Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The prospect of pylons....

I make no apologies for my love of this landscape - counting each day I spend under clear and unpolluted skies amongst these gently rolling hills, part of a companionable farming community,  as a bonus. Some days my heart just soars with the joy of simply Being. Being here. Soppy perhaps, but no apologies. I tell you the truth. That's how it is.

Then from out of the blue - like an arrow to the heart - comes the proposal to run a power corridor through the Rea Valley to join the wind farms which clutter the Welsh uplands with an existing heavy duty national transmission network between Shrewsbury and Wrexham. Apparently it is just that at present, a proposal. The National Grid are currently carrying out 'a consultation' between two options - there are a choice of 2 routes.  The one which affects the us (aka the Purple South corridor) also involves the construction of a sub-station about 6 miles away at Abermule - and we are not talking about some wires and a few small grey boxes behind an itsy fence here - we're talking 19 acres of full-on electrical horror. It will be a similar story for the other proposed route. It looks as if it's blighted here.....or blighted there.

The power could go underground or, most probably, take an overland route and be carried by pylons; monstrous pylons that are 50m tall and spaced at 350m intervals. The 'artist's impression' below shows how our landscape could be transformed by these monsters as the pass across the front of Stockton wood and over the roof of the Lowfield Inn. Awful. Awful. Awful.

Right at the top my header picture looks down on Marton from the Long Mountain. Marton lies in the path of this proposed Purple South Corrior. Just imagine a string of pylons running across the middle of this picture to see what there is to lose. It's a ghastly image that could be repeated the length of the valley.

The Rea Valley is an unsullied place of gently undulating arable land, bounded to the west by the slopes of the Long Mountain and to the east by the Stiperstones and Shropshire Hills - a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Small villages, Westbury, Worthen, Broxton, Aston Piggot and Aston Rogers and Marton are strung like beads on a necklace along the B road which winds its way along the valley bottom. To the west are Asterley, Pontesbury and Minsterley and perched on the hill, Snailbeach and Stiperstones - add to the mix numerous small hamlets and outlying farms. Stand anywhere and it would be hard not to be in awe of this splendid landscape.
It's a green place in spring - hedges of hazel, frothy hawthorn and twining honeysuckle, verges of primroses, stitchwort and violet line narrow lanes and tracks. And lambs. And bird song. And blossom. The gold of summer's harvest becomes russet as the valley's many trees turn orange then red. Autumn brings brown ploughland. Hardly inspiring, but each thing in its turn.) Winter brings a strange melancholy when fog hugs the valley bottom - exhilaration too when an exquisite hoar frost catches morning's first light.

I could give you statistics about flora and fauna - we have that in abundance. Listed buildings and historic sites - yep, we have those too, aplenty.
It seems to me to be the least appropriate place to route pylons - a brainless proposition. We are being 'consulted' by the the National Grid - whose information bus manned by articulate unemotional young people towing the party line but telling us little we want to hear - will visit all the communities who may be affected. We will stare sadly at the maps and look up to the hills. We will all fill in our consultation feed back forms.

We will certainly sign the 'No Pylons in Rea Valley' petition organised locally. If you feel this issue will affect you please visit and add your voice to the protest. This is not something to be taken lying down. There is opposition and there will continue to be opposition. My hackles have risen.

I pray that this consultation process is actually meaningful and not just a rubber stamping exercise. Cynic? Moi?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fish. Feet. Fun?

Some days you does gardening and other days you just puts your feet in a tank and fish nibble 'em. Curious bliss - an unexpected and tickly mid-morning pleasure. Possibly the most fun you can have with most of your clothes on....what a sybaritic experience this 'fish spa' is.

Little Garra Rufa fish rush to suck off one's dead skin (yeucky concept) in a tank of warm and filtered water (no worries there folks!) The world around us may crumble financially, tsumanis devastate and no-fly zones be enforced, but here in this little corner of Shropshire's county town we can be blissfully unaware for 30 minutes at least.

They gave me a loyalty card - in the fond hope I'd come back often enough to earn an extra 'Express Tootsie treatment'.  I do hope I can. Afterwards my feet felt soft as well as gently nibbled - I was walking on air - my sense of well-being enhanced no doubt by a: another day of sunshine which had me squeaking with joy on the drive over the Long Mountain and b: by a visit to the wonderful Michelle and Gavin at Toni and Guy who changed my haystack hair into something more soignée. A feel-good day.

I may as well make the most of this because I think there may well be more serious things on the horizon - those things being National Grid Pylons. Sigh.

There's always something isn't there?  More of this anon. Perhaps.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Frogs, lambs and snowdrops

Has air got a colour?

Yes indeed. Of course it has. Today I breathed green - the colour of early spring - and how good it was.

Another fabulous day of wall-to-wall sunshine - far too good for March really - and the prospect of more to come. The Glam Ass says he feels as if he's caught the sun on the top of his head. (It did look a little pink.) Those of you who know the GA, and today's weather, will not be at all surprised.

We have frogs, doing what frogs abundance. A huge rudeness of spawn.
There are lambs too - here a muddled heap of orphans jostling for the sunniest spot in the barn over at Fir House. Can you make out which head or tail of belongs to which lamb? The numbering continues to mystify. This little creche had squiggles, lines, hearts and symbols in place of numerals - courtesy of a visiting Dutch vet on a work placement.
Perhaps she was just 'thinking outside the box' - after all, being orphaned, these little fellas didn't need pairing up with a mother and could just enjoy a bit of body art for its own sake.

We were over at Fir House to dig up snowdrops - with permission of course - to increase our own meagre planting. The farm at Fir House is probably as old as this over here at Lower House. The old house is now gone having been demolished post foot and mouth and replaced with a sturdy modern barn. There's not much left to suggest that someone once lived here ..... only a tumbledown outside toilet nearby, choked by twining briars, with a gaping door hanging askew and a busted seat over a chaos of muck and grassy dust. It stands - or stood - on the edge of a steep, tree-hung dingle (all the better to drain, erm, stuff away perhaps).  The precipitous dingle must have once been the farm's household midden where alongside all the regular garbage somebody must once have tossed a snowdrop bulb or two. They have since multiplied and now, at this time of year, are a white carpet of flowers which blooms largely unseen in this hidden spot. How many years did it take for them to grow like this? I really don't know. 100? 200 perhaps?

To reach the snowdrop clad bottom we must stumble down though the trash of ages; that's bottles, odd shoes, broken plates and crocks and all. I find myself getting distracted from the task in hand, ie getting snowdrops, and becoming more interested in bleach and shampoo bottles discarded circa 1975. The 'good stuff' I surmise, must be hidden deep....but then wonder if there is ever 'good stuff' to be found on a refuse heap. Good rubbish is something of an oxymoron.

Perhaps it would have been wiser to concentrate on the job in hand - there were many hazards; broken glass, spiky brambles and the vertiginous slope. But hey! we made it and the Glam Ass didn't curse too much as we skittered downwards. The snowdrops, which carpet the lower dingle's sides and bottom, were not too difficult to dig up, but carrying the heavy buckets up the dingle afterwards was v. hard work. Job done we struggled, puffing and panting, to the top, eventually flinging our buckets of snowdrops 'in the green' over a fence and following them out into the morning's sunshine. Phew.

The Glam Ass got busy planting and hopefully we'll see the results of his work in twelve months time. I'm struggling to get my head round planning for next spring when this one has not quite happened yet.
Here's the garden as of 23rd March 2011. Yep, mainly brown. However, the asparagus bed in the foreground has 3 spears appearing already - and no matter how many times we earth them up they strive ever upwards towards the sun. There are green things in the green house. Today I saw a bat. My heart beats a little faster at these signs of the year's unfolding.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Equinox and some garden thoughts

Today, March 20th, marks the Vernal Equinox  - the point of the early year when day and night are of equal length and explained thus:
'The March equinox is the movement when the sun crosses the true celestial equator – or the line in the sky above the earth’s equator – from south to north, around March 20 (or March 21) of each year. At that time, day and night are balanced to nearly 12 hours each all over the world and the earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the earth and the sun.
In gyroscopic motion, the earth’s rotational axis migrates in a slow circle based as a consequence of the moon’s pull on a nonspherical earth. This nearly uniform motion causes the position of the equinoxes to move backwards along the ecliptic in a period of about 25,725 years.'
Hmm. It's the sort of explanation that makes me wish I had concentrated more in school. Even now I feel my brain going walkabout at the very thought of things scientific. I am not proud of this.

My diary puts it rather more succinctly: 'First day of Spring', and yes, that's my sort of definition. I think all I need to know is, that from now until the summer solstice in June, the days will be getting longer - and as importantly, warmer. Hurrah for that.

The past week has been fine though - any frost (and there have been a succession of frosty mornings) has quickly melted away and sunshine has followed. We'll gloss over the few days when fog crept up the dingle and hung low and dank like a re-run of November weather. Frost may remind us not to get too complacent but buds are swelling and birds are singing ever earlier in the morning and at dusk.

I've been giving the garden a bit of a spring-clean and doing some of the jobs which should have been done in the autumn. The long bitter winter has taken its toll and there are many gaps where plants have been lost. However, I shall see this as an opportunity. I don't suppose that the same will apply to weeds - they will survive come what may. I hauled out buttercups by the bucketful yesterday and know that lurking underground are the horrid white roots of bindweed just waiting until my back is turned. Bastards.

So it's time for some major replanting. This morning I have got out my big book of good ideas for planting combinations. All very inspiring - beautiful photographs of borders at the peak of perfection. Colour, tone and texture to aspire to and be inspired by. I know the theory.

The trouble seems to be that my garden doesn't. Like some cantankerous old aunt it knows what it likes, and it likes what it knows - and the 'thrivers' and survivors are not necessarily the plants I wish to plant exclusively. Dog roses, hardy geraniums (particularly Bevan's Variety), Nepeta Six Hills Giant, Viburnam tinus and, curiously, Angelica just love it here and push and shove weaker specimens out. I love them too, but in moderation.

I am writing a list. It will be tempered with the knowledge that the cissies of the plant world will not be included. It will probably be a long one. Much money will inevitably change hands. I will wish I had shares in the Dingle and Derwen.

I shall buy and plant hopefully. This is after all a time of year filled with such promise.

Monday, March 14, 2011

This week. The highlights?

Where was I? Ah yes, being irritated by an inept tourist attraction. No point in chundering on about that though. Time and tide waits for no man.....onto the next best thing.

Wednesday,  and it's Chirbury and Marton YFC's presentation of 'Never mind the Bullcocks' in Marton Village Hall. Below we have, in rehearsal, Harry as Mrs Isabel End and Christopher as sleazeball quiz show host Mr Hugh Jazz. Make sure you let those names roll off your tongues for full YFC comedic impact. How we laughed.
By some miracle after all comes good. The cast and back stage crew were brilliant and got a fantastic reception on home ground. In the entertainment competition at Whitchurch they were up against some pretty stiff opposition and failed to catch the adjudicators' eyes. They are quite a small club and if they want to enter the competition it usually means everybody must have a role in the production - whereas in a larger club it's possible to hold auditions and also to put on some big impressive set pieces with singers and dancers. Scale isn't an issue with C and M though - they get up there and give it their best. I admire them tremendously and am proud of each and every one of them.  Producer Maureen and I may be tearing our hair out as The Big Day approaches but we are doing it with pride.
I must add that the Glam Ass's most splendid scoreboard was extremely good. Bonus points for the actor who could not only manipulate the numbers, but add them up correctly and remember her lines and cues as well.


Heather brings us lambs. They are so tiny I think we might need a magnifying glass to spot them in our field. They come to us numbered to match their mothers. The numbering, usually sequential, is a little curious this year. One lamb and its mother each have a *  sprayed on their sides. A ewe and twins are 00 and the other little 'family' have 2s. Where are ewe and lambs No. 1? I contemplate this and wonder if in fact the numbering system has this year been started using minus figures - I know there have been lambs at Fir House now for about a fortnight - and they have only just reached the pluses. I am considering the finer philosophical points of accounting for something that's very obviously there with the concept of something which isn't when it starts to rain so I go in for a cup of tea instead. The following day one of the No 2 lambs is not thriving and is taken back to the farm for a bit of tlc so we are one lamb down - that's the sort of 'minus' I can understand.

It is so good to have them again - and good too to see buds swelling on trees and shrubs. The hedge opposite the school in Leighton, an early variety of Hawthorn, was actually showing small green leaves.


A morning spent in the archives, nose down in a document of 1774 (about which more at another time). D and I emerge later to find - rather like latter day Rip Van Winkles - that the world has moved on without us. On entering the building we left behind a grey dull day, spent the next few hours immersed in 18th century Shropshire and on coming out blink in the sunshine of a 21st century spring afternoon. It's fantastic. Then a ride home over the Long Mountain. We do not meet a car for 8 miles. That's pretty good too.

...there has been a party too, food drink and celebration. Time to garden, get into the greenhouse and chivy seeds into sprouting and encourage seedlings to grow.

All stuff of no consequence really - just the reassuring daily round - a few delights, the certainty of spring following winter, clear skies and a waxing moon. A house on a hill, buds, bird song, friends and family. 

I have been watching footage of the Japanese tsunami - in disbelief and with a lump in my throat. It is the stuff of nightmare - a terrifying force taking all in its path. Ships are on land, cars at sea, houses up-rooted, all a filthy swirling maelstrom of bobbing flotsam and jetsam. There is no where to run to. This is not the way things should be.

So today, a calm sunny Monday on the top of a low mountain, I am just counting my blessings. My life may be dreary and mundane but sometimes there is nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Well known phrases and sayings - No.8

'It gets my goat'.

The ladies of Chirbury Art Group enjoy a good day out. It's been a while since the last trip so Mr Bowden's 26 seater has been booked for a Wednesday in May. They know where they want to go: The Wedgewood Museum and 'Site experience' at Stoke on Trent. It ticks all the boxes - art, fine craft, places to drink tea and eat cake - nothing to frighten the horses.

There's just a bit of fine tuning to be done on the programme betwixt pick up in Chirbury at 8.00am and the coo's of delight and amazement at Josiah W's wonderful artefacts to be had at the end of the journey.....

I consult the web site - and it's a very pretty web site. Its headline, over a picture of snowy trees, reads 'Worth the journey whatever the weather' which somehow plants the idea that it might not be.  There's something about that phrase 'worth it' which implies hard work, worthy endeavour and grudging enjoyment. Maybe it's just me.

We've also heard rumours that it might be closed, or closure imminent - although the web site doesn't indicate this. A phone call should sort that out. The bookings lady eventually calls me back and I learn that while the factory tour - I guess this is the 'site experience' - is not open at present the Museum most certainly is and is well worth a visit. She'll send me a booking form for my group.

Going on for a month later the booking form arrives along with 2 other sheets of paper explaining the nuances of booking one's group in. It may be me again but nothing quite adds up... it's time to talk on the phone again....which is where my goat gets got, so to speak.....

The Bookings Office (if indeed there is one) has two lines, both open on weekdays between 10.00am and 4.00pm. I check my watch and key in the first number. A recorded message tells me the line is busy. Never mind I'll call back in a few moments. I repeat the exercise. Again. And again. I hold and press * to hold longer. I press * to hold again.  The answering machine clicks in. I do not want the answering machine and inadvertently say 'bugger' and put the phone down. Whoops. This happens on both lines. Nearly ad infinitum. Hmm. They must be busy - which is v.good - but also v.odd. Can't believe they're that rushed off their feet this early on a Monday morning in early March. Can't believe nobody can be answering the phones - do they not want our business? No wonder this little corner of British industry is beleaguered.

10 minutes turns into half an hour, which in turn ticks its way towards the hour as I try in vain to speak to someone. What finally, well and truly gets my goat, is the recorded 'please hold, your call is important to us'.

What??? If it's so bloody important why don't you answer the @$!*ing! phone? Seethe, hiss and boo!

I calm down, call the the main reception number and ask to be put through to the Bookings Office. The very nice receptionist (who sounds like somebody's Nan) gave a shout out to somebody down the corridor - the same somebody who should have been answering their phones - and we're talking at last. Not that it was very helpful. It turns out I have last year's prices - which they will honour and no, she still didn't know if the factory would be open or not in May.

But why does the phrase 'it gets my goat' trip off my tongue at such ineptness, such lack of customer service? It essentially means to become extremely irritated. I do like this explanation:
'One of the most likely explanations behind “gets my goat” is also one of the more interesting - something which rarely happens when exploring the roots of common idioms. As early as the 1700s, goats were used as companion animals to help settle race horses, keeping the notoriously skittish animals relaxed. Taking a horse's pet goat away would have agitated and upset the animal, potentially influencing the outcome of a race.'
Seems plausible? Guess I'd get pretty stroppy if somebody took my favourite goat away.

Anyway, for goat fans, here's another picture:

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Look what the sun's brought out...

Isn't the secret heart of a crocus the loveliest thing?

As the clouds rolled back petals unfolded to embrace the sun - and what passing insect could resist those pollen-y parts? From a distance this seems to be just another white crocus but seen up close its petals are delicately lined in lilac.

Above our first daffodils - they may be Tête à Tête, refugees from pots and tubs. The natives, N. pseudonarcissus are still tucked in the grass, biding their time.

Dreamy, creamy children we used to pull their heads off and sip the nectar. Now I prefer to leave them be.

And there's always someone isn't there? Got to be different....