh. The sense of space is amazing. The landscape rolls away around me in each direction. Forest and field in winter drab, beneath a sky of scudding cloud, are scoured by a cutting wind from the east; from Siberia via The Long Mynd I think. At Short Cross smoke drifts horizontally from the little tin-roofed dwelling which shelters behind a break of conifers. Today this stretch of lane is particularly bleak. Here the white dog senses the halfway mark - the point of no return - and puts his head into the wind to pull for home.

We are greeted with bleats by sheep at Fir House and go slithering through mud to find the lane again. Then down the stony track, the sighing conifers of Badnage Wood to the right, to cross the little stream that leaves our dingle to find its way to the steeper Beach Dingle then on to Marton. It's sheltered here.

Nearly home now and Wilson tows me up the last stretch. There's no getting him past our gate though - he knows when enough is enough. Me? I am exhilarated, refreshed and exhausted.

'You lucky dog,' I tell him, 'that was one good walk.'

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

What a swell party that was.......

Down the mountain we went, dressed in our finest 'smart casuals', to a party in Asterley where 22 people sat down to dine by candlelight. What a wonderful feast it was, complemented by excellent company.

The old year slipped away and we greeted 2008 with fusillades of crackers, party poppers and fizz. Glasses were raised with new friends - and old friends remembered too. Across the valley in Minsterley fireworks lit the sky - a cue for the family's dogs to slink indoors and quiver under tables. Dogs don't do celebrations do they?

Resolutions? None I'm afraid. Things seem fine the way they are. Maybe next year.