Sunday, July 26, 2009

Always on the last Saturday in July.

Did God gently part the clouds on Friday night and think 'Hmm, Trelystan Fête tomorrow - think I'll hold the rain for 24 hours'? Thus it came to pass that while we all remained dry - and it was the only dry day for about a fortnight - we stood, alternately counting our blessings and shivering in a chill wind, amongst the graves of Trelystan Church.

A churchyard always seems an incongruous place to hold a fête, but it's the way they do things here - Trelystan lacks a village green or munificent squire with big house and grounds so we frolic beneath sombre yews and balance cups of tea on crooked gravestones. I suppose this may always have been the way here - this site is perhaps as old as time itself and who knows what rites and rituals took place here before Christianity came over all solemn and reverential? A barbecue was this year's innovation - our neighbour served burgers and sausages to a hungry crowd amongst the tombstones. I thought of local burial mounds where cremated remains have been found and for a moment considered that things had almost come full circle - fire and flesh in a sacred place.

It's not the time or place for such thoughts though - with a mighty blast of feedback which deafens us all, Mr Dyson declares the Fête officially open. There are draw tickets to be bought (remember, there is always a draw), cakes, jams and plants to be swooped upon and tea and buns to be enjoyed. Children run curiously complicated races involving hoops, cones, balls and buckets. Bric a brac is rootled through. Ditto books - this year as our vicar has moved on to parishes new we seem to have a rich crop of ecclesiastical publications. The music to set a jolly tone comes from somebody's 'ghetto blaster' perched atop the borrowed PA system. At one stage in the afternoon it had a distinctly Greek flavour - Rebetika I think. Odd.

I am selling plants with my neighbour Penny. We are amazed at where our motley collection of plants have come from - and indeed where they go to. We raise £72.40 and are quite pleased. I bring home the 4 sprout plants I took and have bought only a white Valerian and an Inula. Our stall was in a shady spot, on damp ground and I was soooooo cold.
And then there is 'Bowling for a Pig'. These days sadly it's a hypothetical pig, a box of Roses probably. (How I'd relish the opportunity to bring home a little porker.) There are no sophisticated games at Trelystan Fête, just the old favourites from the back of the barn dusted down and pressed into service for another year. Everyone has a go, young and old - children being allowed to stand a little closer. A strip of chicken netting has been baler-twined to the hedge behind the target - we assumed to keep the rabbits out - but no. In fact it's to keep the balls in should some bowler be extra-vigourous and send them hurtling through the hedge and down the hill to Marton. In decades of running this game it's saved a lot of running around. In the big sophisticated cities they'd laugh at this uncomplicated home-made fun.

I think that's what I like about Trelystan Fête. In an age of brash bumptiousness it has an air of innocence, this small community getting together and enjoying its own company.

Anyway, it's over now, done and dusted, for another year, the crockery's been put away and the chairs stacked. Next highlight in the calendar is the Harvest Supper and Sale of Produce. I think we might be away....


We turned in last night shortly after 11.00. The sky was clear as a bell - when did we last see the stars? Back to rain again this morning though.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cabin fever

Looks like another day of kicking my heels indoors - I've come to the conclusion I'm a fair weather gardener, but for Heaven's sake the rain over the past few days has been torrential. When it hasn't actually been raining anything I might want to weed or till has been sodden and unappetising too. In lieu of getting dirt under my fingernails I've been drawing a map on the computer - gaining an intimate knowledge of every pixel on the screen. There must be an easier way.

During a break in the clouds I recorded this month's garden. It's certainly greener now.

I've harvested the autumn planted onions - which are drying in the garage. The garlic will be next. Hopefully both will store until next year's crop is harvested. I've only bought 3 onions in the past 3 years - a statistic I'm quite proud of. Once the bed is cleared I shall plant out the brassicas - ideally I would have given the land a little rest but the pressure for space means I haven't got that luxury.

The broad beans (Express) are coming into their own - young, sweet and tender. Abundant too - we could eat them every night. Our nightly suppertime dilemma is cabbage or beans? Beans or cabbage? Both are ready to eat now. In another week we will have peas - the vines are hung with a mass of flat pods and I anticipate the popping of pods. Perhaps peas are at their best eaten on the hoof, in passing, pod popped with a grubby finger and its contents greedily snarfed and savoured - a sweet crisp sugar burst.

The soft fruits are ripening. I'm picking raspberries and shoo-ing birds off the black, red and white currants. The fruit cage is almost a waste of space, trapping more birds than it deters.

In the greenhouse? It's a jungle in there. A round of applause for peppers and (the) cucumber. Basil? Better late than never I suppose. The tomatoes are beginning to turn colour and the Trelystan melon harvest does look promising for once. We've managed a melon larger than a tennis ball (a personal best in the past) and have 4 looking like this:Growth does seem slow this year - the courgettes have hardly kicked off - yet 800 feet lower, down in the valley, I've seen courgettes well on their way to marrow-hood. Perhaps it's an altitude thing. And squash - another of my favourites, along with onions, for storing? Don't mention the squash. Diddly-squat squash. Bah.

The borders are looking lush and overgrown - I need to be amongst them with a machete. Sweet peas, shooting up their canes in a reasonably orderly fashion, are heavenly. I pick them and they reward me with more flowers. Theirs is a short life but a fragrant one. We won't talk about grass. Suffice to say it's growing and the rain precludes mowing. The Glam.Ass. has retreated to his shed muttering. (Another trug anyone?)

Now I can hear thunder and the sky is battleship grey. There's a rumour that this will all clear up by tomorrow. Tomorrow is Trelystan Church Fete........

Me? Right now, mouse in hand, I'm going to chase pixels. After that? A few moments looking out a raincoat for tomorrow's stint on the plant stall might be time well spent.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


There are chickens in there somewhere. They're not coming out to play. It's rained every day since they hatched - their experience of this world is a wet one - they can't be blamed for thinking this a damp and miserable place. Better stay in. In might be preferable to Out. I was going to describe them as 'mardy' - meaning 'childish, easily upset or cowardly', but on looking it up in my favourite Urban dictionary I see the usage favours 'Grumpy. Surly. Like a moaning child who doesn't get his way.'
Nope, I don't think they are that stroppy. They're Big Girls' Blouses, Wimps, Wet Nellys. (The latter's a Scouse bread pudding but what a wonderful derogatory term it makes: 'Ger'on with it yer great wet nelly'.)

Bless 'em, they are only about 10 days old and still fit under mum's wings

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Poor Wilson

'I bit a bee
And a bee bit me
Oh, what a silly dog I be...Tra la etc.'

Wilson (the most handsome Bull Terrier in Trelystan) is feeling very sorry for himself. It seems, as revealed by an expensive visit to the vet, that he has been stung in the throat. Ouch!

Not that we were to know this of course when he came in this morning, alternately salivating, gulping and eating any bit of plant life within reach. We'll not mention the something very nasty on the very nice rug either.... Sick dog scenario here.

He's a bit vet phobic so any visit is traumatic. This visit involved a sedative to enable the vet to look into his throat as that seemed to be where the problem lay. It worked well - he conked out and he had to be dragged on a blanket to the consulting room - tail still wagging. A comic sight.

It was a relief to know the cause of his discomfort - poor thing. Not only had he been stung but had also gnawed at his own cheek while trying to rid himself of the cause of the pain. He's obviously still sore and doesn't understand why. Still very whoozy too - above, he's propped against a kitchen cupboard, when standing his legs are like jelly. Note that I've taken pity on a sick dog and allowed a dog blanket in front of the (cold) Aga. Also have fed him crushed ice on a saucer. Now I know I'm losing it.
Finally, chez nous this evening. Glam.Ass. reads the paper. Sick dog stands unsteadily. Pasta dries on an ad hoc arrangement of chair, kettle and window opening pole. Radio 4 rants in the background. Family life as we know it eh?.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What is the word for it?

The village history book moves on apace; our deadline is almost upon us and there are many loose ends to be tied up. D has written thousands of words and I am concentrating on things visual, but today we seek out those who have contributed to ask them to sign our form allowing us to use their words. Only two folk to see this morning and it's a good day for a mooch around the village. All is well with the world.

Our first contributor reads through his words, agrees with what he has said and signs the form. After a brief chat we're on the road again - we'll take the long way round to our next call. We climb up along the hillside, taking the lane which climbs from the flat Rea Valley onto the Long Mountain. We drive in a sunken lane, the sides of which rise up on either side of us and are hung with ferns and dainty grasses which cling onto life in clefts of the shaley rock. Dappled sunlight filters through the canopy of trees, a speckled play of light and shade. There is no way of knowing that this is the year 2009 - we could be traveling at any point in, perhaps, the last 300 years such is the timelessness of this place. I guess a pedant would point out that 3oo years ago the road would be an unmetaled, pot-holed, track and my sunken lane only an indentation as travel had not yet worn it away. Where's the romance in pedantry?

Eventually the slope levels off and we come out of the trees. To the left, the east, a fantastic panorama is revealed. Our village lies in the bottom the valley below us midst a patchwork of fields and woods on a barely discernable rise; beyond that, Housman's 'blue remembered hills' of Shropshire. I could see it a thousand times and still be moved by its breadth and beauty.

Still, time to move on, places to go, people to see.

Our elderly gentleman is at home. He is top 'n tailing a pan of gooseberries for lunch. Oh dear, we are early and I think he is a little distracted and needs to get this task out of the way before being confronted by two bossy ladies with files, pens and cameras. I top and tail a few gooseberries too, taking my berries out of what looks strangely like a cat's dish and then tossing them into a grubby pan. We then sit back around the kitchen table to discuss 'using his words'.

D. reads his words to him, he nods in agreement, adds a little here and there, expands a comment and goes off at a tangent. My eyes wander around the room - an overheated kitchen in a large stone-built Victorian vicarage. Perhaps it was once a morning room. I know there are two grander rooms through to the front, although talk of 'mice getting in amongst the papers' suggests that their glory days are over. There is a scullery too, just inside the back door through which we were admitted. The front door is closed. Firmly and probably finally.

I'm not complaining though. My wandering eye has plenty to take in. The old bells from 150 years ago lie silent about our heads, meat hooks dot the ceiling. A tap over the sink has a luggage label attached. Calendars - perhaps 20 of them, range across the mantelpiece - none of them this year's though. The largest calendar is for 2000, and hangs beside the sink. It is illustrated with pictures of the world's Kingfishers, their plumage is bright in this sepia toned room.

There's a splash of colour on the table too - in lieu of a cloth it's covered with copies of the Sun. Our host, I notice has set his place for lunch on a page which features a shapely ankle and a red stiletto. A bikini-clad lovely is in the centre of the table beneath the cruet. It doesn't seem quite right somehow. I take in crumbs, 3 pairs of spectacles, pills, correspondence and general debris. Odd garments are strewn over chair backs or hung on nails, each jacket in worse repair than the last. The air is hot and stale and heavy. A clock ticks and a pipe gurgles. A framed snap shot of Mother hangs at an angle over a redundant cooker. I feel my camera burning a hole in my pocket and, sitting on my hands, resist the temptation to record this place. It would not be right.

Our man is a fragile soul of great antiquity, still somewhat urbane and articulate but dishevelled in appearance, a little grubby too. His grand surroundings, his mother's home, crumble around him - its maintenance would challenge even the most fervent DIYer. Outside, this is the garden I visit in springtime, a place of ethereal beauty and home to primrose, polyanthus and bluebell - but now it has become a monstrous wilderness of nettles and briar which knot and cross paths and vines which tap on peeling window panes. He's living not quite in chaos, it's just come down to this.

We decline a cup of coffee and with the paper signed we may go. 'Yes, take a photograph of the house by all means', he offers, adding 'you may find it difficult now all the trees have grown up though'. Hmm - difficult in this case means impossible - short of flying over and getting an aerial shot. ' Do you have an old picture perhaps?' I ask, thinking that something taken in about 1950 when all was fresh and vital might show the place at its very best. There are mutterings about not finding one in a hurry and more darkly, 'mouse damage' so I am not holding my breath. I stop part way down the drive and take a photograph looking back at the house as suggested. It is invisible.

I've been here before and each time have left tinged with just a little sadness. There must be a word - something to describe the decline which has taken the place of order, gentile merriment and hearty laughter - but I don't know what it is.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

with apologies... all my lovely male readers and to John Gray who wrote 'Men are from Mars, women are from Venus'.

I've just spent an hour in the garden and can confirm that in fact 'Women are from sweet peas, Men are from potatoes.'You heard it here first.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Aww! Chickens.

I have 5 new arrivals - Rhode Island Red Bantams; a day late - but better late than never.

'Mum' is a Wyandotte, although today looks more like a feathered tea cosy. She has emerged from her trance-like broody state and is now clucking officiously at the chicks which are getting braver by the moment. 'Come-here-cluck', 'eat-this-cluck', 'get-under-my-wings-this-minute-cluck' etc etc.

I am in their thrall and will be wasting far too much time over the next few days drooling over their cuteness. Fortunately it won't take long for them to turn into gawky feathered adolescents, as ungainly as their human counterparts, and I can my revert to my usual unsentimental self.

Catch 'em while you can folks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pub names illustrated. No 1.

The Dog and Duck

Self explanatory. It's a dog. And a duck.

My hunter came back from Manchester's mean streets with duck, pancakes, spring onions and hoi san sauce. The beaks are a bit disturbing but the rest tastes delicious.

Bean treat

I expect all you lowlanders have been feasting off the fat of the land for weeks, already enjoying soft fruits and crunchy summer vegetables. Spare a thought for those of us on the top of this low mountain, where it is an overcoat colder and we have an extra layer of blubber and hairily insulated legs. The diet of brassicas has begun to pall and the siren song of a succulent young pea is enticing.

But look at last night's haul from the garden - the first of the broad beans, so young they shouldn't have left their mothers - and a handful of raspberries too. We ate the beans with new potatoes and a trout caught by my Glamorous Ass. A truly 'grown on our own estates' meal and worth the wait.

Incidently, have sent the Glam. Ass. out hunting again. Today he is stalking the streets of Manchester's China Town with instructions to bring home a crispy duck and pancakes. I can't begin to tell you the trouble there will be if he comes home empty handed.....

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Honeysuckle and roses

Nothing too challenging today - something to delight the eye and please the nose - flowers from the hedgerow - dog roses and honeysuckle.

Powys County Council's road gang came along last week and scalped the verges. It's a necessary job; the visibility in the lane is much improved but the overall effect is rather stark. The cutter does not reach the honeysuckle and roses which scramble through the hedges though, and they seem particularly rampant this year.

The hedges are dripping with creamy yellow honeysuckle which binds and winds its way up towards the light, making a muddle with bramble and briar. Roses - they appear such simple fragile blooms of pink and white - are making their own skyward journey. Put some frothy elderflower into the mix, perhaps a deep pink foxglove too, and I'll hold in my eyes as pretty a country posy as you could wish for.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Itchy-scratchy - part 2

The Necromite arrived this morning - a big bag of a very fine powder to be puffed into all the nooks and crannies in the hen houses. I read the COSSH datasheet, thinking it unneccessarily alarmist for a product described as environmentally compatible, non-toxic, non-corrosive and non-flammable. Just don't breathe it in. Respirator recommended. Aha. That's why today, I have mostly been wearing....a tea towel. What do you think?
It's a look which when combined with my anti-mite shower cap does not have much of a future. In fact it's pretty grim - but it did the trick. So far I'm not suffering any ill effects and I hope the mites are falling like, well, mites even as I type.

Keen observers will notice that my tea towel is not the finest in the kitchen drawer. It has seen much better days. It is one step away from becoming a polishing cloth in my Glamorous Ass's rag bag. It deserves one last moment of glory.

It is from this tea towel, given to me by my brother @nt, that I learned how, in 1805 in the Cornish village of Madron, the news was received of the British fleet's victory at Trafalgar. Here the first church bells rang out in celebration of that victory and marked the death of the Admiral Lord Nelson in battle. The words painted on the hastily made banner which was carried in procession to the Church are printed on the tea towel. I have ironed them so many times they are now imprinted on my brain too.

'Mourn for the brave, the immortal Nelson’s gone.
His last sea fight is fought, his work of Glory done'

See how with a little imagination both ironing and poultry-keeping can be quite instructive.

PS The picture of the banner above has been sent to me by my brother - and is not, repeat Not, an indication of the state of my tea-towel drawer. Humph. The very thought....