Saturday, February 28, 2009

Feb 28

I've a bit of a soft spot for February; might be something to do with it being my birthday month I suppose. It's always felt a bit special. The days are a little longer and the birds are singing again.

Why is it then, when spring is in sight that I'm thoroughly fed up with the month's trappings of winter? It takes a stretch of the imagination to see beyond the drab browns and greys that cloak the landscape and appreciate that things are indeed stirring.
We have snowdrops in abundance and the first primroses are out too. A celandine has been spotted on a sunny bank. Early last week Heather 'loosed out a ruck' of tiny lambs and their watchful mothers in the little triangular field across the lane. Spring flowers and lambs; all this is good. A promising start.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


My brother and his lovely wife came to stay last week - forsaking sunny half-term pleasures in the Mediterranean for life at the end of a muddy lane. What a treat to see them. We did all our usual visitor stuff, tailoring it slightly to include the family connections. We drove round the lanes and visited the sleepy little towns which given a little probing will yield up their hidden treasures. We like to show off some of the excellent the local produce too. On this occasion we had sheep and goat cheeses from a few miles away in Wales and a mighty rib of Hereford beef from a producer down the hill in Shropshire. We know its provenance and that it was raised with care and compassion.

We ate it rare with puffy Yorkshire puddings and vegetables from the garden. It was definitely a piece of meat to be shared - we ate like kings. It was the cut of meat I remember from childhood - a piece of beef like this seemed to appear on the table more frequently than it does today.

A by-product of roast beef is dripping - and this joint yielded a generous bowlful. I set it on one side to cool. It'll come in for something.

Now, don't tell the Food Police - but breakfast this morning was toast and dripping. Not only toast and dripping, but toast and dripping with pepper and a sprinkling of salt (shock horror). Surely the food of the Devil? Nope - it was fantastic; juicy, succulent and savoury. I'm ignoring the sniffs of disapproval at my blatant consumption of saturated fat and will decline the wussy carton of olive oil spread.

It's the first dripping I've eaten since about 1969, so once in 40 years can't do me much harm can it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Panto - the final scene.

The Young Farmer's pantomime rolls on and on and on. Thought we'd got it all sorted last Saturday in the grim surroundings of Whitchurch Civic Centre.

No such luck. The show must go on.

The people of Marton demand their pound of flesh. They not only want flesh they want, erm, entertainment; stuff on stages, laughs and pantomime horses. The show is coming home to the village hall. Saturday and Sunday. All Welcome. Groan.

Thus it was today that I found myself clinging to Maureen's loft ladder while she rooted around in the more intimate recesses of her roof. We have a much reduced space in which to perform on the stage at the village hall which means that all the scenery so lovingly painted a fortnight ago is redundant; we must make other arrangements. Maureen unearthed three painted backdrops - which I carried down the ladder and subsequently unrolled.

We draped them over the furniture in M's front room. These are historic artefacts no less - period pieces, ever so slightly fragile, remnants of the Good 'ole Days when Marton produced an annual show. The village has a tradition of pantomime going back perhaps 80+ years and these backdrops if not quite that old have certainly clocked up several decades. Back in the day sheets had been stitched together and carefully painted with bucolic period landscapes and picturesque cottages, all-purpose vistas which would 'come in' for most of the productions. I wonder what fun and frolics they have seen.

(Actually I have quite a good idea - having seen the dozens of photographs that M also unearthed this morning. The village hit on a winning formula which filled the hall for four consecutive evenings ; good clean fun, a cast of familiar faces and lots of small children who no doubt brought in doting mums, dads, aunts and grannies....)

Our back drops have fallen victim to moth and mouse, there are holes here and there which the judicious application of duct tape fixes. (Hardly traditional I know, but a pragmatic solution.) We take them down to the village hall, which is bitterly cold and completely uninviting. In situ our cloths look rather faded and pathetic too. Oh woe. There is also much 'stuff' to be moved before a performance can be put on.

Which is why I find my self lying on my belly underneath the stage pushing and shoving odds and sods to one side in order to make way for some of the rubbish from above. I eye the mouse poison box and push an antediluvian computer to one side - further out of sight and out of mind. I think a skip would be a very good idea. It's pretty gloomy down here - but then it's pretty gloomy outside as well. It does occur to me that probably no one has been under here for a very long time and that my visit is fairly unique. Strangely, this thought rather bucks me up - there's nothing like pioneering is there? There are no treasures to discover and make my crawl worthwhile though - just much grime and a piercing draught. I emerge, bottom first, dusty and undignified.

Out in the open again, but before I can haul myself to my feet, I spy a neat pair of ankles at very close quarters. The ankles' owner launches into a long and detailed description of her recent 'behind the scenes' tour of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I put on my most interested face and listen intently from the floor. Possibly a ridiculous sight.

Roll on Sunday night and the final performance is what I say. By about 10.30 we should have shooed the last of the stragglers out into the night - hopefully haunted by 'Riley's Cowshed'. Why should I suffer alone?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Riley's cowshed.

Hmm. How nice it is to have a day to call one's own.

Today I have been mainly worshiping the household gods; spritzing, blitzing and giving anything that can't move a good wipe down. Sounds like we've got visitors? Indeed we have - arriving tomorrow - and very welcome too. I think everything that should be is clean and shiny, bed linen is crisp, flowers are fresh and meals are planned. (The dogs need a little more work - they still have that 'je ne sais quoi - l'arĂ´me du chien' about them - we'll air them tomorrow.) all in all a reasonably satisfying day: jobs done, boxes ticked etc.

But - and there always is a But - work has been done to the tune of 'Riley's Cowshed.' Yes, it's ear worm time again and today's irritant was 'Riley's Cowshed' - the tune on our pantomime song sheet last night. Bert and Ernie, bless 'em, unfurled the sheet (so recently lettered in Maureen's front room), and urged the audience to join them in one, two, three even, rousing choruses. The audience needed little encouragement and sang their hearts out.
'I met her ...who?
Bandy Bertha...when?
In the merry month of May,
I teased
When I freezed her
In the duck pond Christmas Day
I hugged her...why?
Cos I loved her and I know she's mine alright
Cos I kissed her... where?
On her birthday
In Rileys Cowshed, last night
Me, in my eyrie above the crowd - the lighting box - I anticipated the worst. This was a ditty which wasn't going away. Round and round and round my head it went.....Anyone keen enough should look out for a copy of Adge Cutler and the Worzels 1969 album 'Carry on Cutler' although I suspect it's origins are earlier than that - music hall perhaps. The old ones are the best aren't they? Maybe not.

However I'm pushing it to the back of my mind and hope to take a rest until Friday at least when we try and adapt our performance for the small stage at Marton Village Hall.

Last night at Whitchurch? Chirbury and Marton did well receiving, much laughter, participation and applause. Unfortunately they didn't make the final 4 but Huw won 'best male performer' - a well deserved award. It would have been interesting to have seen the pantomimes put on by those who did win just to see what we were up against but I'm not sure I would have had the stamina. As I anticipated a couple of weeks ago panto is not my favourite dramatic form and I'm even less keen now after 3 weeks of total immersion.

Time to move on to something new.....I feel spring may be in the air.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I'll be glad when 'it's behind me.'

The road to hell is paved with good intentions; rehearsals should have started before Christmas rather than 3 weeks ago, lines should have been learned and if both halves of the pantomime cow could have managed to get to the same rehearsals it would have helped....But heh! It'll be alright on the night.Will it though? - The Night approaches rapidly and it's hard to avoid a sense of impending doom. The scenery, cast and costumes gets loaded into various stock trailers and trundled over to Whitchurch Civic Centre for the competition tomorrow night. I'm thinking positive thoughts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In which the lads are on a mission to see off the last snow in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan

The County Council snowdozer/gritter came today. (I expect, like everyone else looking at the Long Mountain from a distance, they've waited until they thought they could get down our lane. Bless.) Still it was a cheery sight; the driver and his mate, hi-vis-vested and snug in a comfy wagon, tootling along discussing this and that, while their vehicle dispensed liberally what is probably the last of the nation's grit and salt.

I imagine the mid-morning scene in the Powys Highways Depot canteen went something like this:

Lads are drinking tea, one eye on Daily Star and other eye on clock and End of Shift. Door opens and manager-type person walks in with job sheet on which there are a lot of ticks and one empty box.

'Dai and Idris, job for you.'

Lads are immobilised by the thought and sit like statues at the prospect of turning out to be of public service. Dai, or Idris, peers mournfully into his mug. Only a mush of unstirred sugar remains.

'It's a lane on the top, only one we've not done, not been cleared, see. Innit. Better get up there quick or the boss's bonus'll be... and we'll be....' and his voice trails off feebly at the prospect of retribution for not ticking a box. (It will help if you imagine a hint of a Welsh accent - failing that Brummie will do. Do not question use of word 'innit' either. It happens.)

Dai and Idris shuffle to their feet and pat their pockets for life's essentials: mobile, cigs and lighter. There's a short delay while the keys to the gritter, which has been fitted with a bull dozer, are found. (After everybody's pockets have been turned out they are found on the hook where they should be - but nobody ever thinks of looking there do they? Anyway, better late than never eh? - and it is a nice day to be out. Our manager-type-person goes back to his porta-cabin to sit with pen poised over the unticked box.

It turns out that the roads are clear so it's simply a case of, well, driving there, driving back and ticking that box. Job done. They give us a merry wave as we stop to let them pass on the lane on their return. Grit sprinkles in their wake. We notice that something has chewed up the edges of our lane - which has not been impassable throughout this wintry spell anyway - and that something large has redistributed a quantity of gravel outside our gate. Their activities have merely churned up a load of slushy mud but we'll take it in good heart.

Meanwhile the thaw continues.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Gnome wrangling. A sort-of apology

Last night our young neighbour visited and spent the evening drawing a series of muscle-bound heroes imbued with 'powers' on a scale of 1 -10. He, aged 8, and a number of young friends have a 'club' with codes for names and a gamut of imagined characters for comrades. He has invisible ink too - that childhood stalwart of secrecy. I quite fancy a pot of that even now.

Here we have 'My body guard'. He's definitely someone to have on one's side.It took me back. Light years ago now - or so it seems - in another place, there used to be a small mountain of shoes and trainers at the foot of our stairs. 3 sons plus friends equals a lot of footwear and all these boys - because almost without exception the visitors were male - were good enough to take off their shoes before thundering up two flights of stairs. Peace would reign downstairs; husband, dog and myself could enjoy supper largely untroubled by looming, lumbering, whiffy adolescent visitors. This would be a nightly occurrence - by morning the 'boot mountain' would be gone only to form again the following evening.

What did they get up to, sons 1, 2 and 3, in their attic rooms? Remember that Nirvana album, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'? Well that was 40 Heaton Moor Road c. 1994. It's perhaps best not to delve too deeply amongst the unsavoury detritus of their rooms. The usual 'lad' stuff I suppose: noise, beer, mags and illicit fags. No football talk as far as I recall - the atheletic gene is a stranger to us - so no other sports either.

Last night young F's drawings did remind me of one game though - which A and I called 'gnome wrangling'. Unkindly? No, I don't think so - we called it that largely out of ignorance and because to our untutored eyes it did, well, seem to involve gnomes. Sons 2 and 3 were maybe as bemused by it as we were and gave it a wide berth, preferring more tangible and earthly pleasures than the cerebral and fantastical ramblings of he-who-was-to-become-theeyechild and his friends. It was a role playing game - or games even and I don't think I will ever be lucky enough to understand its complexity and scope.

Recently the eyechild has been illustrating a series 'Every roleplaying rharacter I've ever played' and no 4 in his series gives a reasonable explanation of the imagined world. It's been very helpful and at long last I'm getting to grips with what enthralled these young men some 15 years ago. If you're curious go and take a look - it was a whole other world out there.

......Still don't think I understand it though.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Much better by moonlight

I slip out of the hall into the comfort and quiet of my car, leave the village and head up the road. The lane which climbs up Marton Mountain is a thin dark slick - a little worse for wear after this winter's weather - but clear of frost and snow. 'Between-land' this - the valley below is cold but green while above, the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan has been transformed - for a few days only - into a magical land.

And never more magical than by moonlight. Under a dark starry sky the landscape is luminous and stark. Snow has fallen, lies still and brightens the night-time. Up on the top I stop a while and kill the lights the better to see the white fields and black tracery of hedgrows under the dark mass of Badnage Wood. There are no grey shades tonight.
I follow the lane between walls of snow. We've had very little snow really but drifts have blown and twisted into fantastic billowing shapes. Tonight, in front of me someone may well have strewn diamonds; the frost glitters and twinkles and lights my way home - which is warm and welcoming and a good place to be.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Are you sitting comfortably?

We sat on our 'sitting bones' with lower legs at right angles to thighs. We shuffled back into our village hall chairs. We adjusted our feet, placing them 6 inches apart and at an angle of 45 degrees. We looked at an imaginary horizon then tilted our heads slightly to gaze at the dusty floor in front of us. Raising our eyes but not our heads we were deemed correctly aligned. Finally we must rest our hands, open and relaxed, on our laps. I personally checked to make sure my mouth was shut and I wasn't drooling and didn't look as gormless as I felt. I cannot be certain.

This evening I have mostly been sitting properly.

Our WI speaker tonight was an Alexander Technique teacher who, with her assistant, used her 45 minute slot to outline the theory and practice of this method of body re-education and co-ordination. It is I learned, 'a subtle and thoughtful discipline, but essentially practical and problem solving'. I guess it helps if one feels one's body is in need of of re-education and alignment and believe its psychological element to be equally important. I had heard previously that following the Technique could be life-changing and not only for those who wish to manage physical problems but for those who wish to improve their personal performance too. An interesting evening in store then?

Sonia spoke in calm, mellifluous, measured tones while Mary moved around the room and 'worked' on us. In my case she placed a hand on my shoulder and moved my legs slightly. I cannot be sure what this achieved. The room was very quiet while she talked - perhaps the result of her own quietness and the ladies' attempts not to budge out of the positions they had been instructed to adopt. How peaceful. How hypnotic too. I found myself wondering if subliminally we were being instructed to sign up for a course of 10 lessons at the local adult education centre. ('Details of which I'll leave here for you to pick up....')

Finally we did 'standing' - posed like statues and again fearing to move out of those hard won positions. We were allowed a little step forward 'for balance' - what luxury. The fidgets amongst us fought the temptation to slide hands into pockets or enjoy a little slouch....time for that later when the tea and buns make an appearance.

My conclusion? I suspect the Alexander Technique, like many other alternative therapies, is probably not for me. I am though sitting here now, hunched at my desk, thinking 'hmm, could do this better' and find myself shuffling back, legs and feet into some semblance of alignment. Got to start somewhere I suppose.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Oooo er. There was great consternation in the hen house-on-wheels this morning; the world was white. For a simple minded hen this was a lot to take in. Imagine it. Go to bed: green. Wake up, throw open the curtains (or in the case of poultry - pop-hole): white. Cluck cluck indeed....

There was much anxious clucking and inclining of quizzical combed heads until the bravest hopped out to investigate - or as I suspect - was pushed out by the mardy cockerel. The refugees from across the border followed; they're a spunky pragmatic bunch and up for taking on the world, white weathered, brown feathered or otherwise.

The others - the poncey 'breeds', the Marans and Legbars - have spent the day not quite getting to grips with snow and huddled in a miserable bunch at the doorway. They bucked up a bit when I took them the remains of yesterday's 'Dauphinoise' potatoes but then took themselves sulkily to bed where they squabbled, pushed and shoved each other for pole position on the perch. (The refugees from across the border, incidently, having made the smaller house their own had roosted in line quite amicably and were crooning to one another - old and comforting folk tales from the homeland no doubt.)
Me? Well, I've had my vest tucked in and worn my hood up over the best gardening hat and it's still been damned cold. The wind has roared in from the east full of gritty snow but nothing serious. We're white over but only enough, as I hint above, to worry a hen. A couple of centimetres perhaps? Come on - I need more. I've urged it on - I fancy drifts and fairytale landscapes - I've lit the fire, got candles, scarves, vest and gloves - a full larder too. I feel it's going to pass us by. I feel prepared. Winter where are you?