Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Seasonal doldrums

Yesterday: slush and muck. The lanes ran with melt water.

Today? Still some grubby snow up here and a 'pratfall' on the vestiges of ice awaits the unwary. Our landscape is green again. I stood on the field today and looked around - much as I looked out 10 days ago at the snow covered hills. I knew green would be under the white stuff - how come it's such a surprise?

Everywhere looks battered and bruised and a little washed out. It's much the same indoors. The flotsam and jetsam of the holiday season covers every surface; fridge is full of little leftovers on plates, cards sit drunkenly and the mistletoe shrivels. Our guests have gone home.

We loll around indolently, feeling full and bored to tears by holiday television and its wall to wall crap furniture advertising. Maybe we should get out into the great outdoors which surrounds us....but frankly, seasonal inertia has set in; we can't be arsed. The Glam Ass retreats to his shed and I take up knitting. Ah, the joy of socks!

Our Lovely Presents have not yet found their final homes and sit around where they can be admired, stroked and pondered over. Give me a week and the loveliest little doggy doorstop will be stopping the bedroom window from banging. The chocolate panettone will be scoffed and the Yaktrax crampons will be firmly attached to the boots.

What's a girl to do with this though?

Yes, it's a stone axe head. Possibly about 4,000 years old, maybe 5,000. Blimey! I wasn't expecting one of those.

Next stop: New Year. Only 3 action packed days to go before then.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In which I see the moon...

We are living in a magical marshmallow land where the mundane is topped with soft and bouncy snowy cushions. The ordinary becomes extraordinary masked by snow and ice.

I summon up sufficient layers of clothing, grab the camera and go out to greet the great outdoors. I'll regret it if I don't;  I'll look back in July and think 'I can't believe the garden was ever white-over.' Sod's law has it that the camera battery gives out two snaps into my photo shoot. Pah!

I manage at least to photograph the wisteria outside the front door. Water had trickled drip on drip down the plant and made a fantastic cascade which ends on the outside light. Where the water has come from I don't know - the temperature this afternoon soared to a remarkable -3 degrees (not above freezing you note) - so arguably any water should not have been liquid. I know, I know. The photograph does not do it justice.

The effort of putting on all those layers of clothing should not be wasted so after stumping indoors to put the battery on charge I come back out to feed the hens; up on the field to throw corn and replace frozen water and, at the same time, yell obscenities to the small flock of starlings which have discovered easy pickings. Grr! Damn and blast you! Starlings, leave that food alone.

Later, much later, when the fires are lit and the lights on the Christmas tree sparkle I spy, through the glass of the garden room windows, a rosy glow in the east beyond Fir House. It is the rising moon, a huge moon of the rosiest red which soars, even as we watch, above the horizon. I know last night, the night of both solstice and eclipse, was the night to see the moon but tonight it is here for us. It is the fairly insignificant red dot in the picture below.

If it looks pretty special to me and mine, hung about with all our knowledge and technologies how much more so must it have been to our predecessors on this old hill. A thing of magic and mystery. The shivers I feel on my shoulders are sometimes not to do with the cold.

Monday, December 20, 2010

'Sing Choirs of Angels'

We were 'at Home' yesterday - an event which under normal circumstances would have guaranteed a full house. When snow fell truly, madly and deeply on Saturday morning I think we knew our numbers would be depleted. This isn't a hill for the faint hearted. I am learning this.

No worries - in for a penny, in for pound. Wine, beers and juices were chilled in a snow-filled bin outside, meats were roasted, canapés assembled and warm mince pies amassed. Bring it on.

We missed those who could not join us and enjoyed the company of those who did.  A huge thank you to John who scraped our lane clear of snow - making the last ½ mile a safer journey.

Towards the end of the evening just before the last of our guests drifted away the Carol Singers arrived - Chirbury and Marton Young Farmers. We coaxed them indoors ('Forget your boots, it's only a floor') to sing for us. Their young voices: gruff baritones, shy tenors and wispy sopranos - gave generous measure. 3 carols, all old favourites, sounded pretty good to me.

I love the idea - and I'm not going to be particularly articulate here - of the Christmas story being schlepped round the neighbourhood: I'm thinking Thomas Hardy and his Wessex tales, of mummers and of traditions which come from before-we-know-when; of reasons lost in the mists of time for going door to door to bring news in the depth of winter. All this out of darkness under twinkling lights and boughs of evergreens - we know not why. I have my mistletoe, that most curious of plants, hung on a beam.

I only really wanted to say - 'Thanks for carolling'. You made my day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Same old. Same old.

I stand up on the field shortly after 8.00am - hen-letting-out-time - and watch as another band of gritty snow bowls in from the north west. It is strangely bleakly beautiful up here at the end of the Long Mountain when the landscape is reduced to a palette of  black and white and grey. The snow has muffled sound as well - there is the merest murmur of a breeze in the conifers of Badnage Wood and the urgent cackles of poultry that is in and wishes (so far) to be out.

I can spare a moment to stand and stare, take a photo or two before stuffing the camera back into a dusty pocket and getting on with the job in hand. I'm wrapped up nice and warm, thank you. Several mis-matched layers and pair of new warm wellies. Gloves, hat, scarf and wes'kit complete the ensemble. Thank goodness the style police can't make it as far as Trelystan.

There is every possibility though that if we make it out of Trelystan today even we won't make it back. A brief trip down to Welshpool in the pick-up is a hairy-scary ride on glassy roads - snow over ice. We are right to be fearful of the dreaded Leighton Bank - the road that gritters forget and where the sun never reaches. The Glam Ass is made of stern stuff and relishes a few slithers. Me? You know I'm an utter wimp and would have turned back long ago. Or is it more to do with men being the risk takers?

We reach Welshpool safely (hurrah!) and get the shopping. Gravity will take us downhill but will we be able to get enough traction to make the uphill journey? We come home via a different route which isn't too bad. Coming down our lane proves hazardous - which is why the afternoon sees Trelystan's gritting team (self and GA) raiding the grit heap and throwing said grit liberally on the sheet ice. Are we now part of the 'Big Society?

 One of a flock of Field Fares looking fairly peeved in the morning's snow storm

The Christmas tree is up and dressed and sparkles in the corner - I'm going to sit in front of the stove, bask in its warmth, and enjoy a few quiet moments looking at the lights and their reflections.

Plenty to do -no time for sitting really. We have a 'bit of a do' on Sunday - will any of our guests be able to get here is the question?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Deer stalking....

Tonight I need to rustle up a reindeer. To be more exact, the silhouette of a reindeer. M, down in the village, feels the need for a reindeer to grace the stage at next Saturday's 'Christmas-light-switch-on' fest.

Me? I feel that cutting out a silhouette is far preferable to making a 3D, life-size papier maché model when the clock is ticking, so have set about an in depth t'interweb search for a reindeer with a perfect profile. In secret though, even this is one reindeer too many at a busy time of year.

Here is my role model:
I came about him by a fairly circuitous route - full marks by the way if you recognise the source of this beastie. (Guilty, guilty, guilty..... but sometimes a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do.....) Full marks to me for my devious means of capturing him too. Hey - this is deer stalking! Scaled up, cut out and with the judicious application of an illuminated red nose and we will have Rudolph.

Tomorrow I shall go armed with my drawing, soft leaded pencil and oodles of confidence and draw him up big-size.

Anyone out there any good with a jigsaw?

Friday, December 03, 2010

The trouble with snow

Apologies for this. More white stuff. Seven days into snow-bound and my world has shrunk to 'getting in' and 'getting out'. We are in a little snow-cocoon which has narrow, slidey and dodgy lines to the wider world.
The truck and snow-drifts. Make a good name for a pub perhaps......
....and the lane looking west towards the Stiperstones - Bromlow Callow is the  tiny black 'eyebrow' at the very top left of the picture.

The road is clear (ish) and with a little care it was possible today to go down the hill to Marton and thence to Bishop's Castle.

I quite like our special isolation up here - we did choose to live here so really shouldn't complain - but how ordinary it is down below.

I must remind myself to be very careful of what I wish for.........

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And it's still only November

I stood here not quite 12 months ago - in early January when we were snowed in. I photographed the same view under much the same conditions - how good it is to have another shot at it:

I like the hill's simple, elegant, bleak beauty under a tenebrous and snow laden sky. Tomorrow the quality of light will be different again. Another challenge.

The thermometer tells me it is warmer today but a brisk wind makes me think otherwise. If it's like Siberia in the shelter of the garden it is like double Siberia up on the hill where the hens live.

So glad I'm not a hen.......

Sunday, November 28, 2010

White Wales

Tonight? It's  -7 degrees under the cat-slide and falling. Not the chilliest place in the country but cold enough thank you.
Clear blue skies today - but yesterday as above. Here we look west over the Severn Valley and across to the Welsh Mountains. (Powis Castle is almost dead centre.) Perhaps it is because we see this view in monochrome so rarely that this white world is so stunning. I stop the car. I gulp. Inhale. Take it all in and take a picture or two. Jeez, it's cold on the fingers.

The roads were like glass. On Friday I had chickened out completely and turned round - disgruntling the Glam Ass who seemed to relish the idea of a downhill roller-coaster ride. Turning back for home was the better option - either that or my passenger would find himself turfed out onto the side of the road. There are only so many barked 'Keep Your Foot off the Gas! - Don't Brake!' instructions a girl can take as the car, by the sheer force of gravity alone, slithers ever downwards........WTF am I supposed to do then!

I resort to being a weak and feeble woman - albeit a sensible one with all limbs and car intact. The GA reconciles himself to being without a newspaper.

The Council gritting lorry trundled by about an hour later.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In which I confront my inner Nigella

Oh heck. The festive season looms and in its wake the prospect of entertaining and being entertained. Parties. Nights out in one's best bib and tucker; dressing up in something much smarter than the national dress of Trelystan - about which we will mention only the words, jeans, fleece and wellies.

'Smart' means a trip to the back of the wardrobe and revisiting some old favourites. Add a pretty top and my lovely pearls and all is usually well. We scrub up well round here.

Last night saw the first Christmas dinner - a gentle practice run for all those others which will certainly follow.

I sit at the dressing table, showered, dressed and perfumed, coaxing a strand of hair into place when the thought occurs that from this angle, and dressed like this - I'm wearing a low 'v'-necked cashmere sweater - there is something of the delectably generous Nigella Lawson about me. Perhaps it is the billowing embonpoint..... then I stand up and all illusions vanish. Perhaps it is something to do with her apparent statuesque height and my lack of it. Her body seems firmer somehow and I find myself wondering what erm, underpinnings she uses to keep it all in hand (so to speak).

I'll bet it's nothing like this grotesque ensemble to the left - which I've no wish to wear either. Eurgh! Some of these are even worse. Eurgh, eurgh, eurgh. Just imagine smelling of rubber for a start......

Anyway I breathe in and go out, hoping for the best. A good meal was eaten and afterwards I resolve that should I be offered 'seconds' over the next few weeks I shall conjure up the 'wonderful reducing corset' as a deterrent and politely decline. It might work.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In which I risk boring my dear readers.....

Yes, we are still here - although arguably difficult to find this week - low cloud has shrouded the Long Mountain. We have been swathed in grey swirling dampness, shut in, remote and insular. Our world tightens to our field of vision. All sounds are muffled, dulled - but really all our senses are heightened; we taste this weather on our tongues, smell mud and muck and sniff; kick late autumn's dank leaves and 'burn' fingers on the freezing cold of gate or bucket.

At some point in the week there was a great moving of cattle - bringing them down off the fields and in for the winter.  Although only 6 or 7 are visible here, trust me there were many more. Now we only have sheep.

A precious stone?
The Glam Ass, mooching through the dingle, climbs the fence and wanders up the stream. He finds a stone unlike any other stone hereabouts. It is lying in the bed of the stream. It is a thing of beauty. Brought home and caressed it sits in the hand as if were tailor-made. It could chip and hammer. We both so want it to be a neolithic tool.

We will dream on.

From the hen-houses on wheels:

One egg today. One. Better than none I suppose.

I've just counted up - and to my surprise there are 27 potential layers. That many. Crikey! How did that happen? (Thank you SBS for bringing me another 3 refugees!)

Of that 27, nine are point-of-lay which to my mind partly explains the low egg count. Of the others, well some are moulting having laid well this spring/summer and the remainder? Probably just unproductive slackers.

Eeek! Have just remembered - am collecting 2 young Blue Marans tomorrow to add to the flock. That will make 29 pot. layers then....Best not to tell the GA - he sees expensive food going in one end and nothing edible coming out of the other and questions are asked about the sense in keeping old birds that don't lay. I know, I know, quite agree etc but I'm a soft touch and prepared to give them a good retirement.

The night they broke the bank at Monte Carlo Marton
Marton's Village Hall's most recent fund raiser was a Casino Night - for which we received most generous sponsorship from local businesses. One of those sponsors, the son of a local feed merchant, (that's Will Barnes of Inspector Gadjo Trio, son of Nigel Barnes of Powys Leys...) gave his latest CD - which at the end of the evening I bid for and won. (Try the link.) Sat and listened last evening as we sat in front of the wood burner with our 2 snoring dogs - a bit incongruous; the sort of jazz best suited to smoke filled rooms. Felt fairly chilled anyway. Metaphorically speaking.

Nest Saturday there is a craft fair. Never a dull moment eh?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What's for supper?

The nights draw in and the weather is damp and raw. Wild winds have blown the last leaves off the trees and the landscape is curiously light and spacious. I'm sure the novelty will soon wear off. We come in from the garden rubbing our hands to restore the circulation, sniffling in the welcoming warmth of the kitchen. Comfort food is called for - a warm nourishing rib-sticking stew is on the menu tonight.

The Glam Ass was dispatched to find the main ingredient - not an easy task as most people locally must have had the same idea -  and with only one per animal supply was outstripping demand. No, no, no. Not a bull's pizzle - an oxtail.

Here the hunter (with the help of his own assistant, Chester) shows off his prize, which he tracked down in the chiller of Welshpool butcher's 'Rikki Lloyd'. He came out of the shop carrying something which could have been mistaken for a gift-wrapped shalalee.

What a curious thing it is when seen like this and not swinging at the rear end of a cow or packed neatly in a plastic tray - or even arranged artfully with potatoes and greens.

That's more like it - dusted with flour and ready to be cooked very gently with some flavoursome stock, vegetables, herbs and a glug of wine. Plenty of time to time to sit by the fire and read the newspaper while it cooks and the light falls outside. Hours in fact.
Something like 3 hours later it's ready to be scoffed - by which time of course we were so hungry that all thoughts of photographing the artfully arranged end result was forgotten. Readers, we ate it.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Games, candles, not worth the, etc.

I spy kitchen chaos. I spy the Glam Ass making ver juice. What?

Green nasty sour stuff that's what. Its very name has a medieval ring to it.

In days gone by and places far away it was probably juice from unripe grapes but in Trelystan in the first week of November 2010 it's derived from crab apples from our neighbour's tree. In days gone by it was probably valued for its acidic and astringent qualities - but is now (apparently) having a bit of revival in modern kitchens. I blame celebrity chefs.

The GA has got out the amazingly-complicated-juicing-machine (I counted at least 6 demountable parts - none of which will go into the dishwasher....) and is thrashing a basket full of apples into submission. The resultant jus, strained through muslin, is foul. Absolutely foul. The work of the Devil.
Give me a squirt of lemon juice any day.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What, when...but where?

We know 'what' - and as it's November 4th we'll take the 'when' for granted.

Yes, it's time for the Chirbury and Marton annual Bonfire Night bonfire again. Under cover of darkness last night an aggressive advertising campaign started on our lanes:

But 'where' is the question.

One would think with all these big 'arrers' it would be pretty obvious but I've neither stumbled across it or had to give way to a stream of tractors and trailers laden with brushwood, old timber and general farmyard detritus. A possible explanation is that it's not yet been built.

Still, there's just over 24 hours to go - plenty of time to put something the size of a 3 storey building together......

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Normal. For Trelystan.

You get up.

You think - 'Today I will do a, b and c'. Tra la.

I skip downstairs to start the day and discover something nasty on the floor of the utility room. Neither dog admits responsibility. I clear it up.

Off I go to let the hens out and find something even nastier seeping from the septic tank. I watch a, b and c disappear over the horizon. I let the Glam Ass eat his toast before breaking the news.

I would have thought, all things considered, that this was a good excuse to Get a Man In. But no. In no time at all my own man has donned his  boiler suit, wellies and rubber gloves. The poorly hand is under at least 2 layers of protective clothing and he's off before my squeak of 'Watch that hand' reaches his ears. The inspection covers come off - slowly because screwdrivering is now quite difficult - and the problem can be assessed.

Adrian who has been helping us do some gardening while we have been a hand short comes over to look as well. What is it about a hole in the ground that arouses so much interest - even one as horrid as this?

I'm not going to go into detail here but Adrian volunteers to dig the tank out; grabbing the spade and getting stuck in without any cajouling or offers of vast sums of money. We watch in amazement. Bless him, bless him, bless him. The man is a saint. Or stupid.

I am dispatched to buy bags of pea gravel to bed down the leveled up chamber (technical stuff this - impressed?) It turns out that in a former life Adrian was a ground worker so what he doen't know about installing things like this isn't worth knowing.

The Glam Ass of course can't resist helping, injured hand or not - and this probably isn't a good idea. When I return The Hand is quite swollen from the exertion - but he's a happy man. Doing stuff again. Normal nearly.

Progress of a sort I think.

PS - He's just made an Ikea bookcase - no stopping him now!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Me and my shadow...

He's doing alright is my Glam.Ass. That busted hand is healing well - another appointment with the consultant tomorrow and the wired-up finger will get 'unwired' next week. We make haste slowly - festina lente - which for a busy man is a difficult thing.  The Shed and its myriad machines lie idle; wood is unsawn, screws unturned. Newspapers and small print are read in great detail, Google is scoured and the eBay and Amazon habits have gone into overdrive. Chester, the hunting dog and creature of habit especially when it comes to sleeping, is roused from his bed at more regular intervals to be taken down the dingle where there is much contemplative staring into the distance and mutterings of 'I'm bored' on the part of his master.

I have only to announce that I'm going for a paper and I suddenly have a companion on my outing so desperate is he for a change of scene. It seems that going somewhere - anywhere, even Welshpool - is quite an interesting proposition. (I suspect it will be a few weeks until the GA is driving again so I am the driver for the time being.) I've learned that we shop differently - I really don't like the day to day stuff. I'll buy in bulk for a week, a fortnight, a month, a year - anything to avoid the local Morrisons perhaps. I'm tempted to subscribe to the Times online too. The GA on the other hand prefers to buy daily, a bit here and a bit there. If he were on Mastermind his specialist subject could be Morrisons he's there so often. Me? I hate the bloody place.

But, needs must and we have to do some shopping on Saturday.  I'm shopping with tomorrow, next week, the week after, next month, Christmas, next year in mind - my mind both a price comparison website and stock-control sheet. The Glam Ass is dutifully at my side - my shadow. He occasionally darts off returning with something completely off-list, but never mind. It's a good opportunity to get some serious household shopping done and the trolley soon fills up.

'Why have you got white chocolate?' he asks. White chocolate is to his mind an invention of the Devil - he prefers something bitterly dark himself.

'BECAUSE! JUST BECAUSE FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE. WHY NOT? I WANT IT.' I reply in somewhat unnecessarily snappy tones - now fed up with the scrutiny every item in the trolley is getting. Stop asking stooopid questions. Just let me shop and get out of this supermarket hell. Grrrr.

White chocolate?

It's because I'm going to make vanilla and fresh berry mini cheesecakes. They are truly scrumptious and delectable - the tang of the fruit being the perfect foil to the rich sweetness of the chocolate-cream cheese mix. They must be tiny - in the recipe below they are baked in cupcake cases - I used little ramekins.
For 12 cheesecakes beat 500g of light cream cheese with 100g of caster sugar and gradually whisk in 3 large beaten eggs. The recipe above now adds vanilla seeds - I'm a cheapskate and use a drop of vanilla essence. In a small saucepan bring 175g double cream to the boil, bring off the heat and add 200g chopped white chocolate - let it melt thoroughly and give it a good stir. Mix the chocolate mixture and the cheese mixture together.

In the ramekins or paper cases scatter a few berries - I used raspberries and blueberries. Pour the cheesecake mix over the berries and bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes (130 degrees c.) They are cooked when set but soft in the middle - they should still be white. Cool and chill. Garnish with more berries and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

Try not to eat too many at a sitting. They are the sort of things which make shadows more substantial.....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sceptical? moi?

Got a txt. Txt said:

'RKologists at chrch l'king 4 prince trelystan. RU interested?'

When I'd deciphered the message, the answer was a definite 'yes'. My loyal readers should know by now that I'm always on the q.v. for lumps and bumps in the landscape and that my boots kick every mole hill I come across in the hope of finding something turned up from below ground. Anything. Gold preferably - but I'd settle for iron, bronze,  flint tools, nails, ring pulls, potsherds, I've done to date are remnants of clay pipes. Sigh. Could be worse I suppose - could be the scrumpled foil from fag packets.

Anyway, off I scarpered to our little church which stands alone on the edge of Badnage Wood. St Mary's occupies an ancient site - thus much is known and documented; the recorded history of the church goes back to the 11th century but the first use of the site is thought to be even earlier.  Some medieval timber remains but the whole has been largely 'restored' by well meaning Victorian folk. This link to CPAT gives a good over view of what is has been established to date. Somewhere in this place is thought to be the burial place of Elystan Glodrydd, traditionally a founder of one the 5 royal tribes of Wales who died in one of the skirmishes which took place at this end of the Long Mountain about a thousand years ago. The name Tref Elistan - Trelystan reminds us of the connection.

Perhaps if I'd drawn breath before hopping in the car a few alarm bells might have started ringing. 'Prince Trelystan'? Archaeology, in a church on a Sunday? Hmm.

At the church our archaeologists turn out to be 3 men, sniffing and stamping their feet in the cold interior. They have dousing rods and the satisfied expression of men whose work here is done.  The resting place of Prince Trelystan has been found and the extent of his injuries which may have caused his death established. 'Have you dug him up?' I asked in innocence - because the description of the body's injuries were so graphic. But no - the invisible world which biolocation reveals tells all - death by the sword, a broken leg bone......all without the lifting of a single stone.


My eyes are fairly poppin'. The floor is of ancient slate slabs (we had similar in our hovel) but those slabs differ in age - these dowsers can tell that some have been cut with iron tools and some with bronze - all to do with magnetic fields apparently detected by the minute - nay, invisible -  traces of the metals left along the dressed edges. 5 other interments have been found around the perimeter of the church - all dating from before the medieval building was erected. An earlier building was then on the site - it would have been timber, wattle and daub and thatched. Dust from the straw thatch falls to the ground on either side of the supporting beams leaving a negative image - a ghostly presence on the now long-hidden medieval floor. The dowser - sorry, biolocator - holds a wisp of straw and strides forth, holding an unsophisticated metal rod in either hand, along the aisle of the present-day church. At regular intervals his rods cross indicating the position of a long gone beam given away by traces of dust beneath the modern floor.

'Can I have a go? Please, please???'  I squeaked. I must try this.

Ooo-eeeer. It did it for me too as I walked tentatively, wisp of straw and bent coat hangers in hand, up the aisle. The rods crossed as I crossed the points where the experts had determined the beams to be. I didn't make them, they just swung into place. The Glam. Ass, who had come along for the ride, said my face was a picture.

We talk about things in the fields outside - and here, while I get a demonstration of the dowser's ability to detect bronze its explanation is not entirely convincing.

There is much talk of druids and henges, tunnels, processional ways and ceremony - all on the Church Field which rolls eastward down towards the place we now call which point the Glam Ass says he will walk back over the fields and collect a few mushrooms. I think it all got a bit New-Age for him. For me too as well I think.

It is an ancient place, an old landscape which has been witness to occupation and turmoil for over two millennia at least and we can only speculate about what happened here before recorded time. What was it really like? I spend much time with wild imaginings and yet when presented with some tantalizing evidence still want tangible proof.  Good old fashioned digging would suit me well.

In the meantime I'm off to rummage in the back of the wardrobe for a couple of those old fashioned metal clothes hangers which will may ideal impromptu dowsing rods. I've got 7.5 acres to criss-cross in search of something. I may be some time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where's my blogging mojo gone?

Time and events have taken over - some stories are not mine to tell; while the Glam. Ass. somewhat cavalierly waved his bandaged and un-bandaged paw at the camera and said 'Go on, photograph this then' it didn't seem quite right. Too, too intrusive.  I think it will suffice to say: 1. Don't argue with a circular saw and expect to win. 2. I am surprisingly unsqueamish and calm in a crisis and 3. He's doing very well, thank you.

The last two weeks have seen a lot of driving to and from the hospital in Shrewsbury and I suppose in the scale of things that's small beer. Today the splint was removed and with it came a tad more mobility for the GA. He is without most of a little finger but it continues to haunt him. The other fingers are mending and he is desperate to regain normal function; the stuff we take for granted - the miracle of co-ordination that is the human hand. I can hear him clettering the supper dishes (and my ear is cocked for a cack-handed crash) but it will take a while.

Enough of that and a few anodine observations instead.

The last of the summer's crops are ready to be gathered in. The little orchard has apples and pears and the are quince in abundance. I have my own harvest festival moment.
There is mince meat to be made - the kitchen fills with the scent of apples and spices. The recipe is from the sainted Delia's Christmas Collection.
The weather has been surprisingly good but on the day we visited Powis Castle the clouds descended around our ears. We walked amongst the autumn borders - still colourful with late flowering perennials. In a rather orderly orchard apples and pears hung heavily on old and closely pruned trees underplanted with low growing herbs, stachys and the ophiopogon nigrescens. It's such a neat garden; closely clipped grass, yew and topiary, borders contained by box hedging. I've visited in summer too and even when the season is at its most flamboyant there is barely a leaf out of place.
Only outside the garden can nature take hold; up in the faintly disheveled parkland that surrounds Powis, from midst the underbrush of bramble and bracken - out of the misty distance - came the roar of stags - an eerie sound which sent shivers up spines. Later in the day skeins of geese flew in, honking as they flapped across the valley where the Severn winds.

Today? The small mountain kingdom of Trelystan is washed in golden light right now, all aglow. We have yellow and red and russett. Great fluffy clouds scud across a blue sky. It looks as if there might be some warmth in the sun - don't be deceived - it's chilly out there.

Time to light the log burner and watch the flames.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The ride over the Long Mountain

Some years ago I remember talking to a work-mate about their daily commute to work - it was something like 50 minutes each way. To me who lived a mere 5 minutes distant this seemed like a trudge too far. I could dart in and out, going from office to kitchen in something like 5 minutes. No, they said, it was not a problem. Quite the reverse in fact. The journey home in particular allowed time to unwind and to let the stresses of work slip away. The division between work and home was thus clearly defined. Stuff from 'there' could be kept there, home was a retreat and a haven reached through the motoring equivalent of whatever submariners have to pass through to get from in to out. I understand now....

An 'air-lock'. That's my ride home...a quick left turn off the main road, a bit of a climb through Westbury, Vennington and Vron Gate and onto the ribbon of road which follows the spine of the Long Mountain. It may or may not be a Roman road but I'll be bound that some Roman road building engineers took the measure of it en route from Forden Gaer to Wroxeter. They may though have settled on the less wild, low-lying land at the foot of the mountain's eastern slope and got their feet wet into the bargain. 

It's an old, old place up here - older than Roman, it's height and panoramic views give it strategic clout and the one or two known burial mounds make it a place of some spiritual importance too. The Celts retreated to the west and it would be many years before the Normans claimed the valleys to the east. Perhaps the Long Mountain was a place for grazers, outsiders, waifs and strays, and those who could find safety in its dingles and clefts.  I surmise.  I am one of a long line of souls to be found wandering up here. There will be others after me.

These last few days, boxed every which way into confusion by my poor Glam Ass's injury, have led me to seek out the solitude of this high place. A slow drive along the narrow road - this morning with fog around my shoulders, landscape joyously and luminously aglow with the brilliance of the rising sun - has done much to clear my head.  Stop to breathe the air. Go fast, go slow. Some days the landscape stretches forever and some days, like today, it is limited to a protective cocoon. There are sheep and the same old faces, trees and men twisted by the seasons - blown into shape by prevailing winds and fortune. There is familiarity and there are small changes. I note what I can. Feel calmer.

I will drive along there tomorrow too, unwinding as the road unwinds before me. A great ride home.

PS I would take photographs but you would only see a grey road, bent trees and grazing sheep. Maybe I shall do that one day and try and make it seem preferable to the lower, slicker route where some prat behind me is always intent on driving too close for comfort....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The trouble with biscuits.

Imagine for a moment you are a biscuit manufacturer and you have a biscuit brand to sell. It is a biscuit aimed at the family market; a precursor of the chocolate finger perhaps. How would you describe them?

Let's try words like 'Choctastic!' 'Bite size biscuit covered in real milk chocolate', 'Yummy' and 'crunchy-scrumptious!'. Let's use images redolent of rich choco-creaminess......

Compare and contrast with the line that Crawfords came up with - CHOCOLATE TABLE biscuits - which turn out to be 'cigarette shaped biscuits covered with fine milk chocolate'. How sensibly descriptive is that?

Turn the tin round for more information:
'A Safe and Pleasant Confection for Children and Grown-ups'

Doesn't it sound rather like medicine?.......and 'Safe'? Safe? Safe biscuits?

What a peculiar bit of copy. What are the qualities of an unsafe biscuit? What kind of fool biscuit manufacturer would try to flog an unsafe biscuit to the unsuspecting public and thrive? Were there really people out there so suspicious that without those comforting words those cigarette shaped treats would be left on the shelf?

More questions than answers as usual and will file this tin in the 'Lost World' section of the study along with the book from my previous post.

PS My subsequent and minimal research (all 2 mins of it) indicates that biscuits can indeed be unsafe but still begs the question would we buy and eat them if in doing so we exposed ourselves to the dangers lurking in the biscuit tin? Don't dunk folks. Give custard creams a wide berth and remember Jaffa Cakes are deemed safest of all.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A lost world

Back in the day the Corporation tip was a mountain of shite in the middle of a muddy field. You tentatively reversed your car up through the mud, opened the boot and threw out the bags of wallpaper strippings, brickbats and plaster dust. A crowd of hopeful no-hopers hung about waiting to pounce on whatever was being flung out. Could the DIY detritus from 40 H.M. Road it be stripped down to something of monetary value?

It was a little bit alarming to be descended on quite so enthusiastically. My father who had spend 3 years in the RAF in Algeria (we think dispatching cargoes of this and cargoes of that - another story here I think) spent enough time observing the local population to describe our opportunists as 'sand Arabs'. He must have had his reasons.

These days of course, tips have become 'Recycling Centres' - visions of bespoke and labelled skips standing on pristine concrete overseen by a hi-viz jacketed workforce who invariably have made themselves a cosy den in a bijou Portakabin. 'Elf 'n' safety reigns.

We toss our 'recycling' and minimal refuse in the appropriate places and push on. Where's the fun in that? But here in Potter's yard - Welshpool's state of the art recycling centre - there is always the lure of the bits and pieces put to one side for 'sand Arabs' like me to pick over. We not talking treasures here - mostly it's discarded car boot tat - la crême de la dross - but sometimes - just sometimes - a little gem turns up.

Look - I've found 'The Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers Directory (for Lancashire and adjoining Districts.) Pocket Edition. 1920'.  A fab find indeed. Musty, dog-eared, the size of a large prayer book - documentary evidence of a lost world.  I notice I have found it almost 90 years to the day from when its owner - A B Goss inscribed his purchase with a bold and florid hand.

Did I say 'lost world'? Well, the days when cotton was king in Lancashire are long gone - the textiles' trades have moved to the far east where labour is cheap. We just do thinking and drinking in those cotton towns these days.

My little book is, as it says on the cover, a Directory. There are entries for nearly 3,000 manufacturers. District by district mills are listed; listed by process and by product - it's a world of specialists; spinners, bleachers, fullers and finishers, cloth clippers, cloth raisers, dyers, finishers and sizers - pause for breath - doublers, flax, jute and hemp spinners, plush manufacturers, wool and worsted spinners, calico printers, sizers and slashers....what? What is a sizer and slasher? Raiser, stretcher and beetle finisher? Beetle finisher?

The Park Mill Spinning company in Bolton lists: '102,882 spindles, 20/110 twist (so far so good - I understand that bit), pin cop and doubling weft, bastard and full twist size, combed and carded mule, flyer-throstle and ring twist, ball and cheese warps, beams, bundles, comes and tube barrels...' I couldn't make that up.

The products are pretty esoteric too - such  wonderful variety of woven materials, the names of which roll off the tongue; lenos, lappets and repps, jaconettes, alforgas, dobbies, jeanettes, dorias, sateens,  royal ribs, poplins, pongees and gaberdines. Grandrills and pyjama cloths.....I want to recite this strange poetry, savour the half familiar terms...alhambra quilts.....swansdown....moleskin. Nankeen. Such a rich lexicon. Does anyone in the textile trade wherever it may now be, still use these terms?

Raw goods in from overseas, up the Ship Canal, from America and Egypt and out again to home and empire. 'Cotton Goods for the West African markets!' Not only did we rule the world - we clothed it, curtained its windows, sheeted its beds, clothed its tables and made linings for its overcoat pockets. My vivid imagination supplies a sound track of mill town noises - the thunder of looms and the clatter of clogs on cobbles - played out under smoky and tenebrous skies.

All gone now of course. The air is clean. Mills demolished and chimneys toppled and with them a way of life almost as remote and mysterious as that of the dinosaurs. My little book is perhaps the equivalent of fossilised remains.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Pretty good the night, innit?

Crystal clear and chilly. Moon like an orange segment. Owl making tentative hoots from an awfully close old tree. The longer we look the more the sky seems to fill with stars. Suddenly it's silly with them.

Have some of those lonesome thoughts about the vast foreverness of our universe. Feel small, and as usual, very vulnerable about my shoulders.

Have a little shudder. Come in. Shut door.

Will go to bed, feel safe, and with the duvet wrapped tight watch the moon rise through an open window - and please, please, please let there be the music of owls as I drift towards sleep..

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rabbit in Mustard Sauce masterclass

Another recipe from the Trelystan cookbook -following a little too quickly on the heels of Crab Apple Jelly perhaps. Don't worry, this isn't turning into a foodie blog - its more that the opportunity presented itself. Here in the small mountain kingdom we are having a fortnight of Not Buying Food/Eating Stuff from the Freezer. An icy parcel of meat turned out to be a rabbit when defrosted....

Oop north, on one of Stockport's mean streets lives DLB who's expressed a wish to cook rabbit in mustard sauce - presumably as his mother makes it. DLB - this one's for you.

First up, acquire your rabbit. No, no, no - not from that hutch in the neighbour's garden or 'pets at home. Try a decent butcher's or fishmonger's - Evans in Didsbury, the one on the Brow in Stockport or the fish market in the Arndale in Manchester. I've seen them for sale still in the fur in Ludlow - it's that sort of foodie place - but I'm not sure if rabbit skinning photographs would attract the right sort of reader. I suppose a rabbit will feed 3 hungry people - cook two and there will be some to heat up tomorrow....

Joint your rabbit. 2 x back legs, 2 x front legs. 1 bit in the middle - the saddle. Kidneys and heart are OK too. In an ovenproof casserole (I'm using the ancient and ancestral Le Creuset) sweat a chopped onion in a generous chunk of butter,  25 - 50gms. Mix a teaspoonful of English mustard with the best part of a jar of Dijon mustard. Dust your rabbit portions with seasoned flour. Pour two glasses of white wine.
Add the floured rabbit to the pan with the onions and brown gently.
Add the mustard mixture and a glass of wine - I'm adding about a tumbler full here. I'm drinking the other glass myself. It's a reasonable Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
Mix well. Add a bundle of herbs - parsley and thyme are good.
And put the lid on....
Leave to cook gently, barely bubbling for about 1¼ hours. I kept ours on the hob but you could put it in the oven at 170 degrees. Keep your eye on it - sometimes it sticks on the bottom and we don't want a sticky bottom do we? When it's about cooked add some double cream - about a wine glassful (70 - 100cl). If you like your sauce thicker take some of your seasoned flour - not much, about a dessert spoonful and mix with some of the cream to make a thin-ish paste. (Add cream to flour not the other way round). Stir this into the hot rabbit and keep stirring in with the rest of the cream to make a smooth sauce. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Garnish with chopped parsley. Good with boiled potatoes, rice or crusty bread, green salad or a green veg.

Best of luck DLB.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More food for free

Last Sunday we parked the truck in Tuffins car park and I pointed out the crab apple tree a couple of spaces away to the Glam.Ass. Absolutely laden. What gorgeous autumnal bounty.

I was back there yesterday - buying some of the drink for the Grand Opening of Marton's new Village Hall. There must have been some pretty wild weather between my two visits because the crab apples which were on the tree were now mostly on the ground.

What's a gal to do? Well, find a carrier bag that's what and start picking them up. I felt a bit conspicuous at first - grubbing around in the margins of the car park - but my inner exhibitionist took over I and thought 'what the heck - these are credit crunched times and this is food for free. I'm damned if the squirrels are getting it.'

I returned home with 8lbs of fruit, a bit of grit and gravel and a few old leaves - nothing that a quick wash and a good rolling boil wasn't going to sort out. Into the pan with just enough water to cover the fruit and a slow simmer until the apples 'fell'. Knackered, gnarly, nobbly fruits but ah! Such promise. Their fragrance fills the room.

Then it's time to call for assistance - ladler extrodinaire the Glam. Ass. transfers mushy fruit from pan to jelly bag to drip overnight.  Do note how I insist my assistant wears a colour co-ordinated costume. (Oh look! In the picture below the Glam.Ass's pork pie has crept into the picture. What a poser it is!)
Add sugar - a bit too much but we'll gloss over my error - a short boil because these little fruits are high in pectin and are just desperate to set, skim and we have jelly. 14-and-a-bit jars of jewel-like crab apple jelly. Well done me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Michaelmas Fair

We arrived in time for the vehicle parade which kicks off the weekend's festivities. First up the tractors; the weird and wonderful, the remembered from one's childhood and the straight off the farm jobs (muck included).
This is Bishop's Castle, Shropshire staging its annual Michaelmas Fair - an event I would like to think has its roots in antiquity. The feast of Michaelmas has always been an important one, a day of Obligation, a quarter day when rents and accounts were due and a day marking the changing seasons with harvest over and darker days looming ahead. Traditionally goose was eaten at Michaelmas - lore has it to ensure wealth and prosperity in the year year ahead. Today though we grab a burger from a roadside stall. Good outdoor food, which when tucked into a soft bap and accompanied with sweet fried onions and lashings of sauce certainly fills a gap.

We watch the tractors and then vintage cars, tracing the progression from 'just like a stage coach' to 60s minis, Beetles and Campervans.

With the last motorbike -  ridden nostalgically by a helmetless rider - there is a hiatus. The crowd is waiting for more. In the expectant hush a lone woman's voice from up the street cries 'They're coming!' We lean out into the road as one to see that Yes! indeed they are.

The steam engines, those mighty, mighty puffing, panting, roaring machines are in procession. They are coming. They are coming and the excitement is tangible. Dogs and small children are restrained and sometimes comforted in the face of these smoke belching leviathans. No Brasso has been spared - they are polished to perfection; such handsome beasts.

Then just to prove that size isn't everything the parade ends with smaller machines:
All the engines make their way back to the 'Steam Yard' where they park up for the afternoon.
Here there seems to be much beer and tinkering and buffing with oily rags. This little girl though would probably rather be somewhere else. Bless:
My eye is caught by the tractor badges and I spend a happy half hour clicking away at the graphics:

(Apologies in advance for the irritating cartoon critters - the perfectly lovely Slide which I have used for 2 or 3 years has found it neccesary to embed stupidness. Why Slide? Why?*) Click the little cross to get rid. Now.

There was a lot more to the Fair of course than old vehicles  - live music and dance, exhibitions, food from local producers and crafts by local makers. Our £5.00 entry fee will let us in on both Saturday and Sunday - and I bet we would still not have seen everything. However by late afternoon on Friday we needed to get home to let our dogs out - the urgency of this underlined by the Glam Ass not taking up the offer of a ride on a steam engine!

Put it in your diaries for next September folks.

*PS I did ask the Slide people the 'Why?' question and was surprised to get a reply. Apparently the noxious cartoon is what pays for making Slide's photo posting a free service. Pah!