Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bird Brained?

What was I saying only a couple of posts ago? Nests? Height above ground? Potential predators?

Birds - were you listening?

Apparently not. Sigh. The nest below does not conform with the 3ft (1m) above ground safety rule. Not only that, it may be reached by a series of log steps and is also clearly visible from most places in the front garden.

(Trust me, it's in there at about 10 o'clock from the orange thingy)

My father always told me that the Blackbird was not a very bright bird. Q.E.D.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In which cattle marinade themselves perhaps?

Hmm. Young Farmers and Beer. What does the song say?  'They go together like a horse and, la, la, you can't have one without the other' etc.... Or something.

Last evenings YFC jaunt to Ivor's Wagyu Beef farm was a case in point...these were beer drinking cattle. And these beasts could slurp with the best of them! The Glam Ass and I tagged along, ever curious observers.

For the uninitiated Wagyu cattle are of Japanese origin and are noted for their particularly marbled meat - a quality which enhances both succulence and flavour. In recent years the trend in this country has been, led by supermarkets who claim to reflect the wants of the consumer, for leaner cuts. Fat is the Devil's spawn and must be excised at all costs. I would concur with our new friend Ivor - a marbled steak is a wonderful, toothsome thing. Ivor is ploughing a lonely furrow in commercial terms though - his is a one mans campaign to put flavoursome high quality meat with FAT in it back on our plates.

But back to the beer. In Japan, this highly prized breed is cossetted; its muscles massaged and, to stimulate appetite, promote relaxation and a feeling of well-being, they are given beer...a feeling that most YF's will know well. Ivor's not one to buck a trend so he too indulges his cattle, talks to them, caresses them and has done a deal with the local brewery, Monty's, so that they might enjoy a litre or three of ale of an evening. (Do click the link - it's a pretty good beer for people too.) The result, he assures us, is an unstressed animal and an unstressed animal makes better eating.

We meet Abramovitch the bull and his offspring too - they are rather similar to the Limousin X beasts we are more familiar with but take longer to 'finish' - and there's the rub, this all makes for a more expensive product. We tasted some and it was good - I shall be looking out for some at our local butcher. Worth it - definitely - for a special meal. I'll create a demand.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bird time

I've been meaning to write about birds for the past 2 weeks or so mainly because - joys of joys - the first swallows put in appearance at our end of Long Mountain on 14th April. Their arrival coincided with the end of a month of unseasonable warmth and the arrival of a climate which would send any right-minded bird straight back to Africa. A sight to lift the spirits none-the-less.

However, it seems these were passing through. A few days later a lone bird sat on the wire which crosses the lane, slowly and elegantly flexing first one wing and then the other. It was there long enough to raise my hopes that 'our' swallows were indeed back. But nope. Another passer-by. Today another two twittered, tweeted and stretched on the same wind-swept wire before they too launched off into the grey skies which have been this month's signature sky colour.

Chester the 'brave' hunting dog has sniffed out 2 nests: a Dunnock with these most beautiful bright blue eggs and that of a Robin.

The Dunnock has chosen to build in a little topiary ball at the back of the house - not a particularly private or secret spot - as you can see from this rather uninteresting picture of our terrace.

The dog's sensitive nose sniffed out the Robin's nest, beautifully crafted in a clump of sedge and grass - a little soft mossy cup with 4 tiny speckled eggs. We called him away but he obviously filed it away in his dog-brain as some thing which needed further investigation. Two days later he seized the opportunity for a bit of hunting and dived in...emerging with a mouthful of Robin. Why is the death of a Robin the saddest thing?

Chester was chastised and sent to his bed but I'm not sure our rantings will have much effect - he is hard-wired to hunt. It is in his nature. Curiously he has not taken much notice of the pair of ducks which look as if they might set up home near the pond - or maybe their presence has bookmarked for future action too. Advice for all birds around here would be to nest at least 3 feet off the ground.

The Trelystan orchids show promise - last year Powis County Council's hyper-efficient verge mowing team did as instructed by the Wildlife Trust and didn't mow until late summer. They managed to escape predation by sheep, lambs and rabbits as well. Let's hope they have another good year. This is the first one coming into flower - another duff picture as I was too idle to get out of the car.

I hope and believe this stretch of roadside is being treated as a nature reserve - it will be interesting to see what emerges if things are left to grow and seed rather than being scalped.

So. We await swallows and sunshine. The soil is moist though so maybe I should be out there sowing seeds. It's not raining at the moment....carpe diem.

Monday, April 09, 2012

What would you do?

Come on Internet chums - your ideas and inspiration please. Just what would you do with the likes of this?

This here's my collection of potsherds - none are particularly old and none are particularly interesting...but I did think that if one individual piece is uninteresting, then together they might make music.

They are the cracked and crazed history of here; the story of the cack-handed residents of Lower House - the Vaughans, Bebbs, Smouts, Parrys and Bowens. Plates which slipped through those fingers. This is a story of dropped pots, the sense of loss; chagrin perhaps. Maybe some were lobbed in anger. Who knows. There are tales to tell.

These remnants of farmhouse meals felt the clatterin' of eating irons - and perhaps one or two of the more delicate fragments hint of a life which wasn't always one of privation on top of a low mountain. There are one or two pieces of delicate bone china.

It is my regret that I do not know their tales. Who, for example, broke Mother's lustre jug (a fragment remains) and who brought back from Aber', (or Borth maybe), that gold lettered cup, a present for 'Mam' - of which only the letters 'pr' and 'fro' remain. I wish I knew. And what did the rest of this fragment say? Did a bad boy let this slip through his fingers...

I've picked them up out of the soil, many from the old midden, a few from the top soil we brought in and some, serendipitously, from mole hills up on the field.

What to do with them all is the question. Any ideas?

I toyed today with making a platter shaped mosaic - it entertained me for an hour this morning. A tea pot stand.....nah. What I would really like to make is a monumental mosaic rabbit - and I do mean massive scale here - but the probability of finding enough potsherds for that project is remote. Dream on. Sensible suggestions please.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Dusk. Trelystan.

My feet crunch through thawed then frosting snow. Behind me the moon, on the cusp of full, glows warm. A torch, up here on the field tonight, will not be necessary.

I close my eyes the better to hear the night.

For a start there's a stupid plane disturbing the peace of the small mountain kingdom. 'Go plane, just go.' I urge. And indeed it does - on it's way to Manchester or Liverpool perhaps. Then at last there is silence...but not silence because the world has sounds.

Is that an owl over there in Badnage Wood? I think so. And there's such an orchestra of sheep and lambs too - baa's and bawls and bleats, call and response...but never harmony. Ah! It's a discordant modern piece.

Drill down beneath the sheep sounds and listen - there is the roar of the stream which rises up near Cym Duggan and follows a stony path to the Rea Valley, picking up the name The Lowerfield Brook along the way. (Up here of course it is not known by that name - it is an anonymous watercourse - though I imagine that given long enough we would call it more than 'the stream'.) Tonight it roars and tonight the conifers sigh; a gentle soughing sound.

I don't think there is any other sound...oh maybe the odd rustle of a roosting hen...but otherwise the night has some sort of purity. By moonlight and the snow's reflected light my opened eyes see black and white in great detail. That ridge and furrow over there, just beneath the church? Is it part of some ancient landscape or the remains of 'The Long Mountain Experiment' aka potato planting on uplands during WWII? And just what makes the medieval farmer a more 'romantic' proposition for me than the latter day potato planter I wonder?

Ah well. I turn to the south, into the moon's light and towards my supper.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Who'd be a sheep eh?

This morning
I don hat-scarf-coat-gillet-boots - unearthing all my cold weather gear from where it has been stowed away a little too soon - and trudge up to let the hens out. Through a blizzard. I soon regret leaving my gloves behind. It's only an itsy bit of April snow. Nothing serious surely?

Not surprisingly as I raised the pop holes on houses one, two and three, the hens squawked 'blow that for a game of soldiers' as they saw the whiteout conditions, and took to their perches for a day of clucky grumbling'. And who would blame them?

I wasn't expecting this - too far south, too far west etc but at 2.00am this morning snow was indeed falling. And it is falling still, some 18 hours later. Thank goodness that as it has fallen there has been something of a thaw because otherwise the white stuff would now be up to the eaves. (As I type this I notice that the sky is now clearing and the moon is out.) We lost the electricity at breakfast time and the snow filled the lane shortly afterwards. We've spent a lot of time today just looking out at the window.
...and this afternoon
But who would be a sheep? Up until now the weather has been perfect for lambing. The little fields around us are used as nurseries and ewes and lambs spend a few days there, bonding before moving on and joining the bigger flock. Even yesterday evening we were watching some week old lambs running and jumping as the sun went down. Such simple pleasures, such joyful sheepy games. This morning though was a different story as their mothers led them to shelter in the lea of a hedge, out of the bitter wind. They seemed such scraps of things struggling through the heavy wet snow. With the lambs parked-up the ewes continued to graze, pawing at the snow to find the grass underneath, giving an occasional bleat to their shivering offspring.
John brought a big bale of straw to shelter some lambs in a particularly exposed field but mainly they manage to find shelter of some sort. I remind myself that wool is brilliant insulation. Here in our field is a kind of sheep refugee camp - they are hunkered down in a fold in the land, sheltered by a thicket of blackthorn and out of the worst of the weather. A couple of old ewes seem to be babysitting.

I click the camera off - it's too cold to stand out here fiddling. The wind is coming from the north and driving hard little crystals of ice into my face - it's a bit like being sand blasted. Indoors seems like a very good idea.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sheds. Stuff. Sigh

The Glam. Ass. is building a shed. No, make that another shed.  We have a number if you add up all the various structures in garden and field - and I'm not factoring in the deluxe model he had built for our absent neighbour in this equation either. They're all too robust and well constructed to even hint  at 'shanty-town'  but I am thinking 'hmm - shed world'. Just how many sheds does one man need I wonder?

Now, while I'm undeniably proud of my man's shed building prowess I'm sighing just the smallest of sighs. A shed is like a shelf - until you have one there's nothing to put on it. But once in existence it becomes the home of Stuff which then takes root and multiplies and, like a pernicious weed, is damned hard to get rid of.

This latest shed will become 'The Tractor Shed' and the little yellow tractor will move with all its kit and caboodle from the Field Shelter where it currently lives. The Field Shelter will become the Timber Store, housing all the er, timber which has been accumulated over the years for various as-yet unfulfilled wood working projects. This is a Good Thing - as it means that the plastic sheeted stack of wood that sits just inside the front gate will move out of my line of vision. However there is always the danger that having the space to store yet more timber, and indeed tractor kit, even more will be acquired.

All I ask is a couple of square metres to keep my hen food bins and a bale of shavings in. That should be possible.

......actually what I really would like is one of these. But not for anything utilitarian. Just for me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Amongst other things...

There's a gap on the perch of the Henhouse-on-Wheels tonight. Mrs Scraggy-Neck has clucked her last. She is no more. The matriarch of my small flock has gone to her final roost.

At 7 years old she was the last of my original hens. A good layer in her day but latterly an indulged older bird. She'd earned the right to first dibs at pellets and corn and the right to peck viciously at any lesser bird bold enough to stick its beak in before she did. I was quite surprised at just how heavy her lifeless corpse was - not many dinners missed there methinks.

For the curious she earned her name via a run-in with Chester, the 'brave' hunting dog. He grabbed her head, she dodged, skin tore and ouch! That must have hurt. I suppose on the basis of 'whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger' she survived, recovered and thrived - but bald of neck and one ear less.

Hasn't this weather been wonderful? The farmer's tan is coming on nicely thank you...but I can't bring myself to shed sufficient clothes  to make myself less piebald. It is only March for heaven's sake!

The garden has called. Beds have been tidied - jobs which should have been done in the back end' really. I never feel too guilty when I see Monty Don on Gardeners' World as behind as I consider myself to be. If it's alright for Monty, it's alright for me.

I've had a go at digging out some of the bindweed which has plagued us for the last few years. Our garden was a virgin plot in 2005 so I can only assume it came in as miniscule pieces in the topsoil. Click on the link to find out more about what is in reality a very attractive plant - particularly when growing somewhere else. I'm rather depressed to discover its roots can penetrate up to 5 metres deep - and know all about spreading rapidly. However I'm quite pleased with the amount I dug out yesterday - there's something rather satisfying about unearthing and carefully extracting the fleshy white roots. I've decided it is actually quite a clever plant and knows where it will be safe - lodged in the roots of something precious perhaps or down where the top soil becomes impenetrable shale.

Seeds have been sown in the greenhouse and outside a bed of Broad Bean 'Express' and another of Peas - 'Hurst Greenshaft', have been put in. I have grown both before and they have proved good do-ers. Also at the last count we have 12 spears asparagus looking promising - this is a tad earlier than last year.

Above, in another fuzzy iPhone photo, is fat white Wilson sunbathing on the newly sown peas. Nice warm earth I suppose. Persuading him to get off without disturbing the soil too much was a trial....and then I turned around and he'd got back up again. It doesn't really matter if a few peas are askew does it?
Lambing is well under way over at Fir House - what wonderful weather for it too. As the ewes lamb they spend 24 hours or so penned and bonding with their lambs and then they can come out onto the hill. At first they are put in smaller fields so the bonding process can continue - a post-partum sheep is easily confused I understand and in smaller groups there is less likelihood of lambs getting lost or muddled up.

We now have ewes and lambs on our little fields - slightly nervy mothers and their tiny offspring, scraps of things - almost too small for the big red numbers painted on their sides. They arrive in the stock trailer from Fir House and are decanted onto the grass - their first taste of the great outdoors.

Now here is something of an interesting observation. I've leaped to my feet I don't know how many times today at what I've assumed to be the imminent arrival of lambs in the stock trailer. But no - some bird out there can imitate the squeaks, rattle and jolt noise of said trailer as it bounces down the lane. Just as back in the day starlings latched on to the warble of that 70s style icon the 'Trim phone'  and had homeowners running to answer that non-existent call. Clever eh?
PS I have another Herman friendship cake on the go. Anybody want a portion? 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the second day of Spring

The calendar may tell me we've (just) passed the vernal equinox, but is it Spring? Is it really? Is it safe to come out of hibernation yet?

If I squint in a particularly determined manner then I can almost convince myself that there are big buds on the sycamores down the dingle. Surely there are? This Cornus kesselringii above, planted for its striking dark stems but otherwise something of a dull shrub, has redeemed itself this week - the brightness of the emergent leaves like little fresh flames in a thatch of black stems. It has earned its keep this season. It can stay.

There are certainly primroses and pretty native daffodils. Oh why didn't we put more in last autumn? Such simple little things unlike their brasher, cultivated cousins. Such bringers of joy at this time of year too.

The Glam. Ass has early blossom in his orchard - this is a Japanese Plum. I wish I could say the fruit was tasty - it was certainly prolific last year but the dogs ate it up before we humans got a look in. (Chester grazes from the branches and Wilson hoovers up whatever's on the ground.)
Fortunately the hens have been busy at last.  I never fail to get a thrill when I open the nest box to reveal a clutch of eggs, some still warm. (Sorry about the fuzzy picture.)
It's nearly time to think about finding some hatching eggs to put in the incubator - I fancy having a few more Marans to bring on for next year. They're the ones which lay those deep brown eggs - though why shell colour is so important when it's the egg inside that counts does baffle me.

We've got a resident rabbit's the cutest, tiniest thing and has chosen to live under the wood pile. Like the evil grey squirrel it's got it PR sorted. It sits in the sun and washes its ickle nose with its itsy paws and I go 'ahhhh' and melt.

There's only 1 rabbit so far - unless there are more and they come out to graze at different times. That would be worrying, taking into account the multiplication rate of rabbits and the fact that I am hoping, once again, to grow vegetables in abundance. I'm usually with Mr Mc Gregor re rabbits....but having just found the link (I can have a Peter Rabbit App for the iPhone!!) am having a moment of weakness. But one step towards my lettuces Master Rabbit and you are pie.

It's definitely not a hare. One morning last week up on the field sat a big March hare, who, as I approached, loped off into the mist. They're about but we don't see them often - and sighting this shy and elusive creature seemed like a good omen.

Now the fields are full of new lambs. Soon I will spy birds nesting - the garden is loud with bird song as I write this. Already we have asparagus showing its pale snouts above the soil - soon there will asparagus for supper.

I feel the urge to plant and to sow - to get out there and be part of this great awakening but that soil is still too cold, it's still too early. I'll bide my time - 'feste lente' - make haste slowly - making do with a bit of tidying here and some greenhouse work there.

And because it is still too early to do without the boiler and we need it running for water and warmth I'll wait in for someone to come and diagnose its latest 'hiccup'. That's run 10 minutes, blow all the fuses ad infinitum. Pah! give me the sun's warmth on my back any day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fed up with mud...

You know what I want? What I really, really want?

I want to walk up onto the field without coat/scarf/boots/hat/gloves. I want warm and light and mostly I want Spring.

I didn't think it was infectious but it looks like I've caught Februaryitis - an affliction which seems to be doing the rounds of blogworld. Some days, at this time of year I'm that fed up with mud and gloom that I could - in the words of an old Yorkshire friend - 'writ' bum 'ont wall.'

I am failing to express myself quite as eloquently as bloggers elizabethm and Rachel. All I can think of saying is 'Bleugh, I've had enough of this. Moan. Sigh.'

But hang on...when the sun comes out things look pretty good. It was light this evening at 5.37pm and at 2 minutes per day that means by Sunday, well, it should be light at nearly six o'clock. Well, nearly. But you get my drift.

We have snowdrops, early crocus and the sweetest little cyclamen. There are lambs - as skippy and hoppy as lambs can be.  I'd swear that the birds were sounding a little more optimistic too. Tweet, tweet. I am glad about these things.

In other news:

The Hermans have been baked. Here they wait to go into the oven:

Other Hermans have been given away but I have no news of their fate. We have eaten one of ours and it did taste good - particularly when warm, straight from the oven. The only thing which might have made it better would have been a dollop of Bird's custard....but the Glam Ass is something of a foodie snob and doesn't do custard (or ketchup or instant coffee) so we went without. The other two are in the freezer.

Chester the brave hunting dog has had a worrying couple of days. Firstly he was bullied by the lovely sheep, which gave him a good and unexpected 'seeing-to'. (Admittedly better that the other way round - I must admit that in sheep country such as this it is perhaps the best thing that could happen to him.) She pushed him into the fence and proceeded to head-butt him vigorously while he desperately looked for a means of escape...eventually running to stand behind me. Wuss or what?

As if a large old ewe was not enough he seems threatened by a wood louse. Check it out here, rambling across my dog-hairy kitchen floor:
It is all of 7mm long. The brave hunting dog is perhaps .75m at the shoulder. What is there to scare a dog in such an itsy creature? Is this small creature giving off some primordial signals that the dog's fairly basic brain sees as a threat. Again, and this time after a long period of observing the scuttling creature followed by some cautious back stepping, he comes to stand behind me for protection.

I realise that these little things are crustaceans but can some entymologist out there tell me if there they give off some threatening smell or something which would worry a dog? Something redolent of its dinosaur past perhaps? It's quite amusing to watch his reaction but at the same time rather strange.

The Young Farmers took their panto to Whitchurch last Friday, and by the skin of their teeth pulled off a presentable performance in the drama competition. From my lofty position in the lighting box it all looked pretty good...even when our Dame, Harry, came back on stage after a costume change sans wig and was, when he realised his mistake, pretty and publicly apologetic. But heh! We were amongst friends and he brought the house down - especially when the wig was thrown on from the wings and he jammed it back on his head. We didn't get placed but two of our young people got the awards for best under 18 actors - well deserved too.

The pace of life will hopefully get back to normal...after next Saturday when the group put Jack and the Beanstalk on in the Village Hall.

Not that I shall be sitting around idly....the garden looks as if, given a bit of warmth and wet, it's about ready to burst into life. This year I am determined to keep on top of it.

I wonder.....

Monday, February 06, 2012

In which Herman invades Wales.

Let me introduce Herman - Herman the friendship Cake:
So far not a thing of beauty, more a suppurating mass with a name. Crikey, an anthropomorphic cake.
What a novelty. Except I have been here, Herman-wise, before - in something like like 1983 when even then being the recipient of a Herman was something of a curse. The cake equivalent of chain mail. And we all know what to do with chain letters don't we? We commit them to the bin pronto. But this is not words on paper - this is a bubbling spluttering mix, plopping away in its prescribed 'big bowl' under its 'tea towel'. It's alive and needs to be nurtured. Fed for heaven's sake.

He'll sit on my work top for the next 9 days, presumably getting bigger and bubblier until he's subdivided - 3 portions to give away and one for me to mix up and bake with apple, dried fruit and spices on day 10.

I've politely turned down all recent offers from friends bearing little pots of the gloopy starter but yesterday there was no escape; a kind woman with an tinge of desperation in her eyes pressed forced an ice cream carton full of it into my hands. It looks as if everyone else in Shropshire has erm, had their cake and eaten it too.
Friendship cakes have done the rounds before of course. In the 60s and the 80s (when I remember them) and now, after yet another 20 year gap. Is this a regular cycle - and where do they go in the intervening years?

For me the best news is that Herman and his like have yet to infiltrate the village of Leighton on the other, Welsh side, of the hill. He might be welcome there. Ha! I have put feelers out already and indeed my lovely neighbour has expressed interest in having a portion.

If I don't kill him first.

Edited to add... a little later that same day

Herman had hardly settled his new 'big bowl' on my worktop when, with a baying and barking of the family dogs, a friend arrived a the door with a neatly cling-filmed, gloop-filled basin. Ah, this must be Herman No.2. What's a girl to do but to introduce the two mixes? Frankly it's a bit like putting two lots of strange hens together - better done under cover of darkness when neither realise the other is there until dawn's early light. I expect in the morning Hermans 1 and 2 will be the best of friends and bubbling away harmoniously.  Please form orderly queues if you would like a portion. There will now be PLENTY.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Oh no it isn't...

It's that time of year again. Yep, YFC drama competition time. This year the theme is pantomime and I am amazed to think that I've been involved long enough to think 'Oh no, not again.' (Panto, I can assure you is not my favourite genre.) Chirbury and Marton have chosen 'Jack and the Beanstalk'.

So. We know when we will be be on stage in Whitchurch; 17th February, a date a little too close for comfort. These young people certainly enjoy a white knuckle ride. How I wish we had a little longer to tease the very best out of them.

Come on, tell me the few essentials of a good pantomime.  Whatever the individual storyline good will always triumph over evil. Kings, queens, nobles, evil henchmen, stereotypical simpletons, villagers and poor, beautiful and virtuous young girls rub shoulders in Pantoland. The Principal boy will always woo and win the Principal girl. The principal boy is always girl and there's always a Dame, another role for the cross dresser. As tradition demands our Dame is a stubbly chinned bloke.

There will be curious farm animals - a two-piece cow or horse. This is Daisy, deflated so-to-speak, sans actors.
We've had a few read-throughs but scripts are still much in evidence. 'Learn your words' we plead.
Come to think of it - we have yet to have a rehearsal with the whole cast present. 'Everyone must be there next time' we insist, more in hope than expectation.

Actually I will be the one who won't be there. I have other plans - even if they only involve being in the room next door. In the meantime there is the usual incongruous collection of props to assemble; cowbell, bag of gold/beans, buckets, baskets and feather duster. Not my kind of shopping I'm afraid.

Oh, they need a hen too....and if one can't be borrowed or made from papier mâché it has been suggested that I could find a compliant bird with thespian tendencies from my hen pen. Strewth! I think not. An afternoon covering a wire frame with paste and paper would be infinitely preferable. Non?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Sheep

I have a sheep. Actually it's not really mine - I sort of have it on loan.

At the end of last summer there were a dozen sheep on our field, usefully munching their way around and keeping the grass down for us. They were 'killer ewes' - the aged, barren and toothless or the ones whose previous lambing had been over-difficult and wouldn't go to the ram again. There's quite a good market for them, probably for processed foods and the like. Kebabs maybe. Mostly they looked a sorry bunch.

They soon learned that my bucket of layers' pellets was tasty enough and I soon learned to keep out of the way of this greedy mob at hen feeding time. Never underestimate the pushiness of a ewe who thinks she is hungry. One of them in particular had gold medals in persistence.

The time came for them to go and the big blue cattle truck arrived to take them away for slaughter. My little flock was gathered from the field to be loaded - and the words I shouldn't have spoken escaped my lips: 'Please can I keep that one? That one there with the pretty face?'

To my surprise H and J agreed. A few moments later the wrong sheep was trotting back to the field. 'It's the wrong one!' I squeaked. With only a little phaffing about, the right sheep was hauled off the lorry and she too went trotting back. 'Coffin dodgers' muttered Carl.

So. The Sheep and The Other Sheep live on the field - but only for the time being because the day will surely come when they will have to go. This one comes running for a handful of sheep nuts and offers its ears for a scratch. Her charms have beguiled me - though common sense tells me her wiles are mostly to do with cupboard love. Here she is, below, tasting the zipper on my gilet.
I've broken my No.1 Rule - don't get over-fond, taken in by a pretty face. (That would hold true for many relationships perhaps!) This way sadness lies. 

Rule No.2 - no names - still applies though. She is 'The Sheep'.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I got sunshine...

In the words of the fab Temptations* from way back in '65:
'I got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it's cold outside, I got the month of May...'
Me? I got oranges. I got liquid gold. I making marmalade.

There's not much new to say about this, my annual fruity task. Squeeze, pare, slice, bubble, boil and pot. The tedium of preparation...sigh...puts all but the most enthusiastic off. I put the cauldron on annually. It's not so much about a supply of marmalade that will last the year - for me it's about delighting the senses. This is a thing which has to be done.

A bag of oranges - such a vibrant cheering colour when all is grey outdoors.

Scent too; breathe in - the house (maybe even the whole of the small mountain kingdom) is redolent of bitter orange. Reach out, touch something. Sticky. Everything. Just why is there marmalade on my ear lobe?

So, we now have enough jars on at the shelf and a few to spare. A good feeling.

*Promise me you'll click the link - it's as feel-good a thing as marmalade! The suits and shoes are pretty good too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pan and er, Pan

The Glam Ass shoved a copy of The Times under my nose. His expression implied that the country was going to the dogs - if indeed it hadn't already been there, done that and was now proudly sporting the t shirt.

'Just what's that all about?' he grumped, stabbing his finger on a quarter page ad. 'Can you understand it?'

I looked and well, no, I couldn't.

'I can understand the words but what the **** is the picture all about?' he continued. I could foresee one of those whingey conversations ensuing in which he proposed that in its glory days advertising was creative and made sense but now it was just gratuitous clap-trap etc etc etc and I would disagree and talk about different mores for different generations. Blah, blah.We would go round in circles until some other snippet caught his eye and we set off on a minor rant yet again.

The offending ad is for a mobile phone provider - as it is not in front of me now their name escapes me. That's how good it was. Not.

Yes, the words are perfectly understandable but the picture is a little bizarre; a bucolic landscape with an ugly hooved and horned man dressed in a cricket sweater, and obviously in thrall to a sweet little hovering fairy. Are we missing an allusion here?

'Is is meant to be Pan?' the GA asked. 'Why? Why's he wearing a cricket sweater?'

I nod sympathetically. I dunno. I get asked a lot of questions like this and experience has proved that it's wisest not to get too embroiled. It's generally not worth wasting energy on. Perhaps I had switched off anyway - at the mention of the word 'Pan' my brain's hyper-efficient search engine was churning away and seconds later a few lines from a song last heard in the early 70's  popped into my head. This was without even trying.

'how will I say where I end
or where you begin
how will I say, what shall I play
shall it be you or the wild wind
as Pan with the unsane eyes
or with the wild horns
or when I am crowned with the paper crown
or with the crown of thorns

This is a snippet from the Incredible String Band's 'Queen of Love' - I won't bore you with it all. There is much in the same vein as it lasts a whole 8.06 minutes. I suspect I was quite a fan of theirs though the vinyl is long gone. Seen written out and after a gap of nearly 40 years it does seem like vapid unfathomable tosh, but back in those heady days however, how profound and mystic.

I am of course immediately transported back to then, to summer days in north Oxfordshire when the sun was always shining and if it rained, what the heck - we got wet and danced in it.

Enough of this - a more scholarly person might have come up with references to classical Greece rather than a season of peace and love. None of which answers any of the questions posed by the Glam Ass or satisfies my passing curiosity about the relationship between Pan and a fairy.

Am I missing a trick somewhere? Enlightenment welcome.
Out of curiosity I've just gone and looked at the ad again. The provider is O2. I've googled O2. Our goat-legged friend and his fairy are there as well. More mysteriously the goat-legged one, still in his cricket sweater, also offers fantastic tariffs and deals from a a squirrel. 

Worse still, I now feel an 'ear-worm' coming on.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

I start the year with a sploosh...

I didn't know I'd got an 'under-tray'. I do now.

It turns out that it was this 'under-tray' which made such a dreadful crunching noise as I came out of the flood down by the Mill turn. (No visions of Ursula Andress  stalking sexily from the waves please - just a silver Audi emerging noisily from a large muddy puddle.)

As I drove on something scraunched on the road underneath me. Ooo err...not a good noise. It was a bit silly to go through the flood really - anything could have been in the water just waiting to knock cobs of my motor. I parked up at the Village Hall and tentatively knelt down (not wanting to get my knees wet) to see if I could spot the damage. And indeed I could. A large bit of rigid black plastic hanging down. B****r. Looks there will be no driving this home. More damned expense. Sigh.

On going through the water this 'under-tray', which in effect covers the car's undercarriage, had scooped up gallons of muddy water which being so heavy (we all know that a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter don't we?) tore away the weedy plastic fixings which hold the tray in place and the whole caboodle collapsed.

The Glam Ass (bless 'im) came to the rescue and after a bit of grumbling and a bit of thought suggested I raise the height of the car. This particular model has the ability to raise itself at the push of a button to cope with different sorts of terrain. Clever huh? Why didn't I think of that?

It did the trick and I was able to proceed carefully back through the flood to our very best motor mechanic who has the necessary ramp and big screwdriver. It will be fixed sooner or later but for the time being I shall be driving the pick-up. This means no drive to Yorkshire on Friday for an aged aunt's funeral, but that is another story.

Please be warned - you too may have an 'under-tray' - do not mix with deep water.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year

Family and friends have visited - I've been indulged beyond belief with presents, fed to bursting, laughed and cried. I've enjoyed every minute of your company. Thank you all so much. Can we do it again next year?

My twinkly Christmas tree still glistens in the corner; so pretty...but oh dear, there is the faintest whiff of stale spruce which I will not be able to tolerate for much longer. The party's over, we've turned the corner of the year and it is time to move on.

New Year's day then in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan.....wet and mild; a stark but benevolent landscape, surprisingly green. Isn't it rather beautiful? If those trees were lace on a gown of green they would surely be the talk of the town.

After drought conditions prevailed for a large part of 2011 we now find ourselves saturated. The little lane under our window runs with water like a stream and the trudge to the hens is a slip-slidey affair.

Which of course doesn't bother the Naughtiest Sheep, seen here with our dog Wilson, the most handsome bull terrier in Trelystan. (Both wish to be on the other side of a closed gate...neither appreciating that the world is not hugely different whichever side one is on.)

The Naughty Sheep has no trouble, sharp hoofed as she is, manoeuvring the slippy bank to the hen pen - and nudging my hen food bucket as she goes. Ever hopeful.

Thus it was, sheep and bucket at my side we went up at dusk this evening and stood awhile.

Over in the dark conifers of Badnage Wood an owl hooted. (Oh joyous sound! We haven't heard owls for ages.) The sky was clear and, as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, a bright small moon and star upon star upon star appeared; a delicious panoply indeed.

The Plough, that most familiar of constellations, lay over the Wood - on its back looking as a plough should look.

It is a constant. There will be something very wrong if it is not there tomorrow. For all the changes that we hope a new year will bring there are always things which should remain the same. Love, health, hope and happiness. Peace too.

I wish you all these things for 2012 - we are together under the same sky.