Thursday, February 06, 2014

The obligatory 'incessant rain' post


Wellies on. Coat on. Hat on. Squelch up the field. Trudge through the mud, each step squeezes out water beneath my boots. Even up here on the top of our low mountain the land is saturated. In theory every drop that has fallen is making its way down to our neighbouring valleys, where having nowhere else to go, it forms puddles, pools and lakes. I know I shouldn't complain - after all there are others actually under water and far worse off - not merely pee'd off by day after day of grey skies and rain.

But I am irked. Even the irritating 'Pollyanna-ish' side of me is failing to remain chipper.  Perhaps I should follow my hens' example.

The new hens, perhaps overjoyed at having avoided their fate in 'enriched cages' in a battery house, have taken to life on this blustery hillside with enthusiasm. They're not whingeing about rain and wind - no - they're out there clucking and scratting, having a lovely time; their mission to convert the grassy pen to a mud patch nearly complete. It's surprising how much damage 34 small feet can wreak.
Here they are enjoying their afternoon corn and below trying to peck the word 'Dunlop' off my boots. I know, bird brained or what?

I think I can confidently say they are happy hens. They are laying well - certainly more than the Glam Ass and I can eat so I shall have to start an egg marketing campaign. Fresh free range eggs any one?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

As we were - waiting for the cave to open.

This seems like a bit of innocent fun - I've cribbed the idea from Rachel, who in turn was inspired by Jane.

Absolutely no science whatsoever in deciding which photo to choose - grab an album and open at random.

Et voila! Here we are, my boys and I in France, somewhere near Cahor. When? I'm guessing about 25 years ago. Note that we are the personification of Cowards oft quoted lines 'Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun....' The temperature is stifling; we do not have the sense to find a shady spot but fry on this handy bench. Not only are we overheated we are also bored stiff.
We are waiting for the cave to open. Having fetched up in the heat of the day when the 'cave guide' has gone for his long French dejeuner there is nothing else to do but sit it out. And sit, and sit.

Eventually, his lunch consumed and in the nick of time, because those boys' boredom levels were approaching critical, our man returned. We paid our francs and he unlocked the grille which was the door which led down into the cave's hidden depths.

Ah, there is a welcome drop in temperature almost as soon as we enter. We follow our guide, grabbing crude handrails to prevent a fall on the sloping uneven path. The strong sunlight does not penetrate this far, soon we are in darkness. The guide's torch flickers and bobs and eventually flashes onto a wall to pick out the outline of beasts and the stenciled prints of mens' hands. We are privileged to be an arm's length from the art of pre-historic man in this place of magic and mystery. Was the shiver that went through my bones merely the drop in temperature or the wonder of these iconic images? For me, as ever, there are more questions than answers: why here? why in the depths of this rocky place? And the sheer practicalities of taking flame and pigments somewhere so inaccessible - if it's difficult now, what must it have been like then?

For me, utterly memorable. I'm not sure now if anything as undesirable as the public are allowed in such close proximity to such irreplaceable art works so treasure that visit. My boys? Now men they do remember sitting on the bench - though I do wonder if they have more recall of seeing the photograph than the experience.

We emerged from the cave - back out into the heat of a French afternoon, cicadas clicking and the scent of tinder dry scrub. Back into the 20th century and for the lads a splash around in the swimming pool and probably a barbecue supper. Just one of many French holidays - but the only one with pre-historic bison.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The quilt is coming along nicely, thank you

Lord knows, I should surely know by now, I am not cut out for this; this Doing Things Properly.

I like the ideas - the BIG ideas - great schemes - the broad sweep. Somebody else can take care of the process and the fine detail. I like spontaneity, the notion of doing and the end product. Just don't bore me with the in between.

I know this. It's always been this way; even as a small child I would suggest making - oh, let's say some pretty cup cakes (except back in the day I expect they were called fairy cakes) - to my cooking-orientated mother. 'Very good' she'd say approvingly, no doubt hoping for a chip off the old block. (Fat chance.) 'Wash your hands, put on a pinny, get your nice Good Housekeeping cook book and turn to page 64 - we'll make Rock Cakes. Now what does the recipe say?' 

That's how to kill fun stone dead...and I'd slope off to watch Saturday afternoon wrestling or climb a tree. I'd wanted to get to the cooked bit where the icing was on, they were on a plate and ready to be admired and eaten. Forget the elbow grease and the science of why cakes rise - or in the case of Rock Cakes, don't.

What sparked this minor rant is the making of a quilt. By way of explanation: In October I  hitched a ride on the local Art Club's outing to the excellent Jen Jones' Welsh Quilt Centre  in Lampeter, which this year hosted an exhibition of quilts by Kaffe Fassett. Fassett's use of colour in his knitwear and textiles is well documented and this exhibition was a bold exemplar of the master's art. The centre occupies the old Town Hall in the middle of Lampeter - as big an open space as one could wish for - but what a prefect space to hang quilts. Fassett's bold coloured patterns were juxtaposed with old Welsh whole cloth quilts which encircled the room.  Compare and contrast as the old examination papers used to say. Both fabulous and utterly inspiring. Yep. That's me. Inspired. So -  I. Will. Make. A. Quilt.

It happens that, next door to the Quilt Centre, is Calico Kate - purveyor of Fabric, Haberdashery and Yarn and which drew me in like iron filings to a magnet.

In a rush of enthusiasm I bought fabric. Glorious fabric in jewel-like colours which brought sunshine into the very many gloomy days of late autumn. It will make a fantastic quilt - my mind's eye has it spread on a bed somewhere already.

Well, having got the fabric I'd better do something with it. (The temptation to just put it one side and stroke it occasionally is great.) A cutting mat and rotary cutter were ordered.  I then did a great deal of cutting out.  Hmm. Now I had the same amount of fabric but all cut into otherwise unusable little squares. To save the guilt trip getting any worse I really had to start sewing them together rather than letting them languish at the bottom of a box somewhere. The sewing process was a bit like a production line - just keep going, same old, same old, until all the bits - or most of the bits - were joined together. Can't say I really enjoyed it but the sight of all the blocks together was satisfying. The idea was kind of working.

Christmas got in the way and the stack of 24 blocks sat to one side saying - if blocks could actually say - 'Well, are you going to sew me up or not?' And really now there's no excuse not to.

So I'm sitting here doing a bit more sewing together - joining blocks into bigger blocks. I'm trying my very best to Do It Properly because while I may rush at things like a bull at gate I do like craftsmanship and seams will be straight and neat and pressed. Wonky will not do.

I've now got six big squares - which I will link together with a dark 'sashing' (I think that's the word) before finally making the quilt sandwich with wadding and backing and actually quilting and binding.

See what I mean? what a time consuming business this Doing Things Properly is?

You know, in my head I've moved on and there are two or three other projects brewing already.

Friday, January 10, 2014

London. Time out

A night at the opera

We treat ourselves to seats at the Royal Opera House; good ones, in the balcony. We treat ourselves to a glass of chilled Sauvignon and a plate of smoked salmon sandwiches too, which we savour in the Floral Hall while watching the audience gather before taking their seats. It's a fairly smart crowd - everyone does seem to have Made an Effort - although a night at the opera is no longer the dressy occasion that it was once perhaps. But no matter - it does feel rather special to be here and were I slightly less weary I would be doing a discreet 'happy dance'.

Once in our seats, the orchestra tunes up, the lights dim - and there is applause as the conductor takes his place. Then comes the overture - and this being Carmen I am transported to the heat and light of Spain. This is Carmen on a grand scale - huge cast, huge set and internationally renowned voices.  I wish I were more knowledgeable regarding the technicalities  of singing and music. (I'm fairly undiscriminating - it has to be pretty bad for me not to enjoy it.) I've read mixed reviews but as some of the main roles here are shared by a number of singers on different nights it's a bit of pot luck who one actually ends up hearing given that tickets/travel/hotels/kennels/hen-sitters must align and be booked so far in advance. Our thoughts were that the singing was a little lack lustre in places (we later learn why) but the tumultuous applause at the end indicates that was not the case. Roberto Alagna (Don José), we learn, was singing with a chest cold and it was something of a miracle that he managed to sing to the end at all.

A great evening of utter bliss which flies by. However, it seems one can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl. There's a donkey - look there's a donkey! On stage. Little spindly legs and panniers. Bless. As good as gold. Then our torero Escamillo comes on, on horseback. Magnificent. And somewhere too, amongst the crowd who gather in the square, part of the whole but only a bit player is a woman with a basket of hens. She carries one under her arm too. I wonder how on earth said hens have been persuaded to stay put - are they tied in? stuck down? It appears not because one is having a fine time scrattling and pecking at the straw which lines the basket. I know for certain that my hens would have fled squawking to the 'Gods' even before the conductor lifted his baton. I'm thinking about this 4 days later and still don't know the answer.


Food glorious food...and too much of it. But hey, we were on our holidays. A meal at Ottolengi's Nopi in Soho with the eyechild. Good food and good company. Good honest ingredients, layers of flavours. Things I would not have the time or temperament to try at home. The humble and often maligned rice pudding soared to new heights and even the Glam Ass (who must have been put off rice pud sometime before 1950) came back for more.

If you are able, book a table. (Doggerel, sorry)

A fairly humble lunch at La Fromagerie off Marylebone High Street was a pleasure. Simple foods; bread, cheese and meat and well made coffee. Then an tempting away of cheeses to buy...perhaps we can store them on the hotel's windowsill for a couple of days. Yes, we'll do that.

We explored Borough Market and sighed over the delights on offer there. Such choice - we sadly never see that like in Welshpool and even a trip to Ludlow fails to offer that variety. I picture tomatoes just because the colours were so good on a grey day....and did we have some grey days? Yep. Far too many.

Finally to Jamie's Italian at Canary Wharf where we met up with my brother and his wife. Great fun. Good scoff. We should do it more often. Interesting that in one of the world's biggest money districts and sitting in the shadow of Barclays tower, the chip and pin machine was down and to pay the bill we had to resort to old technology - a rickety machine which takes an impression of your card.

I always feel like I'm in a sci-fi novel when I'm in Canary Wharf - always on the q.v. for one of those little flying space age cars from the Jetsons. Didn't spot any. Shame. Perhaps next time.

An 'ord.

We visited the Museum of London for a look at the Cheapside Hoard - London's lost jewels from the 16th and 17th century, discovered under a cellar floor by workmen in 1912.

Apparently this was an age when, were you wealthy enough, you wore jewellery aplenty as portraits from the period testify. All rather dainty, chains and filigree work; many rubies, pearls and semi precious stones too. 

This image is from the Museum of London's website:

A wonderful thing to find in the course of a day's work - a gleam of gold and then treasure. The finders, workmen, took it the following day to a pawnbroker who notified the authorities and who was instructed to buy the men out. I wonder if, in the meantime one or two pieces weren't kept as momentoes. The temptation must have been great.

...and talking of treasure 

....or rather treasures. We stayed once again in a hotel at the side of the British Museum, home to things precious, large and small. The BM must be one of my very favourite places. Anywhere. Ever.

I lay in bed and thought that if I were a super-hero I could, with a small leap and a bound from my window be across the road and into room 65 and amongst artefacts from ancient Sudan, Egypt and Nubia. So tantalisingly near. It occurs that if I did actually have super-powers then my super-vision would probably let me spy out hoards and treasure anyway, anywhere.  There was only time for a short visit but how good to know it is there for next time, for free and open to all.

Then home by train, in the sunshine at last. How still it is here on the top of our low mountain, hardly a man-made sound. The new hens have started to lay in our absence - perhaps a sign that the days are gradually lengthening. I must just go up to their pen and do a few auditions. It may be that some of them would like a career in opera.

Friday, January 03, 2014

In which we mean business


After a brief détente hostilities have recommenced with the moles of Trelystan.

As Moriarty is to Holmes, or Tom to Jerry, so Mr Diggory Diggory Delvet is to the Glam Ass - a lawn excavating foe of the first water. War is declared.

Moles hills are appearing once again on our back lawn which has only just recovered from the last invasion.  It's a fairly neat little patch but hardly a bowling green - frankly it's probably not worth worrying about - but the GA must see it as some sort of challenge. I can't say he hasn't tried.

Brutal looking traps have been set by gloved hands in the correct runs. Lethal pellets have been carefully placed and watered to release their toxic gas. A buzzing battery powered gadget shudders periodically.  The hunting dog occasionally presents us with a well licked corpse. (We speculate these may well have been caught by next door's cat anyway.)

All this to no avail. Hills continue to rise.

It's time to bring on the big guns; the Michael Bublé greetings card.

Open the card and Michael wishes Mum a very Happy Christmas...potentially over and over again, ad infinitum. How irritating is that?

I'm hoping that when the little recorded gizmo is removed from the card and slipped into a mole run the moles will be as alarmed as I was and run for the hills as fast as their stumpy little legs can carry them.

Worth a try I think. Any better ideas gratefully received.