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.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Leaving home

Up on the field, in the hen-house-on-wheels, there's an empty space on the perch tonight. 'Big Ginge' has left home. I suppose one could say he's flown the coop.

In poultry terms at 14 weeks old, he - and the others - are now teenagers. The hen birds are delicately formed, sweet and graceful. The two cockerels are shaping up nicely as showy, swaggering posers with an eye for the ladies; all mouth and trousers. Of the 2 birds Big Ginge seemed the most mature - perhaps because he had appointed himself top bird in charge of his siblings and the 5 sinister looking Marans I bought recently.

As 2 male birds are probably not a good idea in the same flock I was pleased when one was offered a home in Cornwall. His new owner wanted him not for breeding purposes but, (and I quote,) 'to keep my hens happy'. Hmm. From what I've seen of cockerels 'keeping hens happy' the hens could take it or leave it. Perhaps this is a man thing.

This morning Big Ginge was put into a strawy box and loaded onto the back of a pick-up for the long journey to his new home on the banks of the Tamar where a harem of 6 wives awaits him.

Enjoy your new life Big Ginge - after all, you could have ended up on a plate with vegetables and a splash of gravy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This Little Piggy

Of all the things you expect to drop out of a Jiffy bag on a rainy Thursday, a small felt pig probably isn't one of them. My youngest brother had hinted obscurely that he would be sending something which would bring back memories. Always a difficult one this; not all memories are good ones. Some things are best left to lie. Some things might need more of an explanation than I want to give.
So when this little toy slid out of the envelope I squealed - I oinked - with delight. I was 5 years old again. I had completely forgotten this piggy. Isn't she a sweetie? I can't remember how many years it is since I saw her last.

Now, if everybody had their own she actually belonged to my other brother. For a 54 year old toy which once belonged to a boy she's in pretty good shape don't you think? I suspect he moved on quite quickly from stuffed animals to the real thing although I don't recall him being much of a pig enthusiast.

Looking back - as the memories flood in - I think we were something of a family for small felt toys. I had a white felt mouse with a wired tail. (The wire eventually poked through the felt and I never really liked it as much after that.) AJC had a blue felt rabbit - I think it was called 'Blue Bun'. MRC had the pig. There was also a flattish yellow duckling with a floppy orange beak - most unsatisfactory - and a black cat which even now if you thump it hard enough will emit a pitiful bleat.
Back then they were all blessed with beady eyes. There were no large labels warning of hazardous parts and being unsuitable for small children. My mother did though have a spate of cutting out the eyes of our teddies (a gruesome thought) lest we should suck them off and choke. An early example of 'elf 'n' safety and an uncharacteristically maternal act on her part.

I suppose that may be why I live to tell the tale of course.

Somebody loves me.....

A big thank you to Lost Stones who has generously given me this award:There are of course Rules:
  1. The winner can put the logo on her blog.
  2. Link to the person you received your award from.
  3. Nominate at least seven other blogs.
  4. Put the links of those blogs on yours.
  5. Leave a message on the blogs you’ve nominated
I nominate:
Welsh Hills Again
The Snailbeach Shepherdess
Nikki Ann
Pam at Life with our Lads

It's up to you what you do with it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yassou. Notes from a small island.

Home again. Home via the combined evils of Corfu Airport and First Choice Airlines - both of which let one enjoy queuing and the company of the nation's low-life to the full. However like any chivalric task - emptying a lake with a sieve for example - they are necessary evils and any time spent enduring either makes return to the green and gentle sun-drenched slopes of the Long Mountain so much sweeter.

How was it, the holiday? Well, since you asked, it was OK. The Paxiots were as charming and welcoming as ever they have been. The island's rugged landscape; the terraces of grey-green olives wherein a breeze might sigh, the scented maquis and its clicking cicadas, the turquoise Ionian rattling a stony shore, tumbling white pebble against white pebble and the milky dawns and dusks - these things do not change. The routine for the summer visitor follows a comforting and familiar pattern too - those returning know where and what and when to go and do and eat. Excepting a few idiosyncrasies it is not a challenging place to be. I recline and let the sun rest on my pale northern face, I have books to read, there is good hearty food to eat and, because I am on my holidays, the prospect of a glass of Metaxa at the end of the day. Why hurry? If you want fast, hire a speed boat.

But what is this? It is a cloud on the horizon - no, not just one, but more and more bubbling up from the south. Shortly the sky is gunmetal grey; the sea likewise. Beyond the breakwater of the small harbour at Loggos, 'cats' paws' flick the surface of the previously still Ionian. In the distance the Greek mainland disappears in cloud. We hear thunder on the other side of the island - at first mistaking the rumbles for some Greek revving up a motorbike. By degrees the electric storm reaches us and its violence does not make for a peaceful night. The morning air is sharp and metallic, the heavens open and rain falls and falls and falls. Water cascades off gutterless roofs. Roads are a watery sheet. We remind ourselves that after such a downpour they will be more slippery than usual - there is a residual film of oil on them from the ubiquitous olives.

After a summer such as we have had in the UK we are not impressed. The Paxiots are perilously short of water though and welcome this September storm; the island is without any springs or water source and all water must be caught and stored in cisterns and the big reservoir. The summer's influx of tourists puts an increasing strain on the island's resources. Fortunately winters are quite wet in the Ionian and this is achievable. (The big reservoir was, until this break in the weather, empty and a man, a brush and a bin liner had been sent to sweep it out.) I think we appreciated their need for water....
The storm blew through and we watched its tail-end over the mainland. That vertical shaft of cloud is rain. Those people must have been pretty bad in a former life to deserve that deluge.

The weather did improve and life resumed its tranquil pace although towards the end of the week strong winds got up - those gentle 'cats' paws' turned into galloping 'white horses'. Yachts and little dinghies sought shelter in Gaios, Loggos and Lakka. The island ferries and Hydrafoil which link Paxos with Corfu and the mainland were cancelled. We wondered if we would be able to get off the island and in fact went to bed on the day before departure convinced we would be extending our stay. However, come the morning the sea was flat and with a wistful glance at a rosy opalescent dawn we were bundled into a waiting taxi to begin the homeward journey, riding off into the sunrise.

I should add we travelled hopefully as my suitcase contained, as well as clothes, a gallon of the best Paxiot olive oil, a bottle of vodka (opened) and a bottle of vinger (ditto). Oh, and a piece of roof tile. Despite the best efforts of baggage handlers at Corfu and Birmingham all arrived intact. Phew.

And finally, instead of views, flowers or shots of a grinning family here's a cavalcade of transport Loggos-style. Love those crazy trucks.
And now we are back in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. After a week away things seem much the same but subtly different. An autumnal hint to the air and fruit trees glowing with apples. Today has a thin sun but there is some warmth in it. We will manage without the Aga for another day or two yet.

It doesn't take much effort to shift from 'being away' to 'being back'.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

All scrubbed up and ready to go...

Forget big bangs and things sub-atomic hurtling through Alpine tunnels. Teleportation is the next big thing believe me. Bring it on. p.d.q.

Mon dieu! Going on holiday is so damned difficult. I'm wilting. It's generally a delight once you've arrived at your destination - an other-worldly pleasure-fest involving sunshine and reading. What a joy it would be to be 'beamed down', luggage and sundries complete. The preparations which make it all possible are enough to bring on an attack of the vapours. Thank goodness we are only going for a week - although I'm sure a Holiday Rule comes into play - as it does with children - that more than one (that's a child or a week) doesn't necessarily increase the work load. Much. Lists, lists and more lists are made. We tick the tasks off with a grateful sigh.

In the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan the people from the Big House have been appointed regent in our absence. A regiment of house-watching neighbours have been drilled to feed and water hens and tomatoes. Dogs are blythely unaware that kennels await them. Suitcases are mostly packed with clothes that haven't been out much this season and little piles of essentials gather.

Hmm. With a jolt I remember too, that as if this were not enough, there is the question of getting one's kit off. Beaches, sunshine......swimsuits.......

I stand in the bathrooom in front of the mirror. The normally kind and warm lights have a adopted a cruel cold glint. The wild-looking body that looks back at me is mostly pale and hairy. There is a hint of a 'farmer's tan' to the upper body and the feet have 'Birkenstock' marks. One hand is stained purple with bilberry juice. The nails on both are a disgrace. The hair is Strewwelpeter-esque. All in all it is not a good look.

If you believe that the female form is naturally and effortlessly buffed and silky smooth then it might be best to turn away now in case reality disappoints. Trust me, the body beautiful is hard work.There follows a frenzy of washing and scrubbing, exfoliation, depilation, clipping, buffing and annointing. There are potions that moisturise and potions to bring a touch of colour to a pallid skin. I manicure and I pedicure till my extremities are honed to an unfamiliar perfection. Sigh. I drop into bed sometime later. I would like to think that after all this I was scented with rare, exotic and sweet perfumes; however all these functional creams give off a slightly evil and chemical pong which cannot be the least bit alluring - nor can it be disguised. I am smooth and soft of skin though. That bit has been a success. Tomorrow I'll probably wake with a tan as streaky as bacon. Damn.

I fall asleep and dream as ever of travel - in my dreams I'm always travelling. Buses, trains and planes, routes strange and routes familiar. Pretty soon, before a dawn, we'll be off to Paxos (the best) for real.

I've painted my toenails gold. I'm ready to go.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

No, no, no. Wrong. I think.

OMG. The Sunday Times Style section - bless its preposterous, self indulgent, metro-centric self - has gone into overdrive. Whipped itself into all sorts of a tizz re some must-have interior accessories. Don't even get me started on a cushion costing £120 smackeroonies...even if it is entitled 'Boy with Coif'. Or an inflatable bowl.

However, here we have a fairly ordinary Ligne-Roset sofa - so far so good - sprawling, extensive and covered in - wait for it - 'a pixellated print'. See above. Gross or what? It might well be the most comfortable of couches but I can't begin to think of the interior where it will sit comfortably....But each to their own, I expect someone somewhere is waiting for this. I glanced at the price and it took a second or two for the reality to sink in: and that's £18,500.00 worth of reality.

What? £18,500.00?

Now it's the sort of thing that if I were to see it on the laid out on the tarmac next to a van at Tuffins Sunday Car Boot I wouldn't be at all surprised. Plus I'd get all the little extras: mouse nests, fleas and fag burns and an oleagenous je ne sais quois annointing every horizontal surface. What's more if if cost more than £18.50 I'd be surprised. There are bargains to be found in these parts.

I do hope my lack of appreciation of this 'hot' piece of furniture doesn't mean I'm turning into a hick from the sticks. What's so 'hot' about pixellated anyway? Discuss.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

1841 and all that

Stretch your imagination a bit. Cast your mind back to 1841. Picture an English village - there are no grand houses here however, no church either. There's a rumour that the Romans passed this way once and the remnants of a motte and bailey can just about be spotted to the side of the road - but all of this was a long time ago and the knowledge is now filed away with the folk memories of whirling stones and drowned settlements. Now the village comprises a cluster of farms, barns and cottages strung out along the narrow sinuous road that runs between Shrewsbury and Montgomery. It's a busy place, probably busier than it is in 2008.

It's June - the height of summer, a busy time in the countryside. In the rich leasowes around the village hay is being cut and stooked. There are cows to be milked and cheeses to be made. On the land which rises up around this little Shropshire village sheep graze, their lambs growing fat in the summer sunshine. This little community is working flat out, making the most of the long light days to reap the season's bounty.

The hedges planted during the Enclosure some 25 years previously now make significant boundaries and provide both shade and shelter for sheep and ploughboy alike and I'd like to think on this June day that both could drowse in the warmth of the sun. As I shelter from another rainy day in 2008 - 167 years later - I would like to think that the good folk of Marton - all 325 of them - were basking in sunshine and enjoying a quintessentially English summer's day. Who knows?

But who's this traipsing through the village, rapping on doors and lifting latches? An officious chap, a nosy fellow licking his pencil and asking questions, questions. It's the Census enumerator, charged with recording who was where on the night of June 6th. There's a scurry to remember mother's age, the children's ages and when the baby was born.

I've been looking through his work this week - transcribing the record for this little village which sits on the border where Shropshire meets Wales. A fascinating task in which I must remember not to let my imagination run away with me. This particular census is rather short on detailed information, asking only name of place, house number or name, name of each person that had spent the night in that household, age, sex (indicated by which column the age is recorded in), profession or occupation and where born. (The last - 'where born' - could be answered by a 'y' or an 'n' - Yes or No for born in that County or a 'S' for Scotland, 'I' for Ireland or 'F' for foreign parts. Leaves a lot to the imagination.) Ages of those over 15 were usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years - so a 24 year old might be recorded as being aged only 20. I do wonder why I was so concerned with being accurate.

So what have I learned about the 325 people who spent census night in the Township of Marton?....The obvious stuff I suppose; it's an agricultural community of Farmers and Ag.Labs. and Farm Servants. The blacksmith, wheelwright, carpenter and mason are here as well as the miller, maltster, cooper, shopkeeper and innkeeper. There is a shoemaker and a tailor too. It looks like quite a self sufficient place. With the exception of a young 'Dissenting Minister ' the people's spiritual needs are not met in the village and they are obliged to trudge nearly 2 miles to worship. (Some years later the noted moral paucity of the people of Marton encourages the diocese to build a church in the village.) Our Enumerator will be obliged to visit the next District if he wishes to hob nob with the gentry and record their details.

A picture of this farming community is thus easy to draw up. It looks industrious, self-sufficient but not particularly prosperous. I can see the villagers going about their daily business; I know what they did. I begin to wonder about 'who' they were, and not just 'what'.

To me, here comes the interesting stuff - the stuff which really makes me wonder.

Some statistics: Unsurprisingly perhaps for a village sitting on the Welsh border, 53 persons have the surname Jones. The usual suspects - Griffith, Evans, Davies and Pugh are there as well as a sprinkling of less well known names - including the highly unusual Zacharius. Descendants of some of these people live here still.

Families are large but the pool of names is remarkably small. Of the 164 females in this little community 42 are named Mary, 28 are called Elizabeth and 20 Ann - 3 names account for over half the womenfolk in the village. Good Biblical names. nothing wrong with that. The menfolk fare a little better. 32 are named John, 23 Thomas and William 20. Add the Edwards and Richards who number 16 and 13 respectively and well over half the male population share only 5 Christian names. (I use Christian names here, rather than the more politically correct 'given name' as I imagine all these people were just that. That was the way things were in these parts in them there days.)

This name thing niggles me - I don't know why. I reflect that in the 21st century more effort is put into the naming of the family dog. A child's name is a reflection of us, our personality, our status - the name is imbued with hopes and fears and ambition. But in 1841, 42 Marys for heaven's sake - even if their ages did range from 0 to 70. What does it say about that society? Is it a reflection of the parents horizons? What does it say about identity and individuality? Did identity and individuality not matter? What did each of the Marys or Elizabeths or Anns think about her commonplace name? I'm sure each of them was a personality in her own right - even the 5 Marys who also had the common surname Jones. Did their identity become attached to their husband, house, hair colour, shape of nose or temperament? The more I think about it the more curious I become. I wonder if some worthy treatise has been written about the naming of children by the peasantry in previous centuries.

Inputting data like this was a doddle with Microsoft's auto-fill function which gobbled up and spat out all those duplicate names - and way beyond the wildest dreams of our Enumerator with his well licked lead pencil. Hurrah.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Shopping with the very best of intentions.

Got me some new green wellies. The old faithfuls had finally sprung a leak, and with the weather being as beastly as it is, a new pair were needed asap.

I thought I'd do the decent thing - buy the priciest pair in the shop and invoke the Sod's Law which states 'you've spent all this money on the Rolls Royce of wellingtons - now watch the sun come out to play thus relegating this pricey purchase to the back of the boot room.' I dreamed of an Indian Summer, my tanned feet shod in dainty and be-jewelled slippers. All very altruistic.

I tried on the Le Chameau (£61.90), the Hunter (£41.60) and the Seals (£39.00). Sadly they didn't fit or were not available in my size. Had a brief hissy fit. There was nothing for it but to buy the store's best selling and cheap-as-chips boot 'The Administrator'. Fab and incongruous name and ugly brutes too, but a snip at £8.50.

Remember the Sod's Law which states that 'if you don't like it then it will be necessary to wear it at every possible moment'? (School uniform is a case in point.) I feel the blasted things will be on my feet for the foreseeable future. The ongoing deluges will, erm, on go.

Sorry chaps. I meant well.