Saturday, May 30, 2009

A farmer's tan

Yes, the farmer's tan is coming along nicely. A couple of days of sunshine and the light and dark areas of my body have become well delineated. There is a pair of 'Birkenstocked' feet, a phantom watch, sleeve marks and a neat little brown 'v' somewhere above my boobs and below my chin. Around my neck is a pale circlet where I habitually wear a necklace. Cute hey?

The lily-white bits which lurk unseen pose a problem when a radical change of costume is called for. In truth, it's not a real problem on the problem scale of 1- 10, where the state of the economy would be at 11, North Korea 10ish and running out of petrol on the motorway at 5. This is somewhere around -5 probably.

Wednesday is a case in point. A visit to London to collect a cup on behalf of Marton WI at the Royal Albert Hall means something more dressy than jeans and a T shirt is called for. Now obviously this is not an occasion for baring too much flesh (wouldn't want to frighten the WI en masse) but I would have preferred the bits that will get displayed to be less, erm, stencilled. I console myself with the thought that at least I've not been wearing sun glasses so haven't acquired that 'must have' raccoon look.

More about this presentation at a later date - presuming I survive my moment of fame on the platform under the beady eyes of some of the scariest ladies on the planet - the massed ranks of the WI.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In which 'rough winds do shake' etc, etc. Again

I've gone out and shaken my fist and the calendar at the sky - which is, once again, tenebrous. Perhaps you heard me shouting 'It's May, nearly June, for Heaven's sake! Get a grip. Be gone you clouds and wicked winds. Bring me sunshine!'

Maybe I should have left those tomatoes and squash in the greenhouse for another week. Look at them now, shivering their roots off down the garden, almost horizontal in the face of a biting wind.

The hens are making the most of it although I know they detest these feather-turning winds. I'm gladdened to see them hunkered down behind the windbreak I made specifically for days like these. I notice that the Lesser Cockerel - the one that is losing the battle for position as King Rooster stands alone - on the windward side of the windbreak. Not particularly bright of him,; perhaps it is as well he probably won't get the chance to pass on the 'stoopid' genes.

I know, I'll light the log burner. The house feels cold - we turned off the Aga a few days ago. It gobbles gas at a prodigious rate and by clicking the 'off' switch we can at least save a few pounds. The downside is that now it sits, a vast block of cold cast iron, giving off, well, coldness. A cold-iator. Brrr.

......later that same day. Warm at last. The dogs and I are sprawled by the fire's side. It doesn't help my infant tomatoes of course, but maybe the weather will be better for them tomorrow.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Coming home. Up the dark ribbon of road, up Marton Mountain. In a bit of a dream, time for bed, thinking of this and that. The car radio gabbles on - news from far away; a prattle of distant, stridant and discordant voices. The night air here is thick and still and calm. Here be peace.

What's that ahead? In the road. Well, it's a living thing - at a distance it might be a farm dog or a badger - or maybe even friend hare.

But no, it's a hen pheasant. She is loathe to move, slightly confused, in the middle of the road. Silly bird. As I approach she flaps into the verge. So far, so ordinary. Then a single newly laid egg rolls away past the car.

How strange.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


She slipped from the long grass beside the gateway where the fat lambs escape, brushed through the campion and cow parsley and sprang out into the lane.

I think I must have surprised her - and she surprised me darting out like that - for her body made a little high-heeled flick before, catching her stride, she loped on ahead of the pick-up. For 10, 20, 50, 100 yards she raced ahead, gaining in speed while I slowed down. Lean, long-legged and lithe, pelt sleek, ears black-tipped, she carried no extra weight - a young animal perhaps.

She was not to know I was not hunting her down, a motorised predator in pursuit of meat. With a swift turn to the left she gained the safety of the wilderness that is a neighbour's land. There, lost from sight amongst grass, nettle and dock, she can wait safe in a damp green bower for the engine's roar to fade away. I imagine her little heart thumping until all her highly attuned senses tell her it is safe to return to the hill.

A lovely surprise for (yet another) wet May day.
The hart, he loves the high wood;
The hare, she loves the hill;
The knight, he loves his bright sword;
The lady loves her will.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Exhausted. What a night.

Jeez.......I've been chased by a bull, missed the bus and had the curious experience of seeing a familiar landscape changed beyond recognition. Oh, and had a blazing row with my husband over light fittings. Next thing I knew he was grumbling for England over something and nothing. No change there then?

Then I woke up.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Don't count your chickens.

I've been looking forward to the scritch-scratch of chickeny feet. 10 days to go, the clock's counting down, tick tock.

This grumpy young bird couldn't be dissuaded from going broody so I scrubbed out a coop, sat her on on a clutch of Maran and Wellsummer eggs, sat back and awaited 'hatch-day'.
Hmm, the best laid plans of mice and hens/men have gone awry. She obviously had second thoughts about motherhood, because yesterday morning I found her clucking at the pop-hole, desperate to get out, get a life. Chickens? Who wants chickens? The eggs were stone cold and probably only fit for throwing at politicians. Bummers. Interpret that as you will.

I chucked her back in with her fellows and chucked the eggs onto the compost heap, cracking each open to see what might have been ..... of the 14, one had mysteriously disappeared, 1 was not fertile, 6 had stopped developing fairly early on and 6 had recognisable chicks. Bit gruesome really, but now I know.

I've scrubbed out the coop again and scrubbed myself free of the itchiness that an old nest seems to suggest; lice, mites and creepy crawlies....ugh. Is the world ready to know I wore an old shower cap to do the job? Looked a prat? Thank goodness passers-by are thin on the ground up here.

I await the next hen opportunity. I think...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On a wet Wednesday in Wales....

Very hard to believe we've nearly reached the middle of May - the view from my window is grey and autumnal and we are (not) enjoying a refreshing spritz of fine drizzle. See how dark and mysterious the conifers of Badnage Wood look under this tenebrous sky. It is possible that this is localised; there are occasions when we enjoy clear blue skies and the poor folk at ground level are groping their way through thick fog and vice versa. Frankly, today, I doubt it.

Still, it's an ill wind - for a start I discovered the word 'tenebrous' as an alternative to 'leaden'. It's made its way to us from Middle English, via Old French and Latin. I'm going to dust it down and use it more often - although I hope I don't have to use it to describe the weather too often this summer. What are the chances of that do you think?

Being disinclined to spend long in the garden today I read the newspaper thoroughly, including the weather report. I learn that a period of chill weather is not unknown at this time of year. I read that cold weather often greets the feast days of the three 'ice saints': Marmertus, Pancras, Serviatus which are celebrated, somewhere and by someone I suppose, on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of May respectively. Today we must light a candle for St Serviatus. It is his day. Folklore spells out a warning: 'He who shears his sheep before St Serviatus’ Day loves his wool more than his sheep.' We'll heed that too and keep the vests on awhile.

While I'm reassured to know that there are sound meteorological reasons for this evil weather - dying western airstreams giving way to cold easterlies driven by a sharp pressure gradient - blah-blah, I'm excited by my serendipitous discovery of these saints. I'd hoped to discover St Serviatus was the patron Saint of misty hill sides but his origins in the Low Countries make this unlikely. Saint of flat places more like. It appears he is mostly remembered for being a bishop and being, well, saintly.

Enough of saints and adjectives. Plants and flowers have diamonds on a rainy day:

Please let the sun come out soon. It will avoid having to post pictures of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A few snaps from the opportunity to mention yet another arcane method of stock keeping.

It's been a thin week for news up here in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. No royal visits, no dubbing of knights, no ambassadors to appoint, no Great Seals to apply; in fact little to entertain the passing reader. The national asparagus season has started and the national poultry flock has settled into its new enclosure and continues to lay well. The wind has blown mightily and I am fed up with it. The hens are too. I sit and 'twiddle my thumbs' - and rather than investigate the roots of that well-known phrase or saying, I decide to dip into my Big Box of Potential Blogs......

......I pull out a family holiday in which we fetch up, in 1982, in Cantabria in the shadow of the Picos de Europa, in the lush green pasture lands between the mountains and the breakers on the Atlantic coast. A far cry from the tourist meccas of southern Spain, this is the Costa Verde where Spaniards from Madrid come to spend summer away from the searing heat of the interior. We have loaded the car and driven to Plymouth and taken the ferry to Santander. That car is a BMW and I've always had the impression that A would prefer to have taken to the open road without its cargo of small children (3 under 5 years) and their paraphernalia. This will not be the last of our driving holidays though so it can't have been too bad. In retrospect I think how brave we were to boldly go....Anyway, our destination, Barcenaciones is described in a small ad as 'A Different Spain'. Our home for a fortnight was a fairly modern house in a fairly old village; the busy highway which linked Santander and Santiago de Compostela and the town of Torrelavega only a short distance away. My memories of our fortnight there are still reasonably vivid and I remember more when prompted by the photograph album. We visit the Pilgrims' destination of Santiago de Compostella and the shrine of St James, where we see ancient buildings with shell motifs. We drive up into the hills to see the prehistoric art at Puente Viesgo in caves which have been used by man for at least 150,000 years; we marvel at the drawings and marks of prehistoric man. They are strangely moving. We go up several thousand metres in a cable car somewhere in the Picos de Europa - our red car becomes a distant dot below us as the verdant valley is left behind and we sway upwards in a little glass and steel box to a cafe and visitor centre perched at the summit. I'd had the presence of mind to put a bonnet, mitts and bootees in my bag for my pink and hairless baby - a ludicrous thought at ground level - but a necessity at the top where icy blasts threatened to whip us off our feet and snow still nestled in shaded nooks. The alpine flowers were exquisite.

Those excursions were the highlights. We'll gloss over losing a child in a supermarket and forgetting the baby in another - we did get them both back and only feel minor guilt at letting go of little hands and pushchair handles. We did a lot of strolling about and sitting in the sunshine while the toddlers splashed in the tiny paddling pool we bought to amuse them. Caves, mountains and cockle shells mean little to small children and they would probably been quite as happy in the back garden at home in Heaton Moor.The locals were friendly. The lady from the Big House, our landlady, invited us for sherry - which we sipped while keeping a nervous eye on her numerous objets and the fingers of our inquisitive children. Our small fair haired children were themselves objects of curiosity amidst the dark youngsters of the village. Baby Harry was coo-ed over and his appearance prompted the little village girls to fetch out their baby dolls for the evening paseo. I was reminded frequently by old ladies to keep him wrapped up even though the poor mite seemed on the verge of getting heat rash on his heat rash.

The little village centred round a small dusty square where life carried on as it must have done for centuries. A dusty, ever so slightly grimy shop, hung with hams (around which several flies motored wearily,) was its focal point. The shop's proprietor, a laconic chain smoker, also collected the village's milk which would then be taken to a central dairy and turned into the milk based products which were the speciality of the region. Bearing in mind the lackadaisical hygiene I hoped pasteurisation was part of the process....

Outside, rangy cattle were driven twice daily to the stream to drink and then returned to their cool dark quarters beneath their keeper's own accommodation. Their fodder was cut elsewhere and brought to them on laden carts - a process known as 'soilage' - the bringing of green crops for penned livestock.Cutting fodder as and when it was needed gave the landscape the look of a piece of textured patchwork as each 'farmer' just mowed the day's ration - grass was even taken from the verges too, a precise art in which little was wasted. All this I learned afterwards from my father who knew about such things. I found it interesting then and find it interesting still. I wonder if cattle are still kept like this nearly 30 years later? We came home, watched the sun tans fade and got the photos developed. The snaps went into album no.3, along with a handful of dried flowers from the top of a peak and some post cards of prehistoric bison. It was all a long time ago and those photos, like my memories have emerged slightly foxed and golden.

Enough of the past. I'm off to plant tomatoes.

Monday, May 04, 2009


Transhumance must be one of my favourite words - it's long enough to savour - I love the way it rolls around the tongue. Far better than those staccato one syllable bits and bobs which are literally spat out. It's generous and descriptive - coming as so many of the good 'uns do from Latin roots. 'Trans' = across and 'humas' = ground, describing the movement of animals from their winter quarters in the valleys to their summer grazing in pastures higher up the slopes - nomadic pastoralism.

This won't be news to anyone familiar with that soppy tale of grumpy grandfathers, goat herds and sick children: Johanna Spyri's 'Heidi'. (I notice Amazon describe it as 'heart-warming tale'....which rings warning bells in my cynical ear.) Heidi's grandfather, Alm-Öhi, lives in seclusion on one such high pasture and her friend Peter brings his goats up the mountain for the summer. Heidi brings sweetness and light. Tra-la.

However, I digress. I was reminded of this yesterday when I watched Alan reinforcing the fence which runs alongside The New Hedge, putting on an extra strand of wire to keep straining, leaning necks out. We await the arrival of cattle in the fields around us, cattle which over winter in sheds down in the valley and come any day now to graze on the slopes of the Long Mountain. Now, there's nothing a cow likes more, even when there are rolling acres of fresh spring grass to forage on, than the fresh tips of a newly planted mixed species hedge. I call it pruning but Alan describes it as *expletive deleted* wrecking. Hence the fortifications.

I did a bit of transhumance of my own - albeit only a matter of a few metres. The hens have been moved to a clean bit of land slightly higher in the field and into a new spacious hut as well. I made a new pen, which like the old one is electrified to deter Brer Fox. I'd innocently assumed that getting hens from a to b would be a cinch - shake a bucket of corn and they would calmly walk behind me from one pen to another. Nope. I hadn't factored in the infinitesimally small size of a bird's brain. The resisted the open gate and refused to cross the strip of plastic which runs under the fencing to prevent the growing grass shorting the circuit. They looked at the shiny black threshold this way and that, clucking quizzically at this flat barrier and refused to budge. There was nothing for it but to wait for nightfall and move them from one house to the other when they were in a sleepy roosting state.

Which is what I did. They were all a bit grumpy about the disturbance, the hens clucked and complained a bit but the cockerels both made murderous ear-splitting shrieks. All mouth and trousers?

This morning they emerged from the new house into their clean grassy pen like holiday makers who've arrived at their destination under cover of darkness and are presented with a whole new world to explore. Except of course I don't expect words like 'Wow!' 'Must explore!' 'Great view' 'Fab accommodation, where's the beach?' crossed their beaks.

More like: 'Pellets', 'Grass', 'Eat' - and in the case of the randy cockerels -'Phoarrr - giv's a shag'.
......I really think I should get out more.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Orchids for May Day

I suspect the flower traditionally associated with the month of May, in this country at least, is Hawthorn - the May Tree. All you need to know is here - this is fascinating and pretty stuff - thanks Zoë.

Here on the top of our low mountain where we assume it to be an overcoat colder, the May Tree's flowers remain locked in tight little buds. It'll be a few days yet until those buds begin to unfurl.

Pink and red cultivars are a pleasant diversion, a feature for the garden - but for me, little can beat the common-or-garden, bridal-white and frothy blossoms that transform our hedgerows in spring. It's a sight worth waiting for.

Meanwhile I've had my eye on these sweet things; orchids. I've counted 7 this year, all flowering. There may be more yet to come. In past years they've been mown down by Powis County Council's road gang or eaten by Sam's sheep. This year I feared the worst when Heather and family walked a couple of hundred sheep past them. Luckily the sheep kept to the road and the orchids survive.

They are Early Purple Orchids I believe; not particularly unusual but uncommon enough on our modern verges to be worth mentioning. OK, 7 is not a big deal but to me it is a small miracle.

How beautiful they are, a perfect accompaniment to this sunny May morning. I feel most protective towards them and offer up a brief prayer that this year they will be able to set seed. Who is the God of Orchids by the way? Does anybody know?