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.