Monday, March 29, 2010

Ironing memorial

Back in the day, when we were young and the world was fresh and green, there was a house with a mountain of ironing.

'Oh, what to do?' I wailed, because I lived in that house. It was house where the men folk believed that such chores were womens' work and I was stupid enough to believe them. It was my problem and I must find a solution or become as a limp rag.

It came to pass, having offered up a votive card in the Post Office Window, that we were blessed with an 'ironing lady'. Her name was June.
There are not many such as June born into this world - this one was a treasure of the first water. Oh, June you were blessed amongst women. I do not mean that lightly.

She came to my house for perhaps 10 or 12 years in total, starting with housework and by degrees refining her workload to getting to the bottom of the mountain of ironing. Shirts on hangers - always perfect, Alan's trousers pressed 'just how he liked them'. That was important. Perfect, June.

She flirted with the Glam.Ass. My young men, then boys, loved her - made her tea and provided Kit-Kats. She and I talked - and in the time we talked I guess I could have done my own ironing. We shared our triumphs, woes and worries....Her troubles were mine and mine were hers. Secrets were safe. She knew if I'd done something soooooo studid that I hardly dare admit it, she knew where our wills were and where the car keys and jewellery were stashed when we went on holiday. Just in case.

Without an ironing board between us though we would probably never have exchanged a word. How much I would have missed.

Hands up now, how many of us think that housework - cleaning, ironing - is some sort of demeaning task? Utter waste of time and energy? Hmm - I thought so. Me too. I did. To June it was her job which she did well and was proud of the difference she made. When I find myself taking shortcuts and flicking dust about willy-nilly I imagine myself under June's ever-so-slightly reproachful gaze because it doesn't really take that much effort to do the job properly does it?

You've guessed of course......she is no more. Her son emailed a couple of days ago to say she had died in February - he was letting people know. He'd nursed her through a short illness which turned out to be a debilitating brain tumour. (That's no job for a lad to do is it?) There had been no card this Christmas - a bit of a clue in retrospect - odd, but we've been away for over 6 years now and lives do move on. My friend is gone and I am sad that she won't now enjoy the leisure time she was looking forward too so much - and so deserved.

June: eternal optimist, Meatloaf's biggest fan, ever in search of Mr Right and a house without stairs; the next creased basket of washing, which I shall attack tomorrow morning, is dedicated to you. I shall leave no crease unpressed. RIP. xx

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bird in the fire...

Scurry and scuttle. Tap, tap, tap.

What on earth is that? I do hope the blasted mice haven't got into this room too....
 'It' turns out to be a starling in the stove. It's come down the woodburner's narrow flue, clearing the elbow, to land in the ashes and now sits looking out through the glass window. Its dagger-beak gives a futile peck now and then; 'let me out, let me out' it taps in birdish Morse code.

(Bird lovers will be pleased to note that fortunately it has been a week since this fire was last lit so our prisoner didn't add 'burnt' to its problems.)

We had anticipated something of a dusty adventure when we opened the door to let it out - with wood ash flying everywhere. In the end our sheets and sack were unnecessary; the bird flew quickly to the windows in its desperation to get outdoors. I scooped it up sharpish and held it firmly.

I think we tend to dismiss starlings as rather uninteresting dull birds - but, up close, how wonderful they are. Sharp of beak and beady eyed, fantastic iridescent plumage - just look at the colours and how they catch the light:

It was a feisty and spirited thing too; squawking and pecking as I carried it to the door and freedom. Its little heart pounded - why was I surprised to find its body so warm and rounded?

I opened my hand and it was away - no looking back of course. Skyward like a missile, up into the trees - to have a quiet few minutes thinking about its ordeal no doubt.

I remembered afterwards that I should have read it the riot act about Not Eating My Hen Food Or Else. There's an opportunity wasted then....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Three cheers for me! I've managed to hit the Wednesday deadline for 'What's on your Workbench Wednesday'. Better hurry to get this written up - Thursday approaches.

The eggs in the incubator to my right are now in their 11th day; 13 Maran eggs and one 'mongrel' to make up the numbers to a lucky 14. I candled them last evening - Maran eggs are notoriously difficult because the shells are such a dark brown, but I think I saw a dark patch which would indicate they are fertile and developing. The little machine continues to buzz and hum, tilting this way and then that so the eggs are partially turned. A little motorised pump periodically pumps a squirt of water into a sponge to keep the humidity at 45%. All very clever stuff - to think a mere hen can do the same thing without having read the instruction book - and for free.
Behind me, on the drawing board, I've started knocking out a couple of drawings for a large country garden. I offered my design services at a charity auction, confident that I'd get an easy-peasy small suburban space. Hah! No way. I've a big flat area, dominated by an enormous indoor school but otherwise featureless. (Perhaps a blank canvas is a good thing.) Ideas are taking shape - we're going for big and bold and creating some private areas where my 'clients' can get away from the busy equestrian business they run 200 yards from the back door. At present the site is an unprepossessing sea of mud with the odd brickbat island so I feel anything I propose and actually becomes a reality will be an improvement.

I like doing the drawings very much. In fact I'm very fond of gardening on paper - no weeds, slugs or bugs and everything is always just so - that sometimes I think I might prefer it to the slog and grind of actual gardening. A world where climbers always climb to exactly 3m, shrubs fill the spaces allotted, colour schemes are harmonious and there is year-round interest - effortlessly.  I use paper and old-fashioned drawing pens (remember the Rotring?) and have never tried to find a computer programme to do it for me. For someone who adopts an relaxed laissez-faire attitude to most things in life I'm remarkably precise with my scale rule, set square and pen.

Tucked out of sight but also on the workbench is some paperwork from that bĂȘte noir  in my life - the WI. It's a recruitment drive. It takes the form of an invitation I've devised. We're inviting potential mugs hopefuls to a cookery demonstration.  Basically is says 'Come along. Join us. Or Else.' No, it doesn't really but perhaps a more direct approach would actually increase our numbers. The sad fact is if we don't increase our membership then a) we fold, or b) the President and I have to President and Secretary forever. FOREVER -for heaven's sake - that's a long time. We need new blood, new ideas and an injection of oomph! Are you free on the first Wednesday of the month? Come and join us. Drink tea. Eat cake. Interesting speakers.......

Finally on the edge of my picture, most enticingly is Monty Don's 'The Ivington Diaries'. Here's a man who perhaps relishes getting down and dirty with a spade in the garden and then writes so eloquently about it. No fiddling about on bits of A2 paper with a scratchy pen for him. It's my book of the moment and I'm going to lift it off the workbench and go and read it. Now.

(If you manage to wade through the bits and pieces here hop over to Julia's blog and see what the real craftspeople get up to.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lambing Live

Across the way, in the big shed over at Fir House, lambing is in full swing - lambs are popping out all over. About half the flock have lambed so far - only about 700 more to go.

As the weather was so beautiful, Sam and I decided we would walk rather than drive to go and see Trelystan's own version of 'Lambing Live'*. We strode out with the sun warm on our backs down the lane which leads from Lower House to the farm at Fir House. We trod daintily at first through inches of mud - regretting we had not taken the easy option of a ride in the car. Soon though we left the damp dingle and climbing up higher, found the track firm underfoot. Pausing for breathe gave us the chance to take in the view. Behind us, and in the centre of my photograph is 'home', at the heart of the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. How different things look when viewed from another angle, a fresh perspective is always refreshing. We're looking in a south-westerly direction here. To my left the land falls away to meet the Rea Valley's gently undulating pasture and arable land before rising again to Stapely Common, Corndon, the Stiperstones, Long Mynd and lands beyond (where there may indeed 'be dragons' - the hic sunt dracones beloved of old map-makers).

It's certainly busy at Fir house; pregnant ewes mill around by the dozen; ewes with newborns are penned tightly together in family units, fresh straw is being scattered and water troughs replenished. Each ewe has been given, alongside her ration of sheep nuts, a beet to gnaw on. This looks like a real treat - I'm reminded in no small way of how, not so long ago, nursing mothers were given a bottle of stout on the maternity ward to 'build their strength'.

It is ever so slightly frantic in this shed - the ewes due to lamb are constantly on the move (and noisy too) though this may be to do with the imminent arrival of food. But what's going on over in the corner? And there? And over there too? Looks like heavy breathing and Things Happening at the Business End. I think if we hang around long enough we may witness the miracle of birth.
A couple of ewes have gone quietly to the edge of the pen and, ignoring the rest of the flock, are about to produce lambs. From the marks painted on their fleeces we know that shortly a set of triplets and some twins will soon enter the world. Indeed, after what seems like a long wait on our part, the first of the triplets is born - here it is above in the first minutes of life. It's steaming wet, coughing and spluttering and determined to stand. Its siblings are a bit mixed up inside the ewe and it needs the shepherd's intervention to untangle and line them up for delivery. Soon they too are lying, wet and sticky beside their mother. Three big healthy lambs. Well done that sheep.

We see the twins born too, slippery little things welcomed to the world by their mother with a sniff and a thorough licking. Pretty soon they'll be penned up and given a squirt of this and a spray of that to guard against infections. Within minutes they'll be standing and in search of milk - that precious first colostrum without which they never seem to thrive.
Sam and I move on past more ewes and lambs, these are ready to leave the shelter of the shed and go out into the world; firstly to a small field and then, when fit and strong in a couple of weeks to rejoin the larger flock. Lastly we come to the 'caid' (or should that be 'cayed'?) lambs - a pen of about 50 waifs and strays. That seems a lot but given the numbers involved overall probably isn't a bad percentage. Here we have the lambs whose mothers have died, the triplet which couldn't be 'adopted' and others which for whatever reason need rearing by hand. Normally this is a a time-consuming task, preparing and giving bottles several times a day to all these hungry souls but this year these lambs have an automatic feeder - which takes milk powder and mixes it with heated water and dispenses it via a teat-ended tube to the lambs which can feed on demand. I'm told it is a great success.

Then it's out into the sunshine again - with thanks to the Thomas family for putting up with us and our stream of questions. We've had a great morning; seeing those new lives begin was the icing on the cake. For me, no matter how many times one sees it, the wonder does not diminish.

*Perhaps I'm going slightly batty in my old age but I enjoyed this BBC programme more than anything I've seen for ages. Sheep in strawy sheds, sheep giving birth, the miracle of life (see above), rare breeds and lots of information about life in a rural community and erm....more about sheep. Perfect - provided one likes sheep of course. Felt quite bereft when the schedule reverted back to the same old-same old University Challenge and Masterchef. Sigh.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On the vernal equiniox

It's the first day of spring, the vernal equinox which marks the point when night and day are of equal length. I'm less concerned with the scientific explanation and more with containing the thrill I feel in the earth's stirring after such a bitter winter. Long days, warm soil, new growth, fresh green again.

Monty Don (praise him) writes in his Ivington Diaries of March 21st:
'Today is the best day of the year. There is no other calendar day that is such a cast-iron, sure-fire cert to raise the spirits. Christmas and birthdays pale into anticlimatic insignificance. It doesn't matter what the weather is like or what actually happens, the gift of an extra hour's ligth at the end of the day is a prize beyound price. todya stands like a see-saw in the calendar, balanced exactly on the fulcrum of night and day, and then tomorrow gently tips towards the light, spilling the days down into sunshine.'

Absolutely. I know we've a way to go yet - especially up here in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan where it is acknowledged that it is generally an overcoat colder than in the valleys below. But there is a subtle change; the air smells different - to me it smells green. Is this possible?

So while we're waiting let's get our tongues around Gerard Manley Hopkins' most excellent poem.

 Spring - Gerard Manley Hopkins
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

A bit of this, that and the other.

Bliss. A day to myself - I'm home alone. Apart from a few worried bleats from the neighbouring sheep who haven't yet got to grips with motherhood it's very quiet here. No workman-like noises; banging and sawing and cursing, no cups of tea or sandwiches to be made. The Glam Ass has gone fishing, bobbing about in a little boat on Llyn Clywedog hoping to catch our supper - that's why. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't be without him, but sometimes, just sometimes, it's nice to have time alone to take stock and catch up with one's own thoughts.

That was the plan anyway; to have a bit of self indulgent me-time. Time alone seems too precious to waste on mundane tasks. However, leaving them undone means we would be knee deep in dust and laundry - so chores gobbled up a huge chunk of the day as did some shopping. I fiddled about, I gazed at birds in the garden, I dodged the rain, kept up with Facebook.... Suddenly it's 5.30 and the Glam Ass is home in full-on hunter-gatherer mode. He tells me has caught 4 trout, of which he is justifiably proud. What a slippery bowlful they look too.

 (If you've made the effort to count them there does appear to be five....hmm curious. )

But what have I got to show for myself? Oh dear. not a lot.

The incubator on the desk has 14 eggs in it. These are 13 Marans' and 1 'other'. I'll candle them in a few days time to see if they are fertile and developing - that is if I can see through the dark shells of the Maran eggs. If the cockerel has been doing his job and the eggs are fertile, hatch day will be Easter Saturday. I am excited already.
On the other side of the room is a drawing board on which I have a garden design in progress. I should really have finished it today because the prospect of it hanging on for much longer is not appealing. I offered my services in a charity auction - hoping and expecting to get a small suburban garden. No such luck - this is vast. And flat. And dominated by an enormous wooden indoor riding school. I am thinking big, bold and confidently.
And the best news - which I am saving until last? A phone call from the bank to let me know that the money I had so foolishly left in the 'hole in the wall' earlier in the week had been retracted by the cash dispenser and would be credited to my account asap. Hurrah! Drinks are on me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Duh! Show and tell....

I skip down the grand-ish staircase at Welshpool Town Hall and onto Broad Street: I am probably at least .5 kilo lighter than when I trudged up about an hour ago. I've had a little lie down too. My joie de vivre came at a price however - a needle in the arm and the drawing of blood; my 42nd donation apparently. No problem, this is something I would urge everyone to do if they can - that's give blood of course - not skip on Welshpool's main thoroughfare. No, not that.

It's a sunny day and all is well with the world. I need cash and a large layout pad. Cash is easy as the 'hole in the wall' is across the road. Card in, tap, tap. Bob's y'r uncle, etc. The layout pad, predictably, is not available locally and it is only when I open my purse to pay for some fibre pots at the till of Coed-y-Dynas, which not only has a garden centre/deli/outdoor and art and crafts department (but no layout pads), that I realise OMG!! OMG!!!!! My purse is empty. I jump up and down I ferret around in every nook of my bag. I try every pocket in coat, jeans and shirt. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Diddley squat.  The cash is not there. It looks as if I've pressed all the buttons, retrieved my card and walked away without the dosh. Oh woe. I rush wailing to the bank, praying for a parking space.

It seems the transaction has gone through. It's possible that the machine retracted the money when I didn't take it. Did you know that machines could do that? I don't think there was anyone behind me who might have made the most of my stupidity and trousered my cash, and hope that a passer-by didn't do likewise. I now have to wait until Friday when the bank does its sums and if they can't account for a surplus of £100 then all will be well. Back home my Glam Ass says it is something he has Often Nearly Done. Some consolation I suppose.

So, I've given blood and been a fool - and as the sticker says 'be nice to me' - but if you can spare a little extra niceness in view of my stupidity that would be much appreciated.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What's on my workbench....Thursday?

I know, I know - all you crafty critters out there are wanting to put me right: 'It's not What's on your workbench Thursday you twit - it's What's on your Workbench Wednesday'.  It alliterates see.'


Now for all of you who are blissfully unaware of 'WOYWW', the short explanation is that skilled crafting bloggers take a snap, describe and publish what they're doing on, erm Wednesday. Hop over to wipso at a Stitch in Time and she'll fill you in and shorten your trousers while you're waiting.

Anyway, it's Thursday here and what's on my workbench? Nothing terribly crafty I'm afraid. This is the R-com Suro incubator that I am trying to get to grips with before loading with eggs. This is a test drive of sorts. The instructions are translated from the Korean and are only slightly better than pidgin english, consequently there is much room for misunderstanding - hence the trial period. I went to the website to see if the instructions were clearer there. Unfortunately not, its frantic layout was like a bustling oriental market place with images of delighted girls kissing chicks and iguanas and type faces of every size shape and colour. Too, too much. I resorted to pressing buttons and eventually activated the digital display to my liking - meaning the temperature and humidity are now constant and hopefully correct. It hums constantly and buzzes occasionally when the water pump kicks in to boost the humidity. I think we're about ready to roll...I'll collect another 4 eggs before loading up and then the fun will begin...

Sunday, March 07, 2010

In spring sunshine

It seems as if, on this most perfect day, that winter's weight which I had not realised had laid so heavily on my shoulders - has suddenly lifted. I feel such excitement, such exhilaration, such a stirring from somewhere deep in the middle of me.

I do not go far but my spirits soar with every mile I travel. Around every turn, over every dip the landscape opens up clear and bright. How magnificent these border lands are today. OK,  it's cold and frost still lies under hedges where the sun has not yet reached but under these blue skies I can't imagine a better place to be.
I drive through our sun-kissed landscape; above me buzzards circle and courting ravens execute complicated aerial dances (it must be love). The car radio plays 'Desert Island Discs'. Our castaway chooses Bach - a Brandenburg Concerto - thrilling, soaring, exuberant music to suit my mood. Great stuff. Listening to this I could drive forever.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

In search of gold

Yesterday's thin sunshine found me up in the field, head down, kicking at molehills with the toe of my boot. Why? Looking for gold of course - inspired by the 'Staffordshire Hoard' Exhibition at the Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent. I imagine a large percentage of the 45,000 others who have also visited it have their heads down too hoping to spot buried treasure - not in our field of course (that would be silly).
We got up at dawn to catch an early train from Shrewsbury to Stoke - hoping to arrive early enough to be at the front of the queue. The dawn was exquisite - the moon sank in the west as a rosy sun rose in the east. Early enough though? Ha! No such luck - we joined the back of the queue, way, way, back and hoped for the best. As the museum's doors opened we moved forwards quite quickly and the rumour spread back down the line that once inside the queue snaked up and around the building for as far, if not further, again. Sigh. Indeed after half an hour we reach the front door and a sign letting us know that we should be prepared to wait for 2 hours + to reach the exhibition. Sigh again. I remind myself that queuing has been proven to enhance whatever experience is so keenly awaited.

At the door we receive the first of 3 hand stamps - quite what the purpose of stamps 2 and 3 were I don't know. They're a good topic of conversation and we discuss celtic knots and fugitive 'inks'.
It was a very friendly queue; we exchanged banter with our neighbours and chattered amongst ourselves. Pretty soon we were queuing in the Museum's galleries and have plenty of time to get to grips with the ceramics industry in great detail - and I would really like to go back and take a proper look. The time passed quite quickly. Really...

Then with the final stamp we were in the exhibition itself and only slightly disappointed to find that of the more than 1500 items unearthed only about 80 are on view. Those objects are miniscule too - the banners and photographs which illustrate the exhibition have led us believe that we would be seeing huge golden artifacts, big treasure.  However, there is very little larger than a matchbox; much is crumpled and incomplete. Most of the exhibits are still encrusted with soil and are as they were when a metal detecting enthusiast found them in July 2009. There is speculation that because the Hoard contains no 'feminine' or domestic items - many of the items adorned weapons and armour - it may be spoils of war. The workmanship is extremely fine - the 7th century gold and silversmiths must have been very skilled craftsmen indeed.

Soil or no soil, the glister of gold is unmistakable, it's brightness undimmed by 1300 years underground. One piece was discovered on the surface, turned up by the plough. Imagine stumbling across that by chance - and chance it would be - like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Which is why I've been looking - as I'm sure there's treasure in these hills somewhere. I've not much to show for it though. The molehills have given up 3 pieces of clay pipe stem so far:
I deduce they are from three different pipes so with luck there is still more to find. Perhaps I would do better putting new batteries in the metal detector.

Monday, March 01, 2010


'Curtain up, light the lights
We got nothing to hit but the heights....'

This is my lighting desk. No. No. No! This is not my lighting desk. This is the lighting desk which I found myself in charge of for the recent Young Farmers' production. Lighting desk and I had only got to know each other 2 days previously. We are strangers, still in the exploratory stage of our relationship. I slide my fingers over Lighting Desk's box-fresh controls and Lighting Desk responds with spots, washes and filters. I am hesitant and confused - left is right and right is left. Thank goodness Lighting Desk doesn't want me to play with its computer programme too. I'm a straightforward sort of gal - I don't do kinky - can just about manage the switch for the 'big light' in our sitting room....

I had an artist's palette of lights to play with here; such potential. That I really didn't know how to work it plus the pressure of a production at very short notice added to my angst. I'm quite touched that somebody thought it within my capabilities but on reflection now realise that I have become by default the person that 'does the lights'.  I've been up the scary high ladder and adjusted the lights. I know which slider relates to which spot. I can plug things in and wind wires up with un-natural confidence. I have the DVD of the computer programme...In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. Oh dear.

.....note to self: always go to meetings where tasks are allocated.