Sunday, January 30, 2011

Singing for my supper

Many, many years ago in a little tourist tat shop in north Yorkshire, tucked amongst the souvenir tea-towels and postcards of Pickering's somewhat limited attractions was a selection of little wooden plaques. They were basically crudely varnished and decorated slices of tree with the added bonus of a pithy aphorism. The one to hang above that low beam or lintel advised 'Duck or grouse!' and the one for the procrastinator read, of course, 'I must get a round tuit!'.  The exclamation marks are obligatory.

The one that took my fancy - and why it attracted a small girl so much is a mystery - said 'Even a fish wouldn't get caught if it kept its mouth shut!' It obviously entered my soul because even now, some 50 years later it comes to mind. Frequently.

Last night was a case in point; if a couple of months ago when asked a question I'd said 'Nope', 'Can't', 'Won't', 'got other plans....sorry' and kept my trap shut I wouldn't have found myself, microphone in hand, doing a 5 minute spot at Marton's Burns Supper. Instead a feeble 'Erm, if I must - talk to me about it nearer the time' escaped from my lips and with it a silent wish that the probability of actually doing it would just go away. On the other hand, my questioner put a big tick in the box next to 'Response from the Ladies' and went off to order haggis. Job done.

Anyway it came to pass - I rustled up a few words, put them into some meaningful order and spent a couple of days practicing - the dogs being my uncritical audience. The Glam. Ass had a bit of a titter - which I took to be a Good Sign. There wasn't the faintest hope that I would memorise my mini address so the words were put on cards and I was set to go.

We fore-gathered and following the usual haggis-stabbing/Selkirk Grace/Immortal Memory palaver, we ate; generous platefuls of traditional Burns Supper scoff - haggis, neeps and tatties followed by very boozy trifle. A well fed audience is predisposed to be mellow methinks.

The Ladies were toasted, wittily but to my horror not quite as flatteringly as my carefully honed speech in response presupposed. Eeek! (Exclamation mark definitely in order here.) No time for re-writes now just the hope that I could manipulate the words I had got and not drop either the prompt cards or the microphone.

Then suddenly it's over and we're singing 'Auld Lang Syne' and a wee dram was most appropriate and very welcome. I was relieved to have said my piece - it wasn't such an ordeal after all - but in no way is that an invitiation to ask me to do it again.

The lips are zipped. Shut.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I'm rather obviously writing this indoors; outdoors being ever so slightly inhospitable still. The prospect of doing anything un-gloved, un-hatted and immobile out there is so unappealing.

About a week ago the temperature nudged up into double figures and the sun shone - admittedly there was much mud and wetness too but it did seem to herald an end to this interminable cold.

Hah! Fat chance of that. The big chill is back and with it the chore of schlepping buckets of water up to the poultry from the house. Not only have the water butts frozen up but the washers to their taps have been wrecked by the ice and the Glam Ass's attempts to replace them was complicated by a tap breaking as well. The repair job involved emptying the butt in question - so now we must wait for torrential rain to fill it up again. Back to carting water for me then.

Never mind - my seed order from Thompson and Morgan arrived at the end of last week; packets and packets of seed. Packets of such promise. Time to plan out what goes where too  - this year I need to start a new chart of our raised beds which shows what has been planted in previous years. We're very keen on our crop rotation up here in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan; like should not follow like and some things need more muck than others. The Glam Ass has spruced up the labels for the beds and I will go and plant them when the soil has thawed sufficiently.
We're planting much the same things as usual - I shall continue to try and grow squash and will have another go at carrots. Carrots should be easy shouldn't they. Children get given carrot seed to grow. Sprinkle it in a drill and you're away. Fat chance round here - we are plagued with carrot fly. This year, having failed with plan A (mesh on a frame around and over the bed), plan B (growing carrots in tubs above the alleged height of a carrot fly), plan C (growing a resistant variety) and plan D (removing all thinnings carefully so as not to leave lovely carroty smelling leaves as an attractant), we shall try plan E - sowing later when the dratted carrot fly season is over. After that? Give up and go to Sainsburys perhaps.

I'm going to make room for some flowers too - I've been very inspired by Elizabethm's cutting garden - a couple of rows of fragrant sweet peas at the very least.

I've got itchy feet and itchy fingers - I want to be out there getting on with things. I think I should be able to sow some modules of onions under glass but everything else will have to wait. Sigh.

There are lambs down in the village at last - little scraps of things, bleeting for mum and milk. They're as promising to me as those packets of seed. New life at last. Spring will come.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Marmalade - part 2

I shouldn't complain but there's an awful lot of it; 26 jars.

Making marmalade must be a bit like giving birth - an absolute pain of a process - after which one promises oneself Never, ever again. Then 12 months on, tempted by the bright fruits I forget what a bother it is too make and another day of my life is gone - what with all that squeezing, paring and slicing; the simmering for hours and then the nerve-wracking rolling boil and those 'will it/won't it' set moments - all those sticky spoonfuls cooling in saucers until at last the surface wrinkles and we can be sure of that elusive set. Phew. And then there is the washing up......industrial quantities of it.

Here are my 26 jars - I've been hyper efficient this year and labeled them up straight away. Usually my jams and jellies sit around for days, sometimes weeks, until I can summon up the enthusiasm to amend and print off some labels. New Year - new efficient me? I doubt it. More a case of them taking up a lot of space.
Guess what we'll be having for breakfast for the next 12 months?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A bag of sunshine on a windy day

Up in the field just now at hen-shutting-in-time, with the job done (that's pop - 'oles shut and all potential sleepers on nests shifted unceremoniously) I switch off the torch and stand a while.

With my back towards the lights of the house and under a starless sky the darkness is broken only by distant lights far across the valley. The wind roars through the conifers of Badnage wood - furious gusts which I know are battering the trees this way and that. It's a pretty wild night although this wind from the west, fresh and clean against my face, is not a cold one.

The Glam. Ass. tells me that heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow - and indeed it is. I checked. I noticed at the same time that light snow is on the cards for Wednesday and temperatures down below zero again. Sigh. I knew it was too soon to be lulled into thoughts of spring.

Never mind. In the kitchen, in my best 'Bet Lynch style', leopard-skin shopping bag I have 4k of Spanish sunshine - Seville oranges. The marmalade season has come round again. Tomorrow I shall squeeze, pare and bubble up these fragrant fruits - the kitchen will smell of sugary orange heaven. Bliss.

Aren't those colours truly gorgeous? I really think they much reach the part of the brain which craves bright sunlight. Just what needed in these dark days.

Friday, January 07, 2011

White world again.

Sometimes it can't be much fun being a hen can it? Like this morning. White over again.
As forecast, snow fell in the early hours - and because our bedroom window had blown open we woke to find a small snow drift on the window sill. Shut window, mop up and apply vest to self. Brr. Chilly indeed.

The roads were like glass and the ride down to Welshpool was a bit dodgy but it seems to be the sort of challenge that the Glam Ass enjoys. We do going-too-fast, trial skids and trial braking while I grit my teeth and hold on tight.  There is a precipitous drop to the one side of the road down the Stubb. Best not to think about it. The words 'Don't do this!' only pass my lips once. I have the patience and nerve of a saint it seems.

It's raining gently now and the world is dripping gently. A relief.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


On the Thursday before Christmas Shrewsbury was frantic with last minute shoppers - an extra frisson of excitement being the icy pavements and a biting wind. By some miracle I bought my bits and pieces with comparative ease and feeling rather smug thought I could afford a little 'me' time. Hmm. Where to go?

My usual haunts were out of the question; too full of dithering families trying to decide what to buy for auntie Nelly and there is only so much seasonal musak I can stomach. A new second hand bookshop was tempting - I could go and look at the Local History section at least  - far better than the retail hell that was Christmas at Waterstones.......

What a sanctuary it proved to be - probably not a money spinner - but warm and empty, with comfy chairs and a gentle Baroque air to delight the ear.

I found this. Only £3.00. OK, not everyone's cup of tea but there will be something in these pages to raise an eyebrow, enlighten and entertain.

It's honestly interesting reading - some very familiar and half remembered things; things which we still do - and not know why (salt over shoulders, never give a knife as a gift, don't look at the moon through glass to name but three); things more curious and strange, sometimes cruel; things from a lost age of innocence or ignorance a long time ago. Ms Hole lists folklore traditions by the hundred, hardly pausing for punctuation or breath. I was glad to see our Holy Well at Rorrington got a mention.

I've been reading it in bed - and last night reached the section on 'Strange Visitors'. Scary stuff indeed; rites, howls, things of the dark side, apparitions of the ould Divil:
'Our mothers' mayd terrifie us with the ouglie devil, with horns on his head, fier in his mouth, a huge tayle in his breach, eies like basons, fangs like a boar, claws like a tiger, skin like a bear, and a voice roaring like a lion.'
Then there are wild hunts and baying spectral dogs...........and as I lie tucked under the duvet I hear from the hedge line beyond the little triangular field - JUST OUTSIDE MY BEDROOM WINDOW FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE - the sudden yelping bark of a fox. I freeze to my core in fright. (But fall asleep before I can dare a trip to the bathroom out of the safety of my bed.)

The cold old dark night still has the power to terrify it seems.

PS I have memories of long, night time  car journeys listening to Joan Aiken's 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase', the empty desolation of Yorkshire's high moorland in the blackness outside our speeding car, and of our little boys snuggled on the back seat gripped by the tale....thinking, 'Please, oh please, I hope we don't break down now..."

Monday, January 03, 2011

The road ahead...

We've put Christmas back in its box and launched a new decade. I enjoyed, briefly, the uniqueness of 1.1.11.  The tree is down and I have an irresistible urge to fill the house with light and spring flowers. I optimistically had had my nose down in the garden today but didn't spy even the teeniest snout of a bulb. I thought the snowdrops might be about visible. Sigh. There's a way to go yet.

Resolutions. Hmm. I'm not much of a one for resolutions but have a stack of life improving aims instead:

The one involving 'cutting out biscuits' lasted until, erm, 10.30am on January 1st, when, due to overeating the night before (fab meal by the way) meant breakfast was given the elbow. Was I hungry or was I hungry? Bring on the custard creams.

The one involving glasses of wine lasted until about 6.30pm when the Glam Ass said convivially 'Fancy a glass of wine?' and I said, without pausing for breath, 'Yes. Why not?' It was good though.

The one where I take more exercise hasn't been tested yet but I do feel the need to be out there breathing cool fresh air. This aim may be achievable. I'll walk - walking far or fast isn't necessary; being and feeling part of our wonderful landscape is.

Tomorrow maybe? No, there is a hen house to clean out tomorrow. The day after perhaps? Well yes. Definitely. Maybe.

We'll see. There is a spider's web of lanes, tracks and paths on the Long Mountain to keep my feet busy in the coming months, stones to be unturned and voices heard. Romans at one end, Saxons at the other; tumulii, burial mounds and mottes in between.

I'm off to polish my best walking boots and look out the gaiters.  Hope someone remembers to fire up the digital recorder.......