Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another miscellany

Where to start?
There's nothing like a good 'to-do' list - not so much the list per se but that sense of achievement as each item receives its BIG tick when completed. My trouble is, as each job gets ticked off another is attached limpet-like onto the bottom. Didn't Sisyphus have a similar problem - only with rocks rather than the paltry minutiae of life?

So where to start indeed - with the major achievement by Wednesday morning of a desk clear of invitations and posters perhaps. This hiatus left me free to enjoy the company of a visiting friend and the chance for some catching up, gossip and girly shopping. We took ourselves to Ludlow on a day, weatherwise, that August should have been ashamed of. Rain was persistent and any views of our beautiful Shropshire hills were masked by a shroud of thick grey cloud. On the plus side and egged on by my style adviser I bought a dress for my holidays and was severely tempted by another.

On Thursday evening, suitably booted and suited, we went to the Young Farmers Charity Concert in the Big Top at Woodmoor. On Saturday night the 'tent' was to be used for the County Chairman's Ball and as usual the YFC made use of the venue to raise funds for various charities: the Meningitis Trust, The County Air Ambulance and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute - all three being close to the home club's heart.  The theme was 'loosely' Musicals and eleven clubs treated us to their own, mostly agricultural, versions of some familiar themes. I truly hope that before too long somebody puts Alberbury YFC's 'Billy Idiot' onto YouTube - I've checked and it's not there yet. The stars of the show? Chirbury and Marton of course with their raunchy reverse strip tease:
Phoar! Well done them

On Saturday we rather unexpectedly went flying. It's a long story but I 'won' the flight in an auction and have waited a year to arrange something with the pilot. Out of the blue he phoned at the end of the week and suggested Saturday morning. 'Yes please' I gabbled over the phone and was like a small child anticipating a birthday at the prospect. I've been before. I know what I'm in for, but could never tire of the vista that unfolds beneath me.

How wonderful this world is - it's that anyway - but at 1,000 feet the patchwork of fields in their late summer hues of gold and green and brown, the forests, moors and mountains of mid-Wales are utterly breathtaking. We spy winding ribbons of rivers and streams - we follow the Tanant in its lush green valley to its confluence with the Severn. We soar over mountains which are like molehills from our little plane. Vast empty tracts of upland are home only to sheep.

We headed for the coast but at Cader Idris the weather was so filthy that it was wiser not to go any further. No matter, we turned back eastwards to the border where Wales meets England - seeing familiar territory from a very different angle.

This is the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan:

Our home is slightly to the left of centre. The Long Mountain is in the foreground and falls away to the Severn valley. The Welsh mountains are in the distance beyond. Badnage Wood is the block of dark conifers slightly to the right of centre. It's worth a click to enlarge the picture to see just how magic here is. (Is that grammatical? Am I bovvered?)

Last night we didn't go to the Ball but went for drinks beforehand. The Big Top was ready for action. 1500 tickets sold and another couple of hundred guest expected to turn up at the door. Good job it was a big Big Top - that's a lot of people rocking and rolling in a field.  Never ones to do anything by halves the YFs had installed dodgems and a Bucking Bronco thingey too. Hope they had a great time.

And today? The sun shone eventually. Spirits soared and instead of mowing the grass we went off down the lane and picked blackberries; food for free. Right now they are bubbling gently on the hob. I'll strain them overnight and tomorrow make jelly.

There we are then; two things to put on a list for tomorrow. Make jelly. Mow the lawn.

PS. Make that 3 - somebody has just phoned wanting some invitations.....

Monday, August 23, 2010


Hmm, the eyechild can claim windows on Oxford Street - these ones for Gap earlier in the summer and some there now with 'a return to school theme'.  Pretty good, yes?

Here in the shires his father and I have also done a bit of 'window dressing'  - designing this archway in a field for the YFC's County Chairman's Ball which will be held this weekend in a Big Top. I suspect it's a bit of a traffic hazard as people keep slowing down to look, causing much braking by following cars. Fortunately we're too far away to hear the 'crump-crash-bang' of metal on metal and subsequent slanging match.

Apologies for the quality of the photograph - I'll have a word with the Glam Ass who hasn't reached the chapter on focussing in the camera manual yet. Sigh.

And clowns. Aren't they truly gross?

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Crikey. It makes you want to spit or, as a Yorkshire friend once said bitterly: 'it makes you want to write bum ont' wall.'

What's rattled her cage I hear you mutter?

Bloody computers that's what. No, not computers per se - software.

My lovely wireless mouse (aka Mrs Cinnamon after a childhood pet - don't ask it's not that interesting) has been ailing and failing for a while. I undid her belly and tried a quick fix with sellotape but nope, that didn't do the trick. New and juicy batteries were supplied regularly but to no avail. Her little red light had lost its sparkle and it was time to put her into retirement in the big box of computer spares. Sob.

But let's see it as an opportunity and not a threat. We'll invest in a 'Magic Mouse'. Gulp. Apple know how to charge don't they? I order it from the Apple Store online and only afterwards have a thought. Hmm....I wonder if my operating system will support it. The short answer is 'no'.  A quick call to a real and silver-tongued Irishman at the Apple Store tells me the solution is either to up grade my operating system or choose another mouse. I choose to upgrade. Well, we'd all still be sitting round in caves, grunting and mutually grooming if we never explored the dangerous and unknown future would we not? My lovely Irish salesman was keen to let me know that he would not pressure me in any way - and I believe that - his sales were not commission based. It was my damned choice and an upgrade it was.

The software was soon uploaded and I became the proud owner of Mac OS X 10.5.6. How bright and shiny my new operating system seems! The Magic Mouse, delivered in the same post and deliciously stylish and sleek, fails to be any more magic than my dear Mrs Cinnamon. Where is the promised scrolling and effortless shifting between pages? The mighty magnifying and reducing thingies - where are they? Humph. Blow this for a game of soldiers.....I rootle around various help desk and eventually discover that another upgrade is needed - to 10.5.8 - this time available for free.

Ah yes, at last the wonders of the Magic Mouse are revealed and late into the night I scroll up and down and across. I do 2 finger stroking up and two finger stroking down. I press 'control' and slide my finger down MM's silken back.....the image on my screen is enlarged horrifically.....I slide it in the other direction to make it small again. Then I go to bed.

Some time around 4.00am - that deep dark time when sleep can be elusive and thoughts loom large and oppressive I wondered,  'What else isn't going to work?........'

As it turned out, most things. On the plus side my screen was incredibly bright and optimistic looking. (Just as well because I have spent much of the day looking at it and engaging in fault diagnosing 'chat' with my new friends at Quark.) I do mean all day too; add that to yesterday's marathon upgrading and mouse work session and I have spent nearly 10 hours investigating the innards of my Mac. Validation codes, activation codes, serial numbers....I can't save...I can't print....I can print but only with a Quark demo template on every page. So it goes on, to say nothing of the printer which subsequently refused to speak to the computer and had to be teased and cajoled into some sort of relationship. We won't talk about the screen equivalent of post-it notes - 'Stickies' - wherein I jotted and noted all those passwords and codes and membership numbers.....gone...gone...gone. I expect there will be something else but I don't want to know about it right now.

How I wish these things came with some kind of warning along the lines of reinstall your printer software, be prepared to archive this and that, be afraid, do not expect anything to go to plan. But why shouldn't it? Why should all this be cloaked in mystery? Why can't I just put the stuff in and get workable stuff out? It's only a tool for heaven's sake.

Sob. Sigh. Sorry. Rant over.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The difference between boys and girls.

I've just come back from blackberrying along the lane with our neighbours' son, aged 9.

While I dutifully picked - and anticipated pies and crumble with each berry that dropped into my bowl - my young helper soon lost interest.

He picked rose hips and elderberries which became missiles to lob at everything in sight. I cowered under a hail of small berries and innocent cows dozing in the sunshine were pelted with under-ripe hips. He described the possibility of stripping the leaves off a particularly vicious thorned briar and using it as a weapon. The very thought sent a shiver up my spine. He scrambled over gates, shouted at sheep and grubbed around in the hedge bottom occasionally emitting war-like yelps.

An excellent example of 'man the warrior' I think in contrast to my nurturing, berry gathering passivity.

PS He is really a very nice lad.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The way we were


An interesting day out yesterday with Harry and Sam. We went to Acton Scott - which describes itself as 'an historic working farm'. You may remember it as the farm where the BBC's Victorian Farm series was filmed. It's the kind of place I like to visit; history and things to learn, farming and small furry creatures to coo over.

The weather was kind to us and we were treated to a day of sunshine which made traipsing round the various yards, barns, sties and hovels kinder on our rather un-Victorian footwear. Me? I was wearing some dainty French Sole ballerinas.

I'm not sure quite what led up to the opening of Acton Scott as a living museum but I suspect that while on other farms, post war, agriculture galloped along with farmers embracing new techniques in the race to increase yields and productivity, this estate remained firmly set in the past. It's glory days were definitely in the 19th century when I guess it was amongst those forerunners of new methods in mechanisation and husbandry.  It was a bit of a brainwave on somebodies part to recognise that this time capsule was worth preserving - if only to remind us of the way things were.

I sort of remember places like this from my childhood; places where there was a stinking midden (we called it a muck 'eap) in the middle of the yard and a privy a few paces from the scullery door. Cold water, a slop sink, privations. Naming no names, and naming no places I've been there. It's worth noting but not worth revisiting for more than an afternoon. It was never as pretty as this either...there was always an evil chained dog and various rangy cats...

Look at this cool whitewashed dairy and it picturesque paraphernalia. Our childhood milk can was like the one on the left - our childhoods' a daily pattern of taking it down the hill to the dairy, leaving it on the slab and later, after some prompting or nagging picking it up, full, to bring it home again.

Little pigs - Tamworths - were curious and cute:

...and for these suckling pigs this is porcine heaven - mum looks blissed out too. Bless.
Finally a gratuitous pizza picture. We fired up the pizza oven and cooked up a feast. Don't you love the one in the shape of a heart? We did.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Oh, what a beautiful morning. Much bodes well - the back doesn't ache, a crossword is completed all but three clues and the weather looks perfect for picking whinberries.
I brief the Glam.Ass; he is to go to Woodmoor in my stead to scale and draw out pictures of a performing seal and a jolly clown for the Young Farmers to paint. That is another story.

My fellow berry picker and I meet up at the village hall and drive on to the Bog Centre - and yes, there really are places in Shropshire called 'The Bog'. The Bog Visitor Centre, housed in an old school house is now something of an oasis in a wilderness, providing tea and buns, toilets, local knowledge and a little history in an area which is a magnet for walkers and holidaymakers alike. If you feel the need for a jar of SBS's pickles, more than likely you will find that too.

We'd foisted one of our books on them - and blow me, contrary to their expectations it had sold and blow me again, they wanted another. Today was a good opportunity to deliver it. We actually took two - nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Time for a coffee too before we get out on the hill picking berries. The Bog has a number of items of local history on display - this was after all one of the centres of Shropshire's lead mining industry 100 years ago. We flick through bits of this and that, scan photographs, make mental notes...I pick up a file which holds copies of pages of a 'Day Book' -  it looks like a simple ledger of jobs taken on, for whom and prices charged. It's a bit selective - I gather that the pages copied are only those which relate to the Bog area. No matter, it's something to look at.  The original document was obviously beautifully written in a neat copperplate hand. That hand records mainly maintenance jobs; some building, joinery, groundworks and quite a lot of coffin making. Then a man worked days to earn a pittance I noted.

I flip through idly and a name catches my eye. Cross. And then I spy Marston - yet another family name. Then Cross again and again and again. And Swain. More pertinently S.Cross snr. and later Harriet Cross; that's great grandfather and great grandmother. Crosses in 1909 are builders and joiners (though I suspect they'll turn their hands to any trade) and it seems they are employed by the writer of this Day Book. They even worked on the building we are sitting in now.

It looks too as if Sam Cross, back in his native hills after a sojourn in Birmingham, builds himself a house - and that house may have had 2 storeys (there is a flight of stairs on his bill). I have a photograph taken in the early '20s of what I believe to be his house - a single storied thatched hovel - so I must now re-think that in light of what I've read today.

John Cross and Edward Marston (brother and step-brother I believe) bury their wives in oak coffins, embellished with brass and ormolu, six months apart. They are billed for shrouds too - costing 3/- and 5/6d respectively. Was one wife larger than the other perhaps - thus accounting for the extra half-crown cost. 
I have found gold. This is treasure. Yes, I knew these people lived and worked hereabouts but I had all but given up hope of finding anything more than cold statistical references. This is putting flesh on bones. They are here. I have found them. A shivery sensation creeps up my spine - I feel surrounded by ghosts.

One of the final entries is to 'the representatives of the late Harriet Cross'. It is the bill for her coffin and shroud; a coffin of oak with electro-brass furniture and a 'best' shroud. She died on the 15th January and the bill was settled on the 28th. It was for £6. 10/-.  She is my great-grandmother - a stern looking woman in my only photograph  - and I now know more about her death than I do about her life.

(I doubt if most people will want a closer look - but if you do, a click should enlarge the pictures.)

We did eventually get whinberry picking - a short stroll up onto the heathered slopes of Black Rhadeley found an abundance of berries - easy picking today -  and more than enough for a pie.
I'm looking forward to a slice already.

Friday, August 06, 2010

A church in a field

Up on the field last evening at hen-shutting-in time I stood awhile in the gloaming. How sad to report that the nights do seem to be drawing in a little. As 9.30 approached there was still a little light left in the western sky though. The evening was still, damp and cool. Sheep, newly weaned lambs I think, which earlier that evening were flocked in a nearby field, bleating and bawling fit to burst moved out and grazed peacefully. How quiet it was.

My eye traveled across the fields to the little church of St Mary the Virgin which stands at the end of a grassed lane, sheltered by the conifers which bound Trelystan dingle. It's partly hidden by a number of ancient yews, huge beasts now, which grow to the south and west of the building. Through their dark foliage patches of the white painted building were visible. A low bell tower - or is it a steeple? - rose above the trees. In this scattered parish with no apparent centre we are not quite its nearest neighbour. It is a rare and precious small place. Old too. Very old.

Earlier in the day Doreen and I had been delving in the Archives. There's always something to find out isn't there? And one thing leads to another. I don't quite know at present what we are hoping to find out.  I think we are looking for the known unknowns*.  We adopt something of a scattergun approach - diving into whatever is available and hoping to hit 'pay dirt' - in my case that's the Churchwarden's Accounts from 1750 - 1851. It is exactly what it says it is: the accounts of the church kept by the churchwardens. There are no startling revelations, rather the prosaic and mundane records of maintenance and administration. Stone and slate, lats (sic) and lime for repairs are in perpetual motion. The nettles in the churchyard need cutting and surplices need washing. The stable (did we know there was a stable?) must be thatched. If there are horses then needs must provide - there is a 'horseblock' to maintain. We learn there was a gallery because fabric for curtains was bought. There is no gallery now, I wonder just where it was? 

Where there is property there are boundaries which must be 'railed', gates which must be mended - as must doors and locks and keys. Somebody paid the glazier. Coal to heat the building was bought and hauled - the haulage could cost more than the price of the load.

We should not forget the purpose of this building - worship. There are prayer books to be bought and bindings repaired. Psalms must be sung - and the Psalm Singers paid.  There are Prayers to be bought for the 'Fast'.  Our Churchwardens must be 'initiated', the Apparitor visited and paid for his services - doing so entailing a significant journey in days of poor roads and unsophisticated transport. From here to Church Stretton today, in the Audi, I would allow myself perhaps 40 minutes. 250 years ago, how long? Who knows?

It was not an ostentatious place - and neither is it now - I suspect the Churchwardens' concerns are still the same too; keeping the fabric of the building in good repair with insufficient funds, always with one eye cocked for the higher authority of the 'big church' down the road.

Anything surprising? Yes indeed, one thing and delightfully so.  A 'Dog Keeper' received payment on at least two occasions. A Dog Keeper? Hmm. Why was it necessary to keep a dog for a church in a field?  I don't expect we'll ever know the answer to that - so that will be an 'unknown known' perhaps.

As an aside - and because I feel the need for a little illustration I'll add that the Churchwardens' Accounts for nearby Chirbury record a payments of 6d  for keeping 'dogges out of church'.  Dogs in, dogs out. What a world eh?

*In the words of Donald Rumsfeld: 'There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.'  Quite.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Good Listen

When,  a few years ago I started out on some renovation projects my first purchase - after the skip hire but before the wallpaper scraper - was a radio. It followed me round one flat and two houses becoming progressively more speckled with dabs of plaster and paint - an essential bit of kit. Woe betide anyone who turned the dial from Radio 4..... 

I'd switch it on as I walked through the door and turn it off when I left. In between times I'd listen - and listen with the greatest pleasure to plays and stories. A virgin wall,  a can of paint and a brush in the silence of an empty house, hanging onto a ladder with one hand but onto every word with my ears. Not going home until the story had ended, dragging out those brushfulls' of paint. Bliss.  How I love to be read to.

I can't remember if I was read to as a child. Perhaps I was, that is surely something my father would have done. Miss Charles would read to us at school - I've a vague memory of Pilgrim's Progress - though suspect it was a special 'primary school edition' - it's hard to imagine it being the reading matter of choice for a coutry school in 1950s Warwickshire.. A play on the car radio can be a blessing to while away the miles. Who hasn't sat, late for a meeting, listening to the last few moments of some drama or other?

A short while ago the Glam Ass bought me an iTouch. Perfect. From the moment I fired it up and slid my finger across its seductive screen I was hooked - this sleek little gadget could be the repository of my secret world. What's there not to like? It stores pictures, notes, apps, music, movies and accesses the t'interweb. Download and store books too. Not just books to read - although that is possible - but books to listen to. What a good idea.

I now subscribe to audible, where for £7.99 per month I get a 'credit' which gets me a book. So far it's been fine and value for money. I download my book, sync the iTouch, put in the 'phones and listen away. There are other, free sources out there in the vastness of the www which I have not as yet explored. I have a feeling though that, if not audio books, then books for a 'reader' are the way that things are heading. Did I hear somewhere that Amazon's download sales for its 'Kindle' outsold traditional book sales recently?

Anyway - my book of the moment is Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help'. Nearly two-thirds of the way through now and I am hooked. Three voices for the three main characters narrate their stories. I am in the white/black world of Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s - not a good place for everyone - and I hear every word of a good and thought provoking story. This is gripping storytelling too - I am tempted nightly to listen just a little bit longer - I really care about what will happen next. (I do so hope Miss Hilly eventually gets her comeuppance....)

But what do I want to do?  I want to flip the page to see how a name is spelled, check on something quickly, perhaps even flick forwards for a taste of what's to come - and that is not so easy without a visual reference. This is my only caveat. Perhaps I shall have to buy a real copy after all - it wouldn't be the first time.