Friday, February 26, 2010

Lambs at last

Carl brought ewes and lambs over from Fir House a couple of days ago. It's good to have sheep on the field again. It may still be bitterly cold, but this, at last, is a welcome sign of spring.

The ewes gave birth under cover and spent a couple of nights penned closely with their lambs. Now they continue the bonding process in our small fields where they don't get separated as they might in a larger flock. The mums are fiercely protective, crisply alert to any strange sight or sound that might signal a threat. It's an instinctive urge common to all mothers is it not?

I do wish the sun would come out for them - new lambs seem such scraps of things to leave out in all weathers. They've not yet filled out their skins and some still have birth-crumpled ears. Bless.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Because we've all had enough of...

...the white sh*te stuff I thought I'd have a rummage through the albums and see if there were any cheery sunny images.

Hmm. The trouble with living in this sort of climate is that were one to rely on sunny days the album would be very thin indeed. That narrowed the selection process down considerably. (I've got lots of us all looking huddled, soaked and stiff-upper lipped under glowering skies.)  Next exclude the pictures of those folks who might not wish to find themselves winged for all eternity into cyberspace. Ditto buildings, vehicles, flora, fauna and assorted dogs, cats and hens and well - the choice is meagre. I'm also a little concerned that some of the pictures after only a quarter of a century in a seldom opened album are looking very washed out. While they are not ground-breaking photographs they are a personal record and I for one value them - perhaps our lads will, one day, too.

So what do I have to brighten the hour? Ah yes - the boy in a bucket:

Paxos certainly. Probably 1987. Why he got the hump I can't remember, but it was so bad he had to put an olive oil can on his head. I've just enlarged and enlarged and enlarged the picture to see if I can recognise the fruit on the tree behind - and no I can't. How lovely though to have my little boy so big again I could almost hug him. Happy days.

Next up: New Year 1987. Can't go to the tropics? Then bring the tropics to a cocktail party near you. Here the Glam.Ass. is having a good time. Out of shot he is also wearing shorts. We did know how to have fun and get momentous hangovers....Somebody out there will remember the occasion. The borrowed palm tree was made for a primary school production of Joseph - and somebody else might remember making it. Again, happy days.
Fortunately children are no longer dressed like this - or perhaps if they are a little more attention has been paid to the styling and cut. Here I am getting a taste of poultry keeping in 1955 at Moreton Hall - at what was then the Warwickshire Institute of Agriculture - in a field known as The Park. I appear to have elven ears but blowing up the photos reveals the tails of two hens which must be pecking at some interesting spot some distance behind. (A photographic faux pas similar to the tree apparently growing out of the subjects head.) Hardly a sunny idyll but I've no reason to suspect that these were anything but...happy days.

Come summer and a sunny day the garden of our old house would invariably look like this. This must have been a fantastic summer because the grass of the lawn is brown and parched; the weather warm enough for a boy or two to sleep out at night. Bicycles and a 'soap-box jallopy', tent, climbing frame, rope, ramps and general detritus - the stuff of active lads. There is a pen with hens too which housed 3 or 4 birds which had been hatched out at school. I see our garden growing too - it's relatively young here. I could step into this picture with ease and even after all these years find every inch familiar to all the senses. For all its ordinariness I find it most affecting, it being so close and yet no longer within my grasp. Gone forever.  I'm not sentimental or nostalgic; wouldn't go back to the suburbs in a hurry - but the thought of no return to these golden afternoons tears a hole in my heart. What appears to be a picture of a scruffy back garden is for me the sunniest of images.

Ah well. Slam the album shut. Here and now is good and the crazy conflicting weather systems which are jostling for position over the UK will eventually sort themselves out. Spring will come and the swallows soar once again over the dingle.....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just when one thinks it's all over....

The BBC weather forecaster who announced just before 1.00pm that,  'No, it wasn't snowing in Wales' should have walked over to the window and checked. I did and this is what I saw:
Yep, great big white fluffy flakes tumbling like goosedown from a leaden sky. My desktop weather widget shows lots of minus figures and more sleet and snow over the next few days. Yesterday's optimistic post about the awakening world looks a bit silly now doesn't it? Sigh.

Here are yesterday's snowdrops - literally under the weather this afternoon.
Still it's an ill wind etc...I went out and froze my fingers photographing trees and branches which could be converted digitally to quite interesting almost abstract shapes:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More February thoughts

5 o'clock and the sun is still shining - the hill over at Fir House catches the last of the light and tonight the fields are bathed in gold. I watch dainty pink clouds puff and flow on the horizon until they fade greyly into dusk.

Now, an hour later the light is all but gone though it's not yet truly dark. The sky is clear; a couple of stars are bright and a crescent moon lies on her back in the western sky. It will be cold tonight. Any romance to be found in this crystal clear evening is slightly diminished by the alarm cries of roosting pheasants and the pungent aroma of the cattle in the shed across the way. But still, it's pretty good, this February evening.

In her excellent blog 'Welsh Hills Again' Elizabethm nominates her 3 favourite things about the month of February - I agree with her about them all. Poor February does seem to get a bad press though - another cold dark month when we've had enough of winter. It's never welcomed as the herald of a new year like January or as a portal to spring like March. No, February is the guest who has outstayed their welcome. Clear 'orf. Be on your way. We've had enough.

I've a soft spot for this month though - for a start it is my birthday month. February welcomed me into the world and there were posies of snowdrops to welcome my mother and her newborn home.

A few years later, at school and learning to spell I loved spelling 'February' - loved those 2 'rs' which differentiated it from January - and even now I still, to myself, spell it out: Feb-ru-a-r-y.

It's a month for detail; look carefully and the world is stirring - buds, bulbs and catkins. Bird song too - how noisy they are this month, flocking and fluttering through those skeletal branches. (The Glam. Ass, as predicted, has made his annual pronouncement about birds getting more colourful prior to pairing up.)

The sleet forecast for today never really arrived - there were a couple of flurries of something cold and white before the sun came out. Time to do some tidying up outdoors. The G.A. distributed the last of the well-rotted manure and tidied his log pile. I pruned the Cornus (alba 'Sibirica', flaviramea and alba 'Kesselringii) which planted in blocks have provided welcome colour throughout autumn and winter. I know it's the time of year to cut them back but it seemed such a shame to lose their vibrant red, green and black stems that have been about the only shots of colour in the garden for the last few months. I've sown some seeds and they sit on a heated bench in the greenhouse - moisture and warmth will work their magic and draw them into life.

This is all for the future though isn't it? I've pruned for next year's colour and sown this summer's crops today. Tomorrow if the weather is kind enough I'll take some time to appreciate 'now' - look into the virginial heart of a snowdrop, search for the tiny red female flowers of the Hazel and listen to the mew of the buzzards as they circle in the thermals above Badnage Wood. The pulse quickens.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My romantic morning...

It being St Valentine's Day and all that, there I was hoping for a candlelit meal, some chocolates, or maybe wine and roses. A card would be nice too. The nation has gone into sappy overdrive and there is a premium on anything red - but up here in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan it's the same old, same old. Sigh.

After 35 years when romantic gestures have been kept to a minimum I doubt if the Glam.Ass. is going to change now, so his invitation to stroll round 'Tuffin's Mega Car Boot Sale' was about as good as it was going to get.   The sun was shining on the few stalwarts who had laid out their wares - a mixture of pure tat and serendipitous treasure. Better make the most of it then.

Plenty of toys  - love this colourful gridlock.


 .....and pots and pans. Ideal for cooking the plain, robust and dreary scoff I found in this little recipe book. The Veritas-Perfection & Quick Meal Oil Cooker might have been the microwave of its day (though I suspect not). Here we have some inspiring ideas that 'madam' could expect her 'cook' to bring to table. Oh dear....rarely have so many unimaginative recipes been committed to paper. The recipe for Scotch Broth, calling as it does for '1 sheep's head' is particularly unappealing; do click for a gorge-rising moment. (Surely any recipe which begins 'Remove all slimy parts and nostrils from the head...' makes one consider vegetarianism?)
All the weights in this little book are expressed in cups - an American measure. It was a British built product though so perhaps those handy cups were just part of the 'quick' cooking process - let's do away with those pesky, time-consuming pounds and ounces and scoop to our heart's content.

My eye is caught by a recipe for muffins - I've made blueberry muffins this very afternoon using a recipe from the sainted Delia's 'Summer Collection.' I am in the mood to compare - and contrast. Well - it's not that dissimilar; butter, sugar, flour, milk and egg are roughly the same in quantity. And an egg's an egg, non? But baking powder? The sainted Delia decrees a level ¼ teaspoonful while the Veritas-Perfection cook will spoon in an oven-roof-lifting 4 whole tsps of the stuff. Dynamite.

Finally - how about this insouciant hunk? Tuffin's Car Boot seems to have cornered the market in Action Men - most of them are stripped bare and naked and lie twisted in boxes labelled 'everything 50p'. This guy's loud and proud.Wasn't there somebody in Wham that looked a bit like that?

Don't think I have the energy to ask him to be my Valentine. How sad is that?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

YFC Drama. The last minute stuff.

I got into the car at 11.52. Behind me Maureen was switching off the lights and turning the key in the lock. 11.52pm for heaven's sake. 11.52.

The last hour had been spent sitting in the only drafty corner of our new Village Hall going over the script; making last minute refinements and lists. So many lists; lists and more lists of things to do and things to be remembered. The huge main hall was silent at last; the Young Farmers had drifted home a bit earlier - their commitment to the drama competition only stretching as far as their individual involvement. The broad view of the production as a whole seems to have fallen heavily on the shoulders of Maureen, who once again, is The Producer. (Heather and I are her loyal supporters.) This production needs organisation to run like clockwork as well as energy and enthusiasm. The YFs have plenty of the latter but do veer towards the chaotic. I guess it's part of the learning curve...

Thus it was that at an hour when the good folk of Marton were turning in for the night we, chilled and yawning, made plans which should have been formulated weeks ago, writing everything down - our brains did not feel terribly reliable as the clock climbed towards midnight. So much to do and so little time but at last we are done now and can lock up and leave.

Eurgh. Tired. So, so tired.

Outside the air is crisp and the sky clear - black and pricked with stars. Across the way I can hear Eddie's cattle in the shed, a stumble, a shove and a bump as they lumber in the darkness. Behind me a lone ewe bleats for a lamb she has mislaid. Then silence.

Out of the village I take the narrow lane up Marton Mountain, winding between high banks and hedges, avoiding the muddy ruts and potholes. This lane must always have looked this way - the Ag.Lab trudging home on a winter's eve and the school children skipping to and from the little village school must have seen what I see - or something very similar. I like this sense of continuity, of sharing a common experience - a link with the past - and keep my eyes peeled for the ghosts of those who have previously made shapes in this landscape.

I see nothing and no one of course. I am alone. The barn owl is not in its tree. Lights are off at the Mill. No badger, startled by the car, is scuttling in the headlights' beam. Nothing. De nada, diddly squat. All alone on the top of a low mountain, under the stars.

Home. The prospect of a warm bed is a fine thing. An owl hoots from the beech trees in our dingle below Badnage Wood - I rather hope it will sing-out gently all night so I can listen to its breathy cry as I drift towards sleep.

Rehearsing again tomorrow and the production itself is on Wednesday (that's now today.) There is so much still to do, so much ground still to be covered and (for heaven's sake) lines to be learned. It is the stuff of nightmare.

I sleep, hoping perchance, to dream sweet dreams.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A bit of a twitter - my miscellany

Twittering. No, no - not that sort of Twittering, not the 140 character bletherings de nos jours, but the raucous chirruping of the birdies in the sycamore trees this morning. Perhaps because we are halfway to spring - Candlemas earlier this week marked the halfway point - they felt the urge to sing. This morning the assorted song birds, tits and finches were trilling their little hearts out in the tree tops. No rain, no frost, no snow or fog, just a clear, mild day when my hen feeding can be done hatless and with coat undone. Tra-la. I feel like singing too....

Thinking of Candlemass - from an unknown date in Christian history February 2nd was adopted as the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, coincidentally taking place at the same time as a Roman pagan festival of purification. The popular name of Candlemass derives from the  practice of blessing and distributing candles which the Church of Rome dictated should take place on this day. 

Golly, that sounds dry and dreary doesn't it? I'd like to see it as light coming into the world with the lengthening of days - we've all noticed how the evenings are getting lighter little by little haven't we? This delightful little poem by Herrick talks about getting rid of winters 'garnishings' in preparation for the brighter greens of spring:
Down with the rosemary and bays, 
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise 
The greener box for show.
The holly hitherto did sway, 
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter day 
Or Easter's eve appear.
The youthful box, which now hath grace 
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin',
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes then, and sweetest bents, 
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing in turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.'
Finally on Candlemass old country wisdom tells us that:
If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter's to come and mair;
If Candlemass day be wet and foul,
The half o' winter's gave at Yule.'
If I remember rightly Tuesday was 'wet and foul' I therefore predict winter is over and done and we will have a barbecue summer. Ha! Don't all come after me with big sticks when it doesn't happen.

Things dramatic:
It's February again and the Young Farmers thoughts turn to The Drama Competition. Last year was Pantomime, the year before, Entertainment and this time it is Drama. We have a Very Serious Play which somehow they are managing to turn into farce. Bless 'em. 

It is, as usual, like herding cats trying to get all the cast in one place at one time. Some of the group are naturally talented and others, though willing have all the aptitude of a cereal packet. I reflect that a Pollocks Toy Threatre with its cardboard players which were pushed on from the (cardboard) wings was marginally more expressive. 

I have been given the job of 'lighting' - not an area in which I show much talent if I have to do more than flick a switch. From memory there is a lighting technician on hand at Whitchurch and all I need to do is nudge him on cue and he will do tricky things with spots, floods and ballasts. 
Still, 5 days to go until they are on stage. There's time yet.

The remark that dare not speak its name:
Overheard at the last meeting of our WI was a whispered conversation between two elderly deaf ladies and was so politically incorrect that I fear to post it in these self-righteous days. (Our talk was about a school in Kenya given by two local ladies who are raising money to provide the school with some of the things we take for granted - electricity, exercise books, latrines. The pupils were as bouncy and keen as pupils the world over; though their culture and colour are obvious differences - so you may get my drift.) My ears flapped.

The comment - an observation and a reply - was both accurate and witty and said without an ounce of prejudice. I'm convinced of that. It's just that one doesn't hear that sort of thing any more - except in a village hall in the shires - and it doesn't sit comfortably at all.

A Time to Sow:
My seeds have arrived and I am itching to get started - we have a frost-free greenhouse and some heated propagators so I think this afternoon onions, tomatoes and peppers will be sown. 

Finally - Any day now the Glam. Ass. will announce that the birds are looking colourful - meaning presumably that they are looking their best with a view to attracting a mate. Now I always think that they look their best after the moult - which usually takes place in the summer so they have new and efficient plumage to take them over the winter. We beg to differ. Of birds and spring though I remember my brother Robert announcing with confidence that the birds got married on St Valentine's Day. I do hope that's true.