Monday, November 28, 2011

Wot kind of fule gets excited about a boiler?

Don't answer that....

This sleek beast is our new boiler. It cost the same as our first house did in 1975. Gulp.

Over the course of the last 6 years our fuel bills have risen astronomically - each time the LPG tanker refills our gas tank we have to go and have a lie down to get over the shock of the bill. That bill for gas last year came to nearly 1/3 of the cost of that same house in 1975. Gulp indeed.

We've spent a lot of time mulling over those facts - thermostats have been turned down, log burners lit and vests tucked in in order to save burning gas. We know that the house is insulated to a high spec - (don't like to think what it would be like if it were not) - and we'd like to think that we are not too profligate energy-wise but the bills were getting a bit hard to stomach.

The Glam Ass investigated sustainable alternatives - alternatives which, if we'd had the benefit of a crystal ball, we should have installed when we built 7 years ago. Hindsight is a wonderful thing is it not?

His first proposal was a log burning 'furnace'. This was not top of my list as it looked as if it needed too much stoking and poking and daily attention - the sort of contraption that attracts the male of the species. Don't men like fires? There must be an inner stoker in every bloke. Me, I'd go for something that ran on fairy dust and could be maintained by giving it a passing thought once a year - a sort of girly thing with a cute little pink button or two to press....

I digress.

For expert advice we consulted Llani Solar, renewable heating specialists who had fitted a couple of solar panels for us a few years ago. They are obviously in business to make a living but their remit does seem to be a profound belief in renewables and in providing the best service for their customers. There was no hard sell - no pressure to buy the biggest, the shiniest or the most expensive. Instead there was advice to wait until the right boiler became available and to wait until we could take advantage of any government grants coming on stream. So we waited - with only a bit of a nudge to remind them that we were still keen and committed. Last week their recommended system arrived and with quiet efficiency was installed - the transition from money-burning to wood-burning almost seamless. Well done Llani Solar.

Our new boiler burns pelleted wood - which seems easy enough. One loads the hopper with as many as necessary and those pellets trickle through to burn as the boiler calls for them. We receive a grant of £950 for installing it and a generous annual payback under the Renewable Heat Incentive. We hope to have covered our initial outlay in approximately 4 years. Fuel, in the form of pellets is half the cost of LPG. Sounds pretty good to me.

Time will tell I suppose. We've had a particularly mild November (unlike this time last year) but I imagine cold weather will hit us sooner or later. Excuse me while I go and turn up the thermostat a notch or too. Warmth. Bliss.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In which we do Nature Watch

It's not just an inner city* street you know. This is a wild life habitat. We are on safari.
Hmm. Believe that and you will believe anything.

We are half an hour early for a funeral and lucky enough to find the only parking place in Withington. Having little else to do we scrutinise our surroundings. In fact I suspect that the residents of this multi-occupied semi probably think we are undercover cops on a stake-out. I can't think which cop duo we might be. (The Glam Ass is a bit too beardy for Cagney and Lacey and I can't imagine Holmes and Watson in a Mancunian side street...)

Sleuth-wise we are a bit obvious - the Glam Ass is quite animated and there's me with the car window down pointing my phone in lieu of a camera and squeaking 'Ooooh look! There it is - how cute!'

If you click on the picture and zoom in onto the second bin from the left you will hone in on a cute pixellated rat. It was having a great time, rambling through the bin bags, furtling about, ducking down when passers by passed and coming up for air every now and then. Hello ratty! See how its little whiskers bristle!

Just a bit to the right is a blue bin and this had a load of old chips to offer. Magpies soared in and swung out, grabbing a beakful of chips as they went. What a feast for these busy handsome opportunists.

So. Our mini-survey indicates that a few square metres of a built up area has arguably as much wildlife as acres of Welsh mountain side. Reassuring? I think so.

Having said that all the cattle which graze in a fairly free range manner in the fields around us have today been taken to their winter quarters. Except some seem to have been left behind and they are making one helluva noise on the other side of the wall to me right now. It sounds pretty wild out there.

* The residents of Withington would probably argue that it isn't 'inner city', maybe more of a suburb.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Little Digger

Here's Little Digger driven today by Adrian - driver extraordinaire and all round good guy.

Little Digger was hero of the hour yesterday in a slithery incident involving a slope, a tractor and a trailer - nothing to do with us I'm glad to say as the rescue mission took over 3 hours in pitch black and pouring rain. Little Digger dug out a bank and helped with his long and flexible arm to hold the trailer back and prevent further slipping and expensive damage. Three cheers for it - or is it him?

Today its back to work as usual - and spreading out the heap of Criggion scalpings which have lain in my path for nearly a fortnight now, making each hen keeping expedition a task of Himalayan proportions.

I'm beginning to wonder if I might have a story along the lines of Thomas the Tank Engine in the making here? A series? Film rights?

Today Trelystan, tomorrow the world.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Madonna, Child and Goldfinch

The Glam Ass wanted to learn the art of guilding. Being the man he is he wanted to Do It Properly; no short cuts, no cheap imitations....

The vehicle for his learning was icon painting which I've mentioned  previously.  For almost 4 years he has driven up to Chester on a Sunday to join a class held in the Stanley Palace. It's a time consuming process and each stage has its own skills and complications; from preparing the ground of multi-layered gesso to painting in egg tempura - an art in itself to those of us more familiar with the plasticity of oils and acrylics. Then the gold leafing itself; applying sheets of fine and precious metal so delicate that a breath can blow them away.

And this is his latest piece - which took my breath away when he unwrapped it this weekend. 'Madonna, Child and Goldfinch':

The Goldfinch in art comes with a history; the ornithologist Herbert Friedman traced no fewer than 486 devotional pictures containing the Goldfinch attributed to 254 artists, 214 of them Italian. The little bird is said to symbolise the Passion and also Redemption. A folk tradition has it that the red marking on the bird's head came from Christ's blood on the day of the Crucifixion.

Isn't it beautiful?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In which we do our bit to help the Greek economy

Shall I? Shan't I? Butternut Squash that is.

Well YES! I notice the country of origin on the label is Greece and put it in my basket straightaway. What else can I do to support the lovely people of Paxos who have made us so welcome over the years?
 What's there not to like about this nobbly vegetable - the colour of sunshine inside?
A slurp of the ancestral Maple Syrup (see previous post) and a dab of butter, seasoning to taste and into the oven alongside the roasting chicken it goes.

....Wonder how many Butternut squash I will have to buy before I am entitled to a free Greek island.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pheasants - nil,

...Chester - erm, 6

I don't think we're particularly proud of that.

I wish he'd concentrate on hunting out all the photos I've inadvertently deleted from iPhoto. Not as bad as it seems as I do tend to squirrel the good 'uns away as I go on - but even so....I'm pretty cross with myself right now. Waaaaaiilllll!!!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Well known phrases and sayings - No. 9

Make do and Mend.

These are straitened times indeed - and however much I would like a shiny new fridge I'm just going to have to have the old one repaired. Just like we always did in the olden days.

A visit from Mr Whirlpool and his lad and now it is as good as new - or will be next week when the engineer remembers to bring the spare part for the ice-maker. He did replace the compressor fan though so now instead or a noise like a helicopter hovering in the corner there is a gentle and livable-with hum. Sorted. And did I mention 'shiny'? Well Mr Whirlpool had just the thing; a stainless steel polishing kit - mine for only a staggering sum. After he's polished half a door and showed me the erm, staggering results, how could I refuse? So now with a little elbow grease I will, once again, have the working fridge of my dreams.

Why though do I not feel a cozy satisfied glow at having saved myself something like 800 smackers but instead come over all disgruntled that some miniscule parts out of grubby cardboard boxes should cost me in excess of £200?

Next week I will tackle the issue of the broken food processor lid. To glue or not to glue? That is the question.

Talking of questions - just how like Cointreau will my newly made Orange Liqueur be? Will it be a good substitute?

'Not very.' I hear you mutter at the back - and I am inclined to agree.

But never mind, it's a cheering thing to make on a grey old day. A bit like bottling sunshine.

Margaret H kindly copied out her recipe for me so I do feel I must give it a go. Gin (Tanner's finest Hereford Dry), sugar and citrus zest to be shaken daily for 3 weeks. I don't think it is going to be something to be glugged copiously - a bit like Cointreau in that respect - but sipped genteely in a ladylike manner. I wonder if it would make a good long drink with tonic and clinking cubes of ice.

Ah yes, ice cubes. Roll on next Thursday when Mr Whirlpool promises to call with another grubby cardboard carton. Perhaps I'll feel a bit better about the mending process then.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Trust me - that little blob hovering top-left of the picture is a hot air balloon.  In the interests of a better composition I have cut off the landscape below so you can't tell that it is passing over an unprepossessing industrial estate on the outskirts of Welshpool and heading at the whim of the wind who knows where.

Saturday morning  in the small mountain kingdom was gorgeous. Blue sky as above; warm and balmy, an archetypal autumn day. Good to be alive etc.

The Glam Ass and I head off to Welshpool which lies perhaps 4 miles to the west. We see as we begin to drop down off the Long Mountain that the Severn Valley is full of mist. This isn't unusual - we often are bathed in sunshine while the valleys below us on either side are fog-bound. It's actually quite pretty today; ribbons of fine pale cloud hang above the meandering river - a gauzy drifting film.

What's that? Over there....'Oh look! It's a balloon!' But not one, or two or three or four. I count 13, some of them so low I think they must be almost touching roofs and trees. But no, they float over the town and northwards rising to go over the hill called the Rhallt. A small plane coming into Welshpool 'airport' (yes, folks we have one of those but easyJet haven't found it yet) is mightily confused and fortunately is able to do circuit after circuit until its path is clear to land.

What a wonderful day to travel by balloon - I am most envious.....until I spot that the pilot above is not in a basket - he or she seems to be suspended in some sort of harness. Oooo er! I'm not that brave.

The sky stays blue - it's a day to spend in the garden. Over in Badnage Wood there's a lot of bird activity. A Jay squawks occasionally, a couple or three Buzzards soar over the trees mewing to each other. Then Ravens, big and black as night fly up out of the conifers, their cries metallic barking 'gronks'. They roll and tumble acrobatically in the sky; dropping, twisting and rising in unison. Such a joyous display - such dancing partners.
I am reminded of the birds on Willow Pattern ware:

Imagine if you can black birds against a blue sky instead of 'blue' birds on a white jug...

The jug is the ancestral milk jug which graced the breakfast tables of my childhood and was filled with fresh milk brought in a can from the dairy down the road. Milk bottles on the table were 'common' and came later anyway. But that is another story.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In which we do Harvest Suppers

I don't think that I could have ever described my mother as parsimonious; in many ways she was a most generous person who enjoyed her share of the finer things in life - but she was from Yorkshire and the product of a tough upbringing in the post World War I slump. Education took her away from the drudgery and toil of a scrubby small farm on the outskirts of a manufacturing town. She worked and worked to earn whatever came her way,  money that key to comfort, was too hard-won by to be lightly thrown away. The phrase 'if I do owt for nowt, I do it for m'sen' was unspoken but pretty close to the truth.

It must then have been a source of some relief to her (again unspoken) that the date of the Harvest Festival service in the parish church of Wroxton St Mary in 1975 was Sunday October 5th.

Why would this be? The date of my wedding was Saturday the 4th and the church would be bedecked with a sumptuous array of autumn goodness - carrots, chrysanths and cabbage, turnips, spuds and mega-marrows - for the service on the following day. There would be no need for wedding flowers. I would walk down the aisle to seasonal munificence. My bridesmaid and I would be permitted a small posy apiece however. I chose white freesias - though now think I would perhaps have enjoyed a walk down the aisle with a bouquet of various herbs.

I remember those massed carrots and turnips as well as I remember the service itself - the abundant veg and the burnished wood of the medieval rood screen we stood nervously in front of. The smell was wonderful  too of course - this was a marriage made in a greengrocers shop with overtones of beeswax polish.
Fast forward - 36 years down the line and my thoughts go back to that harvest festival (glossing over the suburban years in between where harvest gifts were tins of soup and beans). While we remember it's our wedding anniversary we're also well aware that this is the Harvest Festival season in these parts. Each village holds it's own -  a service followed by a meal and an auction of goods; the good Lord is thanked, the belly filled and with the auctioneer's encouragement our purses opened and emptied.

A good auctioneer makes all the difference  - after years of experience at the the local lifestock mart, Carl at Marton and Malcolm up here in Trelystan can give the professionals a run for their money and their audience a laugh or two.

Such a mountain of produce to buy - and we come home from each Supper with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Back home we sit and look at our haul - we have potatoes and mighty onions, carrots, honey and lemon curd.

What to do with that bag of pears though? They're hard as the proverbial hobs of hell. Neither of us are particularly inclined to munch away at them. 

Let's experiment -  chicken drumsticks and a dab of butter on a bed of peeled and cored pears. Go to the back of the fridge and unearth the jar of maple syrup (which really does need eating up soonish). A slosh or a drool of that, season with salt and black pepper and into the oven it goes.

Have to admit it tasted pretty good with sweet corn and green beans - and as there are still plenty of pears left it's something we'll be eating again. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On feeling slightly spooked

To be honest with you I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

Very little rattles me. Give me a chopped off finger, some blood, some gore...creaking floorboards or a spooky ol' graveyard on All Hallows Eve and I'll laugh in the face of fear....but I'm not very happy about the big old tree that's lying up there in the orchard. The tree that toppled only yesterday.

I have my big bright torch and the ability to say boo to a goose but there are still shivers going up my spine as I walk to the field to shut hens in. An unfamiliar shape up there to my left. The big tipped-up root is horrid, the gnarled tangle of snapped branches and vastness of its dark girth is heavy and gods it could rise up and roar at me. I would not be surprised if it did. I am spooked.

I'm not and never have been a 'tree-hugger' - yet have always afforded them respect none-the-less. There are vague memories of my father telling me what a bad thing it was to carve into the bark - would that be paring into the tree's very soul I wonder now? His words? 'They don't like it.' Whatever. The 5 year old me took his advice on board and have never knowingly done an unkind thing to a tree. I've come to understand the reverence that ancient man felt towards these leviathans of forest and hill - what powerful symbols of longevity and permanence they must have seemed.

The fallen tree's neighbour will be felled next week; having taken advice we believe it is too dangerous to leave standing. I also have a curious feeling that without its life's partner it will fade and die quickly anyway.  We will see this as an opportunity to replant - undoubtably for future generations.

Tomorrow I shall go up into the orchard and stroke the bark a bit. I'll say goodbye -  ask 'Please, don't frighten me in the dark anymore. It will be OK old beech tree - this is the next part of your journey. The Glam Ass will be persuaded to make something from your timber. In that you will live on. '

And there will of course be other trees.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Well that's that then. A tremendous gust of wind, a crack, a woosh and a graceful flop into the orchard and the Big Beech Tree is gone. Gone as in not standing next to its partner aka the Small Beech Tree anymore; but definitely not gone in terms of 'a lot to be cleared away'.....

I suppose I must count myself lucky that it didn't land on my head - I'd stopped before going down the garden, waiting for the gusts to pass before I went under the big sycamores which line our dingle. We've always counted ourselves lucky to have these Beeches, these mature monsters - maybe I'm not so sure now. We've been trying to estimate their age - probably well in excess of 150 years. (Wikipedia tells me they have a typical lifespan of 150 - 200 years.) I'd like to think these two were planted around the time of the enclosures which took place here in the 1840s.
About 18 months ago we noticed abundant fungal growth at their roots - and the death knell began to toll. Looking at the remains of the root which is now revealed it is a wonder that the tree has stood as long as it did.
On the plus side the tree missed the bench, fence and gas tank but unfortunately squashed some of the fruit trees in the orchard - there are plums and apples scattered everywhere. The Glam Ass points out that firewood won't be a problem for the next few years.
So, a dramatic start to the week. A bit sad really - particularly as we now think the other tree is equally vulnerable and will have to go too....

I'm off to crack on with my jam making activities; when life sends you lemons, make lemonade plum jam.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Greengage summer

As a child I could never see what my mother liked about greengages. She would sigh with delight at the prospect. In truth she sighed with delight over very little. The county of Yorkshire, white cats and poultry are the three things which come to mind after a bit of thought. That she approved of this humble little plum is quite something.

To my suspicious child's eye they looked nasty sour things. I didn't like green boiled sweets either - and still don't. Unnatural things.

Ah, but now show me a greengage and I'll jump through hoops; stretch up through a scratchy hedge to pick the very last one off the tree - all the while cursing the man who planted fruit trees amongst Hawthorn...

Perhaps not the most elegant of fruit but so, so sweet. The soft ripe flesh melts to honeyed juice.

Simply gorgeous.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Strangers in the night

Hen shutting in time. Gird the loins, wellie-boot up, grab the torch.

What's the light up there in the field? Perhaps it's the lad from next door with his dad and his torch. Nope. It's Pete and Abby (who?), lost on their circular walk from a - b.

By the light of our combined torches we find where we are on their map. Lost. That's where - 'cept I'm not. I know exactly where I am.

We discuss the options of where they want to be - most of which would be better in the clear light of day. They don't want to go by the lanes (no way!) so I point them in the direction of the gaps in hedges and the half hidden signs and wish them well as they stumble off into the darkness.

We say our goodnights- and exchange our names. Pete adds that it's great to walk like this. The night is cool and clean and quiet. Indeed it is.

I plod back to the hen pens in the field to drop the pop'oles on birds which acknowledge my passing visit with some sotto voce hen-talk. In a sort of mini experimental tribute to my just-met walking friends I switch off the torch and, giving my eyes a moment or two to adjust to the darkness, make my way tentatively back to the house through the garden.

The night is soft indeed, with not a sough of wind. Gentle, gentle. Over by the church across the field, from the hidden slopes of Trelystan Dingle I hear the muted yelp of a fox. Behind me in the dark conifers of Badnage Wood is the whispery whoot of a tawny owl. Oh, this is pretty good; the cries of the night; the scent of the garden, green, earth and sweet peas.

I know why you walk by night Pete and Abby. You have each other and the wonderfulness of the great Out There. Hope you got home safely.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

'A' is for Autumn.

...and 'B' is for Brrr....but for heaven's sake it's still only August.

That's what the calendar says but it does seem chilly and autumnal here...something about the tiredness of foliage and the cool dankness of the morning air. Leaves are changing colour  - horsechestnut and hazel in particular are already tinged with russet and gold.

So here I am anticipating an evening in front of a roaring log burner with a snoring bull terrier at my feet. We've noticed that the light levels have dropped. Last evening it was dark at 8.30. Sigh. Where has my summer gone?

There are compensations; our trees are laden with fruit; apples and pears and plums in variety. The local hedgerows (at least those which haven't been 'brushed' to within an inch of their lives) promise a rich harvest of blackberry and sloe. This bounty is due to a frost-free spring of course - anyone remember those balmy and unnatural April days which gave way to a cool damp May?

We've noticed large groups of swallows gathering and hope they are not on their way back to Africa already - the second brood from the nest in the field shelter has only fledged in the last day or so. I hope they get strong enough to make that remarkable journey south.

I find myself wondering as we had December's snow in November, May's weather in April and now this early autumn, have the seasons become so distorted that we'll find ourselves knee-deep in snow in October.  That isn't a thought I'm going to dwell on.

I shall go and pick blackberries instead.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Behind the Scenes at the Museum*

'Tickets? £1.00 for adults, children 50p. Come on in - please do. ' I announce at the sniff of a visitor...

...and worth every penny I add, sotto voce, to myself.

My inability to say 'no' or my hyper-inclination to volunteer for all and sundry finds me on Saturday afternoon as Custodian at the Old Bell Museum in Montgomery. This is like putting a child in charge of a sweetshop.

The Old Bell is the loveliest little museum you can imagine, focussed on the past of this county town and its immediate environs. I've been as a visitor a couple of times previously and each time found more of interest. How tantalising it will be to remain behind my desk knowing what treasures lie in the rooms beyond.

Fortunately I am taking over from an experienced hand who has successfully unlocked, un-alarmed and remembered to slide the little slidey thing which announces to the world that the museum is OPEN. I gather that as this is not the busiest visitor attraction in the county I can probably look forward to an untroubled afternoon.

I settle into my Custodian's chair and survey my domain. I have two rolls of tickets. (Proper museum-y jobs don't you think?)

There is a desk with a CCTV screen, a file of instructions, a record book and an important piece of paper on which I must note with 'five barred gates' the number of adult and child visitors and publications sold....all to be added up at the end of the date. My greatest fear is not outbreak of fire, rowdy or light-fingered visitors. No, it is making the books balance at 5.00pm. I see a column of figures and begin to tremble.

I read the file of instructions for custodians and welcome my first visitors - the first of many as it turns out - enough to make the afternoon pass at a reasonable and interesting pace. I have little time to twiddle my fingers. I'm a bit restricted to the reception area but while it's quiet I open a few drawers; the Custodian's perogative perhaps. I am reminded of visiting No.10 Downing Street to find that tucked behind that famous front door were dusters and polishes. So much for the panoply of state.

This multi-drawed chest must have come from a seed merchant but now seems to hold a stash of light bulbs.

Feel a bit off colour? Can I recommend a course of Dayus's celebrated alternative 'General Condition Balls'?

Visitors were all most complimentary - and nobody asked really difficult questions. A couple were clearly moved by the room which exhibits artefacts from the Workhouse at Forden (a.k.a. The House of Industry) - none more so than the mother who was accompanied by her husband and teenaged son. He was deaf and perhaps autistic. He would have been she reflected, in years gone by, incarcerated somewhere like that. This room has in it the story of Blind May - Hannah Thomas - who, blind, deaf and dumb was sent to live at the workhouse at Caersws at 4 years old - and transferred to Forden where she lived until her death at the age of 89. It is the most poignant story. We must count our blessings.

The clock on the Town Hall just up the street eventually rang 5 and as the last 'dong' died away the long case clock in the the museum's reception chimed the hour too. Time to slide the slidey thing to its CLOSED position and bolt the doors. The museum's curator arrived and kindly volunteered to close up for me....but left me to  'balance the books'.

What a relief it was to find everything tallied. Phew.

*With apologies to Kate Atkinson.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tumbleweed and cobwebs....

Just why is it so difficult to difficult to get down to work again after a holiday - albeit a blogging one? It's been a month and a week six weeks since I last shuffled down the echoing corridors of my blog world. There has been the usual round of summer things here - same old, same old - and perhaps my reluctance to post has been a fear of going, boringly, over old ground. There is though a 'ruck' of stuff cluttering up the desktop of my lovely Mac; pictures for posts that never were.....

Where to start then? Where was I? I'll be brief.

Ah yes. Wasps. Well we haven't seen once since. And this is a good thing.

Sweet peas? Actually they've come good at least 3 weeks later than in previous years. Gorgeous of course; bowls, vases, jugs and glasses of them fill the house. They have a short life but a heavenly scented one.

My seeds are from Thompson and Morgan and probably 'Fragrantissima'. These however are not like any 'Fragrantissima' I've grown before; the petals are speckled and blotched. Remember what it was like, back in the day, when all the lovely coloured bits of Plasticine got mixed together?  A muddy amalgam which still moulded but looked bleugh. These sweet peas are like that. A friend down the road tells me that hers are much the same. Perhaps it is a local blight.

However, the brashness of the 'hot' border does not disappoint. This picture is at least 10 days out of date and Helleniums in red and orange now provide extra fire.

In the vegetable garden we've harvested peas by the bushel - those we can't eat as young and succulent petit pois we've frozen or converted into pea and ham soup. (I get huge satisfaction in stocking freezer and larder in preparation for the the winter months ahead.) Red and white currants have been jellied and raspberries savoured with cream.

As usual we look for things to do with courgettes. So far we have managed to eat/or give away our crop but we are fighting a losing battle. The blasted things grow at such a prodigious rate. Common sense tells me that probably 2 plants would suffice. I will have forgotten that bit of wisdom by spring of next year when sturdy little seedlings look too good to be consigned to the plant sale or compost heap.

I notice this morning that the vegetable garden, though still productive, begins to look tired and old; its freshness gone. As fruit swells and ripens - in abundance thanks to the frost-free spring I detect a slide into autumn. Sigh.

This little cherub caught my eye.
I should remember which Shropshire church it came out of but will hazard a guess at St John the Baptist in Mainstone; a building sweet and humble, sheltered from the elements by surrounding hills and at the end of a seemingly endless narrow lane. My feelings on religion - particularly the organised variety - I shall keep to myself lest I offend. (Shall we put some of my feelings down to childhood experience?) I seem to have been in a number of similar churches this summer - mostly as a curious onlooker wearing my 'nosy' hat. Almost without exception I found simplicity and serenity, both loved and neglected in equal measure; the scent of artlessy arranged garden flowers vying with dust and mould. I've no desire to worship (though if poked with a sharp enough stick I will go and sing hymns) but would fight till my end to keep them as places of stillness in our landscape. 'Nuff said.

Some hymn singing yielded these words from 'How Great Thou Art':
I ponder the small mountain kingdom in late summer; the land ripe and fruitful, a patchwork of greens and gold - a cornucopia of things 'bright and beautiful'.

Then sings my soul.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Garden invaders.

I stood on the step yesterday, leaned against the door jamb and viewed the gorgeous green-ness of the great outdoors. All was drippy wet, but fair play (as they say round here) it did smell good. The garden looked lush and abundant too - if only a little floppy on account of the rain. I like this generous fulsome look though....

To my left is an unsatisfying rose; mostly vigourous stem and leaf. When it does bother to flower (once a year) it's not a particularly interesting one either. I give over contemplating raindrops and think about the logistics of uprooting the rose. I think thick stems and thorns - lots of digging, pain and misery. My eye travels from its roots and up the wall assessing the scale of the project.

What's that? I wonder why the wall has developed a curious bulge - almost as if someone has got behind the stonework and blown it out like a bubble-gum bubble about to go pop. Nah. As if! Just as if!

See what I mean - there in the centre of my picture? Behind the evil unattractive rose? A stone bubble? Should I get a stick and poke it perhaps?

Hmm. Perhaps not. It turns out to be a wasps' nest. Barely a metre from my door and about as big as a rugby ball. Eeeek! Sorry wasp lovers - but this nest is going to have to go. I appreciate these stripey b******s have their place in the scheme of things but it's not going to be within an arm's length of my kitchen door.

Tomorrow I shall be donning my protective clothing and setting about it with something lethal the pest control man will be coming from Welshpool.

PS For a truly great wasp extermination tale read this. Just glad I didn't know about it at the time.

Edited to add:
Well, our exterminator arrived and partly out of cowardice the Glam Ass was sent to Make Sure He Did It Properly. Afraid of wasps? Moi? You bet. Really I just didn't want to go out in the rain.

What a hero - our man just cut the nest away, tossed it in the back of his van, puffed a little noxious dust in, trousered a hefty wad and drove off in the direction of Craven Arms. No protective clothing. No whinging. Job done. Am happy to recommend his services.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Shouldn't have to chase a sunset....

'Run' I say - shout even - to the Glam Ass who is idly pulling up weeds in the orchard. 'Run - get the camera. Quick, quick, quick!' (Some speed is needed because I know from experience how quickly the sky will change - so I'm not just being bossy.)

Bless 'im. He does just that, runs, and before my eyes the prettiest sunset unfolds and I do my best to make some pictures. Click, click.

Shame about the shanty-town appearance of my poultry empire...

Moments - perhaps only seconds - later the rosy sky becomes greyer
...and then greyer still as if a cobweb caul has been thrown over the small mountain kingdom.
Shut the hens in. Stand in the dew-wet grass. Breathe in. And out. How still it is up here. How absolutely perfect. I could squeak with delight.

A lone buzzard soars above Badnage Wood - a distant mew then silence. A swallow swoops to catch a last insect. Somewhere over there - way over there - a tractor works on. These short nights of summer make for long working days and silage must be cut.

So glad I caught this evening's sky.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Once upon a time I bought a sweet little hardy geranium. A pretty thing in a tiny pot. It did look cute planted in the sunny  border at the front of the house alongside some furry Stachys and under the white Iris which grows so well there. I was a bit worried that it might be overwhelmed by both but no, it's held its own and as you can see the three plants are a pleasant combination in early summer.

I haven't a clue what its name is - the label disappeared long ago*. Unfortunate this, as the same label might have given me a clue about its ultimate size and habit. Three years after planting it I conclude that ruthlessness must be part of its genetic make-up. Titchy it may be but its size belies its audacity and aggressiveness. This geranium takes no prisoners, engulfing all before it. I am thinking it is the botanic equivalent of Hitler or Napoleon.

The pretty froth of delicate purple flowers atop a mound of mid-green leaves gives way to seed heads balanced on lanky straggling stems.  The minute seeds scatter with the slightest movement and wherever they fall they germinate. There are now geraniums spreading far across the garden. It is without doubt a successful plant - except when a plant is where you don't want it to be it becomes a weed.

I summoned up my own ruthless gene. I would hack back, cut down, pull up, cull and otherwise beat it into submission.....but when I looked out of the window Mr and Mrs Bullfinch (rare visitors in these parts) and their 4 newly fledged chicks were feasting on the seeds, hunkered down amongst those same straggly stems having the best picnic of their lives.

Can I take food out of the beaks of baby birds? Can I heck.

*PS If anyone knows its name I'd love to know.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Are we nearly there yet?

Are we nearly there yet?

Ye Gods! We've been there and have come back again. Incredible but true.

Where? Same old, same old - Paxos. South of Corfu. Ionian Sea. East of Italy, west of mainland Greece.

This one was a bit special though; in celebration of a Significant Birthday we tagged on 3 days sailing. The Glam Ass has had a long-held ambition to sail into the small harbour at Loggos. Over the years he  has sat on our terrace, or glass in hand at a taverna, and watched sailboats big and small sail in and sail out again. His wish to be on board was almost tangible.

A big birthday approaches and I know he would never have forgiven me if I threw a surprise party (we have a pact to never, ever do this to one another) and the question of how to mark it taxes my brain. A plan slowly evolves....a few days afloat could be easily arranged and this dream realised. We can do this. We will do this.......and before we knew it we are climbing aboard a 41ft yacht in Gouvia Marina in Corfu.

Let's gloss over the hell that is Manchester's Terminal 3, the necessary evil that is Easy Jet and the indulged and howling infant that made the first 40 minutes of our flight such purgatory.
Teleportation should be a research priority. Non?

We'll imagine we've been beamed down into sunny Corfu - which actually is enjoying a brief shower of rain as we step out of the taxi. Sigh. The boat is found, groceries bought and stowed. We make ourselves at home below decks.
I marvel at how many home comforts can be fitted into such a small space. (That's the same small place that is going to become very claustrophobic.) We have a double berth, wardrobes, our own shower and 'head' - that's boating speak for toilet. I am instructed in the art of flushing the said head, although pumping and draining would be a more accurate description of this process. I get the hang of it eventually. After 3 days.

The marina is ram-jam full of yachts and cruisers of all shapes and sizes - I'm in an alien world here which has its own language and looks incredibly complicated. Look at all those ropes for a start.

Here's the Glam Ass - on board at last.
No point in hanging about admiring the plumbing and the rigging - off we go. We head southwards along the coast of Corfu - seeing our eventual destination, Paxos, in the the far distance. We then turn east and over the Ionian to mainland Greece where will moor overnight at Plataria.

We had the most affable skipper - a Greek called Thomas. Over the next few days he tells us a little of his story - and it is an amazing one. A Paxiot, raised amongst his family's olive trees and lacking any sailing skills, he bought a small wooden boat advertised for sale in Athens. Somehow he managed to sail it home. Aged 28 he set off around the world in this same boat - a journey which took him to some of the most remote and exotic places imaginable. It would be 18 years before he set foot on Paxos again. He returned to take over the family house and land 8 years ago - joined by the woman who is now his wife and whom he had met firstly in Spain and then lived with in Brazil. That boat now stands on a trailer amongst his olive trees. It looks a small and fragile thing to take on the might of the oceans.

Here's breakfast on board/ The GA looks slightly more chilled:

Next stop Sivota:
...and Parga:

Ah, Parga. How many times have we sat in Paxos, looking across at the mainland at night seeing twinkling lights in the far distance? How many times have we wondered just what was it like over there? Well now we know. Unfortunately the place with the twinkling lights was not Parga but some other little community. We got it wrong. Parga was on the itinerary anyway. We concluded it was not worth the detour; two resort-y bays separated by an ancient Turkish fort on a steep hill and a cluster of souvenir shops, tavernas and restaurants. The marina was unwelcoming - we moored alongside a rusting, capsized ferry - and the trudge to buy some provisions took us along a neglected rubbish strewn track. Thomas would not leave the boat for fear we were robbed. But hey! Pull up the gangplank, crack open a beer and experiment with cooking in the galley.

Finally we head out across the Ionian again, leaving the mainland's dusty hillsides for the olive covered island of Paxos. A strong wind in the wrong direction brought us into Gaios by motor power - so that dream of coming into Loggos under sail has still not been realised.

A week on land followed - although my body seemed to think for several days that it was still at sea. Not an unpleasant sensation by any means. Just curious - as if the rhythm of the water had entered my soul. Sailing was OK, too much phaffing about for my liking. I'll settle for dry land.

Paxos remains as hospitable as ever; there's a quirky side to life but that's part of the charm. The hoik in the price of most things is less charming. So, so expensive. A 13% tax on food seems iniquitous. The 'Greek in the street' seems very angry indeed about the state of affairs and are quite clear about who and what is to blame.

We lounged in the sun. We walked and swam, ate and drank, recharged the batteries. Here's a miscellany of images from our travels:

And now we are home in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. The grass is knee high, weeds abound and whatever bit my arms while I gardened yesterday was twice as savage as anything I met in Greece. Otherwise everything is reassuringly the same.