Monday, April 27, 2009

The latest meme

I've been tagged by Elizabethm, whose blog Welsh Hills Again is always a good read. Thank you E. While I don't actually sit here with my hand up shouting 'Me, me. Me, Miss! Meeeeee!' it is always slightly flattering to be asked is it not? Non?

Pesky things memes. First you scratch your head to write something original that wasn't covered in any of the previous ones - just how many little known facts are there about me anyway - and then you have to pass the thing on like a nasty cold. Or swine flu even. My problem is everybody else seems to have got there first. (Ah ha! have just discovered two vulnerable souls. I will pounce...)

What is your current obsession?
Weeding and sowing. The weeds are having a race with the seeds and I am trying to keep one step ahead.

What are you reading?
Joseph O'Connor's 'Star of the Sea'. We have a small book club here - there are 3 of us who meet, drink tea and eat cake. We went to a real Book Club once and were terrified by the erudition. When all possible snippets of gossip are exhausted we discuss a book. This was our last choice. Short of time, I chose to listen to it on my iTouch whilst going about mundane daily tasks where reading would normally be impossible - which meant that I probably heard every word rather than skimming over some of the less gripping passages. Some chapters now are confusingly linked in my head with sowing tomato seed. In the greenhouse I found I could listen uninterrupted without falling asleep. But who did murder Lord Kingscourt? I maintain it was not the amoral Pius Mulvey but the narrator and journalist J Grantley Dixon. My fellow readers and I have read and re-read and we are all still uncertain. Any ideas internet folk?

First spring thing?
A slight pulsing of blood in the veins. A sense of excitement, a thrill in knowing that nothing can stop the inevitablity of the season's arrival...and pushing aside dank leaf mould to discover the blunt snouts of those first snowdrops

What's for dinner?
Salmon cooked in light cream and pesto, purple sprouting broccoli from the garden and a mixture of white and wild rice - which Alan will call (correctly I suppose) grass seed.

Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
Oh dear. Must I admit to living in a uniform of jeans, tee shirt and Birkenstocks? It's the National Dress of Trelystan......

Planning to travel to next:
Paxos. Best-ever Ionian island. In the 20 years we've been going there we've noticed that the pace of life has quickened slightly and the lives of the Paxiots, whose main source of income along with olive oil production is tourism, has improved somewhat. Good for them. Essentially though it is the same relaxed place we first visited in 1989; unsophisticated, warm and welcoming. Roll on September when we will return, en famille.

Last thing(s) you bought:
The last two swipes of the Mastercard have bought a wine cooler from Rick Stein's deli in Padstowe (which is, inexplicably, giving me a great amount of pleasure) and another 50 metres of electric poultry netting for the most expensive hens on the planet. Bless 'em.

Flowers of the moment
Apple blossom - gorgeous, frothy, pink and white. Apple Blossom is from Venus?Favourite ever film
Oh dear, I'm not very good at films. Books are best, then radio - it's the pictures in one's head that are more vivid for me. If push came to shove then 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' - crass but always good for a laugh and, like Elizabethm, 'Mama Mia'. Greece, sunshine and unadulterated-no-side-to-it singalong Good Times.

Earliest memory?
Crying, at about 2 years old I think. The hoot of an owl in an elm tree next to the dairy must have woken and upset me. My father came and told me all was well. And it probably was.

Favourite childhood toy?
A dolls' house. Nothing special in retrospect but having parted with it in recent years how I wish it could be magically returned to me along with the secret world furnished with crappy plastic furniture.

Care to share some wisdom?
Be kind
Be inquisitive. Look and learn.
Grasp those opportunities - OK, you may not wish to sky-dive (and neither would I but that's no reason to say 'no' without a great deal of thought).

Which God/Goddess would you like to be?
Minerva I think: Roman goddess of wisdom, arts, crafts and war - although I'd demur when it came to war-craft being of a peaceable nature. Her sacred creature was an owl, also associated with wisdom - and who wouldn't like a sacred owl?

Here are the Rules - because there are always rules:
Respond and rework. Answer questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question. Tag some people. It should be 8 but I can't believe there are 8 people left in the world who've not had this tag.

Hand knitted Museli
Preseli Mags
Withy Brook

Do this if you fancy it, or not, as you please. I won't be offended if you say 'Pah! NoWay.'

Phew. Now I'm exhausted. Perhaps I should nail a shingle to my blog which reads 'The small mountain kingdom of Trelystan is a Meme Free Zone'. For the next month at least.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


No, not the number of the Beast-and-a-bit but the number of miles from the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan to St Ives and back - with a quick detour to Padstowe. (Seen below early on Friday morning when we were the only grockles about. How peaceful and serene. Only seagulls and a garbage truck disturbed the air.)
We had spent the night in part of Rick Stein's empire - in his B & B above his Cafe in Middle Street. Very comfortable too and only a short walk from his eponymous fish restaurant - passing both his Gift Shop and Patisserie en route and reminding ourselves to visit his Deli the following get an idea of the scale of his enterprise here. Another excellent dinner at The Fish Restaurant....

We left Padstowe for St Ives to see 'A Continuous Line', an exhibition of work by Ben Nicholson at the Tate. Hard to get totally involved with what is hung on the walls when the bigger picture is framed by the Gallery's windows - a magnificent ever-changing seascape of golden sand, crashing surf and seal-like surfers launching themselves into the waves.

Nicholson? The famous and pivotal 'White Relief' was there - cutting edge artwork in 1935. It seemed smaller and less important than I had imagined it would be. We stalked through the galleries; dark stuff from his Cumbrian days, naive Alfred Wallis inspired St Ives compositions, abstraction, relief and back to figurative work again. A case of dog-eared black and white photographs and correspondence, part of the Tate's collection of Nicholson's papers throw a little light on the personal life of the artist as a man. Husband of Winifred Nicholson, husband of Barbara Hepworth - can't for the life of me think who was the 3rd....All part of the little colony/coterie of artists who gathered in this little Cornish town. It still seems to attract that sort of folk.

Interesting I suppose - in as much as given the opportunity one should never stop looking and learning. But worth the detour? Worth 333 miles? For me? Probably not.

We leave, quitting the infuriating midget streets with their mysterious one-way systems and take to the highway - sweeping A roads that take the traveler from one end of the Cornwall to the other. I would say effortlessly but there's always some snail in front living dangerously at 30mph. Grrr.

A while later at the other end of the County, when I've had enough of driving, we leave the main road and creep through winding lanes where spring flowers - bluebell, stitchwort, campion and fiddle-headed ferns fall against the car as we pass. A bucolic riot of colour; pink, white, blue and the freshest green in the world.
We head for our friends' home on the banks of the Tamar near Cothele. Their windows also frame a waterscape which is never still. We watch the river, a short distance away, as it ebbs and flows. This evening the tide is out and the river only a narrow stream. Soon, as sure as night follows day the tide will rush in again, and we will have a new view to study. We talk long into the evening, sitting round the table enjoying supper and each others' company. So much to catch up on and so much to share.

Then it's time to drive again. We leave our Cornish friends in some fine Cornish drizzle and head for home. Through the lanes with their wild flowers, tearing along the busy A38 and onto the satanic M5 - counting counties: Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire and finally Montgomeryshire. Phew. We plough through a countryside suddenly cloaked in a myriad of greens, amazed by the swathes of cowslips on the motorway embankments.

In our 3 days absence the top of our low mountain has greened up nicely; swallows are now swooping into the top of the old silo they have chosen as the perfect nest site. I do a short tour of inspection, glad to have stopped moving. All seems well with our world, perfect in fact. Hurrah for that.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brum. Bling.

Damn and blast. Wot kind of fule am I? I'm standing in one of the most interesting places I've stood in for simply ages, I want to record my visit and the camera is dead in my hand. The battery is flat. We will not be taking photographs today.

We are visiting The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham - I've tagged along on the local Art Group's spring expedition. I do like A Day Out and this seems promising.

The Museum is on Vyse Street, about 20 minutes stroll from the vibrant retail centre of the city. That's an impression to bear in mind because having passed through the Museum's smart frontage and been tempted by the ubiquitous gift shop one steps back in time - back into Birmingham's grimy past. Back into a dusty workshop. Birmingham is often described as a city of a 1001 trades - jewellery-making was but one, and manufacturers congregated in a cluster of streets around Warstone Lane. Jewellery-making was, of course, made up of many trades in its own right - each man or woman would specialise in one facet of production. It is estimated that at its peak of production in 1914 there were around 20,000 workers employed in the trade.

In 1976 Olive Smith - 'Miss Olive' - drew a line under the final entry in the company ledger and her brother Tom Smith turned the key of the works on Vyse Street for the last time, thus ending over 80 years of production on the site. The company was Smith and Pepper - founded by Tom and Olive's father Charles Smith and his associate Edwin Pepper. Their companies 'S&P' mark was registered in 1899. For nearly a century Smith and Pepper manufactured small gold items; gold bangles, brooches, cufflinks, lockets and crosses. By the mid 20th century the company was in decline - modern safety legislation, production methods and competition from overseas tolled the death knell for Smith and Pepper and many other manufacturers like them. It finally closed in 1981 and the premises remained virtually undisturbed for nearly a decade.

Did 'Mr Tom' recognise the value of preserving a slice of Birmingham life? I believe it had been his wish that the Museum service should take over the works and indeed, in 1996, the site opened as one of the City's museums. To enter the door is to enter another world - tools and equipment are lying where they were left on the factory's last day and in Miss Olive's office the tea making stuff and jars of Marmite still await the next brew time.

This a Good place - I want to potter, open drawers, pull levers, slice, punch and polish. Alan however is the only one to speak out and get his hands-on. He drills a neat little hole with an Archimedes drill - and would be drilling yet if there was not more processes to be told about, more stages in this guided tour. The show must go on etc. It occurs to me afterwards that in the entire factory tour we have not seen a complete piece of jewellery - perhaps few of the workers here ever did either. The finished products, pickled and polished, made to order, were sent upstairs to 'Miss Olive's' Office by dumb waiter for package and despatch. In stout brown card boxes they went into the world (pink-Empire-wide then) to adorn the breasts and wrists of maids and matrons or to secure cuff and tie of gent and geezer. Buttons, bracelets, bangles.....lockets, lucky charms.

I have a personal interest - a grandfather, George Cross, born and bred in Hockley - the jewellery quarter. His whose working life I had heard about, second hand, from my father; that's eye-glasses, benches, dust, silver and gold....His early working life was no doubt spent learning his trade in and around Warstone Lane but latterly he worked for Henry Griffiths and Sons - probably in Leamington Spa - and we have such sweet little silver thimbles made by his company, napkin rings and buttons as momentoes too. To us children it always sounded such a...well, glamorous life. Jewellery would, wouldn't it? It took Wednesday's visit to dispel any illusions of that - having seen a contemporary workplace I'm not so sure. .

George was a son of Sam Cross, a Shropshire lead miner from hereabouts - who, with his wife Harriet, upped sticks and went to Brum in search of employment when the bottom fell out of lead. Young George married Alice from London, whose family was in the jewellery business too...was her father really a diamond dealer? Lead, silver, gold - diamonds, all precious stuff.

They are special because they are my grandparents but in the scheme of things I now realise they were but part of a huge industry. For me a thought provoking visit. A great little museum anyway. Go visit.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

...take only photographs.

One of the elderly brothers waves a proprietorial slim and once elegant hand into the distance. 'It's a natural garden now of course' he says, his voice a faded treble.

We nod. Of course it is. That much is obvious. Cowslips - such kind sweet flowers - have taken hold in cobbles 3 paces from the back step; a gooseberry hunkers down against the wash-house wall. Briars whip the unwary. Sappy diamond-dewed grass is ankle high. Everywhere Arums, Aquilegia, Forget-me-not and a jewel box of primulas jostle beneath a canopy of apple, pear and prunus blossom. There's a horticultural riot taking place. Today we were blessed with a blue skies too.

This garden opens only once a year - to raise money for the parish church I believe. I have been here twice before and each time been moved by its fragile beauty. Speedwell, dandelion and stinging nettle, goose grass and cow parsley - how I love you all in your fresh spring finery amongst those promiscuous primulas and hellebores. Such is its wild perfection that I wish it were mine to keep and preserve. I want, I want, I want.I envy the visiting childrens' bold footsteps as they zoom and shriek around what might have been an orchard - I hardly know where to step through a carpet of flowers. I try not to leave footsteps. I take only photographs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

...a time to sow...

This is the vegetable garden in spring, photographed in late afternoon sunshine yesterday. How neat it looks - and a bit empty too. What should I be doing next? My heart tells me to get planting - ride the tide of this fantastic springtime surge of growth. My head says 'Wait - you live on the top of a low mountain in Wales where the climate is an overcoat colder than 800 feet below.' So I sit on my hands and satisfy most of my urges by rifling through the seed packets and making plans.

It's knowing when to do what that gives me problems. The seed packets helpfully suggest 'Sow: April - May'. Hmm, that's a window of 61 days - early April is very different to the end of May. I usually resort to memory - a poor source of reference in my case - or entries made on this blog. Plant labels from previous years have been useful too. Not very scientific though is it?

Then there is the question of measuring success. Was a bumper crop down the the alignment of the planets? Unintentionally sowing in the right phase of the moon? A good growing season? The quality of seed, soil or husbandry? There are so many variables.

A gardening diary would be a good idea - like the log 'Keeping Track of the Garden' elizabethm has recently started to record the progress of her plot on a hillside in North Wales, an eloquent companion piece to her 'Welsh Hills Again' blog. I wonder, could I be disciplined enough to do the same?

In the meantime, what does my dreary photograph tell us about Friday 17th April 2009? It's not raining - the fog and drizzle which has been round our ears for the last couple of days has lifted. What was the temperature? Probably around 12 degrees.

With the exception of the raspberries and the fruits in their cage everything still looks very brown doesn't it?

Look closely. The onions and garlic planted in the autumn have finally put put a growth spurt on and now look promising; those put in a month ago are showing little green tips at last. While we may think that rain has been incessant the ground is actually quite dry and it has taken a downpour to get them started. Broad beans are above the ground too and I've pushed in a few more seeds where, inexplicably, there are gaps. Mice perhaps. I've planted roots: carrot, parsnip and beetroot. Parsley - Champion Moss Curled - went in on Easter Sunday. Once again I missed that traditional Good Friday planting date. (I'm hoping for more success with parsley this year - last year I planted a flat leaved variety which grew like a weed and rapidly went to seed.) This afternoon I may sow peas. Too early for beans, runner and French, I fear unless they're sown indoors.

Beds are ready for more tender plants: squash, courgette, sweetcorn, lettuce and tomatoes. They are all sown and in the greenhouse awaiting that magic moment when All Danger of Frost is Past.

Alan has planted potatoes - although which varieties are a mystery - the lettering on their labels faded as soon as the sun caught them. His asparagus looks promising - spears are already pushing their stubby noses out of the ground - a couple of nights ago we ate a spear each. A small pleasure.

The pile of stones in the foreground - to the right of the photographer's shadow - is a pizza oven under construction. From my point of view this means another scruffy corner tidied up and the opportunity to plant a herb bed alongside where the soil is particularly stony and well drained.

The dog is poised and ready for action - and so am I. Not long now until those seed cases crack and shoots and roots wriggle towards moisture and light. Can you sense I'm just itching to be out there?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Swallows. All is well.

They're back and preening in the sunshine of the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan; little scraps on a telephone wire. Flapping blueblack wings have brought them from the southern hemisphere, a hazardous journey of many thousands of miles. Over mountain, desert, plain and ocean - swooping low to swipe an insect feast - and on, and ever on, drawn to a mysterious migratory destination. Here.

Our swallows are back; I am over-joyed, and irrationally, just a little moist eyed. Their arrival might be the stuff of statistics but for me these little things are the essence of spring - and of life and rebirth and affirmation. Make yourselves at home birds. Nest. I wish you well to live here. My kingdom will protect you.

No photographs of course - my camera's eye would only offer you a black spot against a blue sky - could be crow, rook, raven or blackbird. Instead, how about violets and oxalis - as sweet spring flowers as one can find?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Eggs

Easter greetings from the sun-drenched slopes of the Long Mountain.Please help yourself to eggs - the fridge is full to bursting and there are only so many the pair of us can eat.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Thank you. What a kind thought.

Would I like tickets to see La Traviata at the Royal Opera House? The mail-shot was enticing - and addressed to me. Of course I would - La Traviata is a favourite of mine. A Celebratory Dinner in the Paul Hamlyn Hall, in the company of the cast and artistic staff, is part of the package. Tempting?

Sadly at £950.00 per ticket I shall have to decline - what with buying two - as undoubtably Alan would want to go as well, plus a hotel and 2 train fares - well it's just a little beyond my pocket this week....

Yes, you did read that correctly - that's £950.00 per ticket. Blimey. I'm lost for words.

Hens, the last instalment.

No need to go into too much detail - but suffice to say that the white hens have now been killed and plucked. I could use a string of euphemisms here but it seems pointless.

They were not sent away - I've brought them this far and I wanted to be involved with this stage of food production too. My kind farming neighbour was an excellent guide and tutor, giving me the confidence to carry out a task I was very apprehensive about. It's done; death came swiftly and efficiently and with a minimum of stress to the birds.

They are hanging in the garage now - tomorrow I'll get to grips with their innards.....rather you than me I hear blog-world mutter. Indeed.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Fat slags

No, No, No! Wrong, wrong, wrong. Thou shalt not 'diss' thy food. The least I can do for these gals is show them some respect as they head towards my table - not as guests but as dinner itself.They are now nearly 20 weeks old and ready for the table. Their growth rate has been phenomenal; they were bred to put on weight quickly, economically and in the right places. They have done just that and are now plump in breast and thigh - they'll probably 'dress-out' at about 7 - 8lbs per bird. That's a lot of chicken.

Selective breeding brings its own problems of course - rapid weight gain has slowed them down almost to the point of discomfort. I'm not sure I'm 100% happy with this aspect of food production.

Like their overweight human counterparts they waddle inelegantly from bed to food - the sheer effort precluding much more than a sedentary existence now. They seem content enough, sitting in their strawed hut or, like yesterday, outside in the late afternoon sunshine. When I say good bye to them tomorrow I can be fairly confident that they have had good but brief lives; clean, well- fed and watered. I might add that these girls turned up their beaks at kitchen scraps - no junk food for them - only the finest 'fatteners' pellets would do.

Tomorrow then sees them despatched, plucked and drawn - the start of the journey to our table. I am just a little apprehensive for while I know they have had a good life I want to be sure they have a good death too. (If there can be such a thing.)

We'll be enjoying chicken for some time I think. We've had to buy a new deep freeze to store them in. Why do my money-saving schemes always end up costing money?

Friday, April 03, 2009

In which green begins to put in an appearance.

A few days of sunshine, the earth stirs....and I do too.I think I'm about to get giddy. I can feel exhilaration welling up from the very core of me....from somewhere beyond my heart but running up my spine; tangible and hard to contain. Spring.

My eyes spy big buds swelling on the sycamores in the dingle and crinkly leaves on the roadside hawthornes. I have an ear cocked for the curlew whose first tentative cries came through the mist a couple of mornings ago; the eerie lonesome sound of the hill in spring. Other birds sing and the air smells wet and fresh and green. Daft lambs play racing games up and down the lane.

Bright little Celandines have their faces to the sun - I curse them in the garden but love to find them on the roadside. Kek, Sweethearts and Jack by the Hedge - these things have their proper names but oh, this is what I've called them forever - they are my friends and here in spring we meet again. Primroses, soft and creamy mounds of loveliness.....

See? It's gone to my head. I gibber.