Thursday, February 28, 2008

A step back in time.

What a fantastic day!

A walk, a wonderful walk seemingly to the roof of the world and a picnic eaten to a soundtrack of sky lark and raven in a deserted village - 5 hours from door to door I think. Not your strenuous power-walking stuff but an amble which allowed time to take in sheep and shepherding, flowers and trees, the landscape's rise and fall, history and life and all that therein is. I'm going to be deliberately cagey about exactly where. Shropshire. Somewhere. O.K?

A little over a century ago, in the 1890's - the lead mining industry, which had made an industrial landscape of these hills since Roman times, began its terminal decline. The once thriving communities who inhabited the clusters of cottages on the windswept hilltops or the 'ribbon developments' strung out along the water courses began to drift away. The little stone houses with their outbuildings and hump-backed root stores were no longer needed and slowly began to fall back into the land from which, only a few decades previously, they had been raised. A few stalwarts remained behind, some to be tempted in recent times by the promise of a 'nice' council house in the valley below until finally none remained. Ghost villages now, stony mounds and trees which once were hedges mark the boundaries of the land on which these mining folk and their families could eke out an existence; a couple of acres for a house cow, some land cleared of stone to plant a handful of seeds for crops to feed a burgeoning family. Not an easy life by our standards - a daily struggle with only the respite of the Lord's Day and its attendant threats of fire and brimstone for solace.

I wish I could claim this place as my own and say 'We came from here - this was where my folks lived.' I can only say 'This was how my people lived.' I cannot find the stones they once assembled and called 'Home'. But they were part of this mining community, living over the hill, short miles away, in a community not dis-similar to this. For the time being this will have to suffice.In the middle of this dingle one little cottage remains. It is heartbreakingly beautiful, a poignant place. Small and near-perfect I wish it were mine to hold and cherish because cherish it I would.

Its owner died in recent years and it stands empty now. It's cared for still by some dutiful but ageing relative, dusted and polished, the garden kept primped and trim. Flowering currant is already bursting bud and that cottage garden favourite, the snowdrop, crowds alongside a grassy path. One imagines the cottagers have just popped out and will soon return to light a lamp and butter bread for tea. But no, they have gone forever as have the neighbours, leaving only lines in the landscape.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Thank you SBS for a most excellent expedition - and apologies for asking so many questions. I just Need to Know.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stop. Stop right now. Haul that mattress back out of the car. The trip to the tip will not be necessary. According to my copy of 'The Complete Illustrated Home Book' a mattress makeover is a cinch.

If your mattress doesn't respond to the daily thumping and pummeling required to keep lumps at bay then it's time to bite the bullet and turn to page 280. It's time to take the thing to pieces, wash it to within an inch of its life and put it back together again. The following 3 pages provide clear and concise instructions, though the accompanying foggy photographs are less helpful and are reminiscent of disemboweling a cloud. It's a very physical thing this re-making business. One's skivvy (bless 'er) would be puffed out and cursing what with all that washing, kneading and squeezing gently, before the stuffing, sewing, tufting and quilting. (Do click on the picture and check out the tossing of the stuffing between two sticks. Hard to imagine such entertaining times.) Much use is made in the final stages of scarily long needles and stout twine. Stand well back.

There's no indication of how long this whole process takes - waiting for the fine and windless day to dry the laundered stuffing on a dust sheet outdoors could add weeks to the operation......and what does one sleep on in-between I wonder.

It's a thrifty business too. Heavy on labour and soap flakes perhaps....As much of the original should be used as is possible - having been cleaned thoroughly of course. (The author almost regrets the possible expense of new leather 'tufts' at 2¾d per bundle - that's just over 1p in today's money.) The re-built mattress is meant last another generation. Here, whilst we're talking about longevity, bear in mind that Featherbeds are's a hygiene thing. If your featherbed has been in the family for generations - is a 100 years old - that's 80 years too long. Burn it.

It's true isn't it? 'The past is another country . They do things differently there.' We have moved on from the 'make do and mend' culture beloved of previous generations - the whole process, from our 21st century perspective looks like a no-brainer. Now it's a trip to John Lewis or the nearest retail park for us, a few moments feeling silly 'trying beds out' and the new mattress will be delivered next week. Sorted.

I'm not about to start washing horsehair and mattress ticking or threading my upholstery needles - bed stores are a fine innovation - but I do regret that so much is now deemed disposable and jettisoned without much thought as to its destination; landfill here or elsewhere, recycled in China or India at what cost to their environment and so on. Out of sight out of mind perhaps and on to the next new shiny product. Stuff. Mountains of it and very little thought about the consequences.

Next week: Tired of that dingy old bath? Re-enamelling so simple the cat could do it. According to 'The Complete Illustrated Home Book' that is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

'Che gelida manina'

Slightly disturbing and frosted finds at the recycling centre. (Double-click for extra frisson.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tidy-up time

Are you like me and find, no matter how hard you try, tidiness is not a natural trait? Stuff - bizarre combinations of stuff - accumulates in precariously listing stacks on every flat surface. It threatens to spill and engulf. It is the stuff of dreams following an evening's cheese eating. It's Tidy-Up Time.

It's the same with memes - they're beginning to stack up too. A bit of organisation is called for.

Firstly elizabethm tagged me with this book meme:

  1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences.
  5. Tag five people.

The book is Jane Gardam's 'Old Filth' and the extract is as follows:

'Upstairs. I still hear her stick thumping on the floor for the commode. Sometimes I start heating up her milk.'

Not much to go on there. It was a charity shop purchase and it will be returned next time I go into town. The best thing about the book I think is the acronym for Filth - Failed in London Try Hong Kong. I certainly didn't find it 'A magnificent, deeply moving and compassionate portrait of an era and a sentimental education' as the Daily Mail's reviewer did.

Secondly Bodran asked for 6 household hints. Hmm. I'm still thinking about these as housewifery isn't a strong point. Anyway here goes:
  • Do things immediately when they need doing - otherwise they multiply, get lost and inevitably get worse. This certainly includes tidying up and filing. I suppose it's the 'stitch in time' philosophy.
  • We've found that not having carpets has reduced the amount of vacuuming......and I've not cleaned a bath for 3 years - mainly because we don't have one though.
  • We write dates on eggs so we know which order to use them in. I guess this only applies if you have your own hens.
  • Vinegar and newspaper are good for cleaning windows.
  • To avoid a fishy smelling kitchen insist that husband/whoever cooks kippers in the garden.
  • Civit-Bang doesn't shift those pesky memes....
If you feel inclined - consider yourself tagged!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A few days away...

It's been good over the last few days to be rid of Chirbury and Marton YFC's 'theme song'. It's been one of those irritating tunes that has taken root and accompanied me everywhere and seemingly forever - or since rehearsals started anyway.

The good news is it's been replaced by snippets from the Magic Flute. Hooray! Unfortunately, I suspect this is not a permanent arrangement as we are back in the village hall tomorrow night rehearsing prior to putting the show on for local people. I thought it was too good to last.

However, there are worse things to whistle than Mozart so I'm making the most of it. My inspiration was Die Zauberflöte which was Wednesday evening's treat at the Royal Opera House, and in turn the excuse for a few days in London. The Times critic generously bestowed a 3 star rating on the production and while I'm no expert I'd say that was about right. (Would that I were able to go to the opera sufficiently often to be truly critical....) The Eyechild joined us. While he has spent many a happy (?) day working in Covent Garden I think this was his first time inside the Opera House.

We travelled from the top of our low mountain, via Birmingham to London. It seemed as if the entire nation was in transit, lugging sorry bundles of possessions and weeping, sticky children from north to south. Maybe bulging trains are a holiday phenomenon; it was half-term after all. We shoe-horned ourselves into windowless seats and travelled hopefully. The woman in the seat behind me breathed heavily from New Street to Euston. This ugly sound was relieved only when she spoke. Her sole topic of conversation was '2 train tickets from Aberystwyth' - so no eavesdropping consolation there then.

However, when we emerged into the sunshine London looked good and croci and other spring flowers were indeed blooming in Gordon Square.

I'm almost ashamed to say that I left
Art to Alan this time and concentrated on shopping and schlepping. (I have become a Uniqlo junkie - affordable cashmere in jolly colours.) We met up again to take the DLR to Greenwich, a short journey which fills me with no little awe. The docklands city-scape I would like to describe as futuristic, but it isn't futuristic - it's here and now. And Wow! Is it de-humanised and brutal, this edifice of concrete and steel that rises above the oily black waters of the city's once bustling docks? Possibly. Nature seems a stranger here.

We viewed my brother's new premises in Greenwich. You're after an antique map or print? Curious about the minutiae of Admiral Lord Nelson's life? Try the Warwick Leadlay Gallery in Nelson Road.

There was just enough time before catching our train home to mooch through the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum. This finely honed young man poses idly on his plinth way above head height. His smooth marble limbs are safely out of reach of any hand that might wish to caress. Who is he? I'm afraid I can't remember. I'm very fond of this quirky gallery which reveals the way in which collectors, antiquaries and travellers during the age of enlightenment viewed and classified objects from the world around them.

Then another crowded train and another windowless seat, out of the city, into the suburbs, into a countryside washed with weak spring sunshine. The Long Mountain comes into view at last. Then we're home at last in the Kingdom of Trelystan. My hens have laid 3 eggs. I am still whistling a Mozartian theme and the clear evening sky promises a fine day tomorrow. Can't be bad can it?

Sunday, February 10, 2008


10 minutes spent in the evening's quiet watching the moon rise in the southern sky is time well spent.

It's time to drink in the chilly stillness and watch the sky's colours shift gradually and gracefully.

Tonight, the crescent moon - a sliver of silver growing seductively by the day - reclines on a bed of blue. A wash of pink cloud changes before my eyes to a gentle grey. Pretty soon the stars will be out. The greatest show on earth surely?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Spring and bird blog

Today, in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan we have been blessed with skies the colour of the flash of blue on a Jay's wing.

One might be beguiled into thinking that spring had arrived. Already primroses are shyly showing their pale faces alongside snowdrops and some of our native daffodils will not be far behind. In the trees' canopy small birds flutter and sing their small hearts out, they too responding to this early warmth. We remind ourselves that there is time yet for a cold snap - indeed there is frost on the windscreen of the car this evening.

As I shut the hens in at dusk I stand a while and listen to owls across the field. I identify 3 calling in Badnage Wood; 2 males hoot and a female screeches eerily in response. From the steep sided Trelystan Dingle another male joins in, his cry is soft and echoes out from this deep and wooded place. It is an orchestra of owls.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Most odd.

We are planting a new hedge. It's going to be roughly 100m long and will be made up of the Dingle Nursery's deluxe hedging mix: Hawthorn, Hazel, Field Maple, Spindle, Blackthorn, Dog Rose, Holly and, for good measure, some Rosa rugosa and Rosa glauca. Underneath I hope to tuck in some Primroses and no doubt Honeysuckle will find its way in there too.

The ground has been cleared and we've started planting, but dozens of metres stretch ahead of us. The little bare-rooted plants that are in the ground are titchy things. They have a long way to go before birds may build their nests there and we can say 'Ah, that's a fine hedge'. They're planted in good soil though and we will do our best to prevent them getting overwhelmed by couch grass and cleavers, nettles, docks and the myriad other pernicious weeds that do their best to undermine my attempts to tame nature.

We will lay newspaper down and mulch on top with bark chips. That should do the trick in the weed suppressing department.

Now, on the way out of Marton, just before you turn off for Chirbury, is a small smallholding (is that tautology?) where as a by-product of the owner's fence post and firewood business, one can also buy chipped wood and bark. Kevin and his father work out of a wood stacked shed shared with three handsome Hereford cattle which calmly chew their cud oblivious to the ever-present whine from the saw bench. Outside mountains of timber are piled high outside awaiting transformation from tree to log. In this dusty hive of industry if you are observant you can spot, chalked on the side of his ancient tractor, my blogspot address. Most odd. I wasn't expecting that.

The things you see when you haven't got your gun eh?....or in my case, camera.

PS - I did learn the story of why it was there but that didn't make it any less incongruous or unexpected.