Friday, 19 December 2014

A few stories.

Folk seem to fall into two categories about cleaning and Christmas.   There are those who say there is not a lot of point in giving everywhere a thorough cleaning when all the decorations and pine needles are going to be creating a mess anyway.   There are the other kind - of which I am one - who get delight in having everywhere spick and span before any decorations go up.

To this end I suggested to the farmer as we drove back from the market this morning, that he help me this afternoon to clean the utility room (where almost everyone enters the farmhouse, our front entrance being rarely used.)   A look of horror passed over his face and he assured me that it was only about six weeks since it had had a thorough clean (I do have a cleaner each Monday who cleans it anyway).  He was lying.   I recognise a lie when it jumps into my ears and moving the long (and heavy) sideboard revealed a mountain of dust, cobwebs, dropped dog biscuits (which the dog has been trying to get at for weeks) and so much dirt that even the farmer had to admit that 'maybe it was a little longer since the sideboard had been moved out.' 

This was followed (the whole joint operation took no longer than three quarters of an hour) by cleaning the vestibule - the front entrance, rarely used but with a beautiful tiled floor which does need an occasional wash.   So the vestibule was duly cobwebbed, mopped and thoroughly cleaning.   Windows were also cleaned and now I feel a lot better.

There is a moral to this tale though.   Thorough and rather frantic cleaning of ceiling corners, architraves, window frames and the like with a feather duster does eventually lead to a great deal of moulting of said duster.   There are now so few feathers left that it would be a farce to use it for the purpose for which it was intended.
So a new one is on the shopping list for the next big clean behind the giant sideboard in the utility room. (easter?)
And speaking of moulting feather dusters reminds me that I must tell you of a wonderful advert which has been in the 'Pets for Sale' column of the newspaper this week.   There is a high fashion here for certain cross-breed dogs like Yorkiepoo (miniature poodle/Yorkshire terrier)  and Labradoodle (labrador/poodle).  There has been an advert for Yorkiepoo dogs for sale which says they are 'non-melting' - obviously meaning 'non-moulting' - but can't help wondering whether they have been sold.  The ad has disappeared.(or melted).

I'll sign off from my sparkling farmhouse - sitting and dining rooms to be attacked later - brass to clean, windows to clean etc.  Once my cleaner has been on Monday, that is it - decorating will take place and we shall be ready for the celebrations. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Well, it looks as though Blogger has changed its mind again because now you don't have to put robot numbers in - you seem to have a choice.   The wonders of computers sail right over my head.  I still can't do links - can anyone tell me in easy language how to do them - it would save me having to write 'on my side bar' every time I wanted my readers to refer to a particular blog.

A week today and it is Christmas day.   Barring my on line grocery order (booked for Tuesday morning - I had to book it on November 23rd in order to get a spot, that's how manic people get) - and a spot of 'goody' shopping with friend W on Saturday morning I have finished everything.

I sometimes wonder if the women didn't do things, would it get done.  (outrage expected in my comments from the few men who 'do' Christmas).

I personally love it and get pleasure from all the preparations.   And as for those who say it is a time when families get together to fall out - well all I can say is that I have never found it so, but maybe I am just lucky.

Christmas Day - just the farmer and I - will be spent on a new giant jig saw puzzle we have bought, interspersed with games of Rummikub and a bit of television when there is something we want to watch.  Boxing Day the family and friends come for lunch and buffet in the evening.
Last evening there was a television programme where Giles Coren and  his brother in law discussed the twelve wines of Christmas.   The programme was interesting in that we visited various places at home and abroad, where liquor was produced.  But all I can say is that if we all approached Christmas intending to drink all the liquers, egg-nogs, wines, spirits and mulls they recommended we would be so 'blotto' Christmas would pass in a haze.   Maybe for those who end up falling out with their families, this would be a good idea.  Just don't get behind the wheel of a car though!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Today was our last Poetry meeting of 2014, when ten of us met for an afternoon of Poetry in friend W's conservatory.  We had company this afternoon in the shape of an all playing (saxophone), all dancing bear which W had bought and which sat on the table in the centre of the room, giving us a burst of his playing now and again when one or the other of us pressed the right button.

Everyone had searched for Christmas=themed poetry and it was surprising what we had all found.  Highlight of course had to go to friend S, who is a Lancashire lass through and through, who read an  'Albert' (of horses head handle fame) poem about Christmas in her wonderful Lancashire accent.   J, who loves Betjamen, read his Christmas - also a favourite with us all.

Our January meeting date was fixed.   I know that we all feel the same about these meetings once a month - there is nothing to equal them - lovely poetry, good friends and a lovely room to hold the meeting in thanks to W 's hospitality.

Christmas is creeping up on us - come tomorrow morning there will only be a week left to go.   I really don't know why we get in such a state about it as really Christmas dinner is quite an easy one to cook once the turkey is in the oven, and so much of it (cranberry sauce, stuffings, red cabbage) can easily be prepared the day before and warmed up on the right day.

All my menus are prepared and shopping lists done - if I forget anything then just too bad, I have enough in the freezer to feed an army in any case.


Tuesday, 16 December 2014


The farmer informed me at about eleven o'clock this morning that a load of straw was arriving at a quarter past twelve.   As he has to unload this using his tractor and working from the farm gate it takes quite a long time, so it was arranged that I went into town to do the one or two jobs I had to do and that then I got fish and chips to eat before the straw arrived.   We don't have this very often so that when we do we always enjoy it (with mushy peas and plenty of salt and vinegar - despite health warnings).

So off I duly went, sailed through the jobs I had to do, finding Christmas cake decorations easily (why don't I save them from year to year?  I always mean to and then they go missing, perhaps there is a great stock of them somewhere which will be found after I die and fashioned into a memorial), no queue at the Post Office, paying the newspaper bill for the week was easy and quick.   And so, after ringing the farmer   on my mobile to tell him I was just about to get the fish and chips (he could warm the plates and set the table while I was on my way home) I went into the shop.   

There was only one customer in front of me, obviously a man who knew the staff well, and they were having a laugh and a joke together. I had taken out my hearing aid to speak to the farmer on my mobile (luckily) so the worst of the language was out of my hearing.   But I did hear the shop assistant say several words (they were pretty loud) which I wouldn't dream of saying (or even repeating).   When she saw me coming in she put her hand over her mouth and looked quite embarrassed.

I smiled and put her at her ease and she was charming, commenting on the lovely sunshine and the convenience of having fish and chips for lunch.   But it does beg the question: who was in the right or wrong?   Is such language acceptable these days - particularly from a woman?   Am I the one that is old-fashioned?

I don't care to hear bad language from anyone, always believing that it is often poor vocabulary that causes folk to use it.   But I care to hear it even less when the speaker is a woman.   Is nothing sacred any more or is this a feminist issue that I have missed?

Monday, 15 December 2014

The big day.

As you all know, we house our neighbour and friend's cattle over the winter; this usually means in-calf heifers from the milking herd of pedigree Holsteins.

Bit by bit they have been coming in, being brought round by the road from their farm, to spend the winter months in deep straw, awaiting the birth of their calves in the New Year.   But today saw a large influx as the very last came out of the fields (where there is still plenty of grass for them) and into the barn.   This was not so much because the weather is against them - they don't need to overeat when they are in calf and there is still plenty of sunshine most days.  The reason they have come in is because they need to be kept together for tomorrow and also easily accessible.   It is a big day.

The TB tester is coming to test the whole herd for TB.   This is always a tense time for farmers and although we are not in an area where TB is a real scourge, it will still be a great relief when the testing has been done.   We have our fingers crossed that every single cow will test negative.

Sunday, 14 December 2014


Have you noticed how the smallest of things can trigger a memory of a happening many years ago and bring it all back as though it were yesterday?

I had absolutely no cake for tea unless I broke into my Christmas Mince Pies which are frozen and in the freezer for chance-callers over the Christmas period.  So I decided to make some fairy cakes (or queen cakes as we always called them when I was a child) - they only take a few minutes to make and are not absolutely loaded with calories, which the farmer and I are both avoiding in the run-up to Christmas.

And as I was beating the mixture the memory came flooding back. My Uncle Albert was a confirmed bachelor and lived alone in a lovely cottage in a village in Lincolnshire.   He had lived with his mother until she died and had carried on where she had left off - keeping the house cleaned and polished, the silver gleaming and everything neat and tidy.   His hobby was embroidery and he embroidered each of his nephews and nieces a tablecloth for a Christmas present (I still have mine more than sixty years later and it is beautiful).   His day job was being a plate-layer on the railway - what could be more different?

It was while doing this job that he met his wife, my Auntie Jessie.  She was a spinster, also living alone, and her garden backed on to the railway line.   Whenever Albert was working in the vicinity of her garden they would chat, she would bring him tasty little cakes (and it is rumoured port wine) to the fence.   They married and Albert, who had visited our house regularly, began to enthuse about Jessie's cooking.

My mother, I think, was rather jealous of Jessie's ability in the kitchen - and particularly of her Queen cakes.   If Albert was working near our house he would pop in for lunch and if I was at home (I was a very young child) he would give me Jessie's Queen cake from his lunch box.   And so it was that I began to enthuse about Jessie's Queen cakes too.

Mother asked her for the recipe, but it was jealously guarded.   Mother insisted that she used her butter ration to make them (it was war time) while Jessie insisted that she only used margarine.   The feud continued for as long as I can remember.   Mother would try to make them but she never succeeded it getting them as good.   Jessie triumphed.

And obviously she is doing so still - she must have been dead for at least forty years and yet I still remember her superiority in the Queen cake department!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Magic or what?

Getting up in the night and looking out of the window was to see a magical world.   Snow was falling, it was still and silent and all the fields, walls and hedges were covered with icing. 

At day break, as the sun rose it came up into an almost clear blue sky.  The temperature was just above freezing so that the roads and footpaths were not slippery and it really was a lovely day.

It is market day in our little town and the Christmas tree stall was doing a roaring trade, as was the greengrocer.  Our meeting for coffee (a group of us meet every Friday) was, as usual, a jolly affair.

But by afternoon the sky had gone from that lovely deep blue to a pale, icy blue.   The wind has risen and the ice was back.  It is really not a nice day at all.   The trouble is that after such a mild winter up here in the Yorkshire Dales last year, we are just not accustomed to it.   Say this to the farmer and he will tell you tales of when the snow was wall-height and they were having to dig the sheep out.

I have just been into town again and coming back I must say that I looked at the sheep, digging into the covering of snow to get at the grass, and marvelled at how hardy these Swaledale sheep are.   This morning they have had a pedicure and antibiotic where necessary and all have had a drench against fluke.   They would not survive indoors, however much we feel like bringing them in and keeping them warm; they are bred for wintry conditions.

The weather forecast says it will gradually get warmer over the weekend.   Well, it can't come soon enough for me.   The only thing that keeps me cheerful is that if I lived in Norway it would be dark as well.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Birds (the feathered variety).

The farmer spends a fortune on bird food.   We buy it from our feed merchants, along with the hen food and the dog and cat food.   We feed the birds all year round, but moreso in Winter - and this kind of weather especially.

They get peanuts, sunflower seeds, mixed seed, niger seed. fat balls, dried meal worms and kitchen scraps (in moderation).   The meal worms go on to the bird table and the robin guards them with his life - they are an aggressive little bird despite their pretty appearance and robins would kill for a dried meal worm!

The greater spotted woodpeckers like the peanuts best of all and when they are around all the other birds keep away - there is definitely a pecking order.

The blue, coal and great tits adore half coconut shells filled with seeds and fat.   We buy two each week and both are gone in two days.   Then they turn their attention to the niger seeds and the mixed seed.

I also throw suet on to the ground when the weather is really bad, because the blackbirds really love this.   The goldfinches and greenfinches prefer the mixed seed and the sunflower hearts.

But none of this prepares us for the biggest surprise of all - it happens every year.   Once the cooler weather comes we get - literally - a flock of pheasants.   At present we have eleven hens and one cock bird, but I have no doubt the number will increase; last year we ended up with twenty four hens.   I don't think they leave the bird table and the garden all day.   They come in and stand waiting for the poultry wheat the farmer throws down for them - they gather round his feet for it and never move away. Then they spend some time under the bird feeders hoovering up the smaller seeds which have dropped when the small birds are feeding.   Then they all go into our front, walled garden, where they scratch about in the soil for grubs. Once they have had their fill they stand about in the sun, or in bad weather they huddle under the shrubs looking thoroughly miserable.

Later in the afternoon they go back to the bird table to peck at any small seeds on the ground, and then they sit in a row on the garden wall and wait for evening.   Just before sunset they fly up into the Scots Pine Trees and roost for the night. How they manage on these very stormy nights I really don't know - they must have to cling on like mad and surely get little sleep.

I am sure if we had a hen hut for them they would probably go in it.
We just hope they stay here.   There are so many 'shoots' around the area (including ours) and if they stay here then they are safe.   It is almost as though they understand that.

But whatever the reason, we look forward to 'our' pheasants coming each year and taking up residence.   There is always at least one hen who rears her young in our front garden.   I think they must know instinctively that we mean them no harm.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Stormy weather.

The weather here has been absolutely awful, with the first real storm of Winter coming in off the Atlantic.   This means the for once the Western side of the country has had it much worse than we have over here in the East.   The winds have been very strong in the far North, but here in The Dales we have really only caught the tail end of the storm.   However, that was quite enough for me; each time a squally shower arrived the wind picked up and the sky went black and for twenty minutes or so it was awful.   I must point out that in spite of this, the lady in our exercise class who is over ninety years old, still walked up through the town from her bungalow to join in as usual. 

Tea in the cafe afterwards was a jolly affair and we all received a hot mince pie with our pots of tea, courtesy of the cafe.   What a nice touch.

 One good thing about wearing a hearing aid (the only thing as far as I am concerned) is that when I take it out at bedtime it doesn't matter how the wind screams and the windows rattle, I can't hear a thing!   More nasty weather on the way for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

'The Goose is Getting Fat'

How customs change over the years.   When we were children we used to go round the village carol singing.  When we had finished singing the carol we would recite the rhyme
'Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny then a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God Bless You!
Then we would knock on the door in the hope of a coin or two or a sweet each.

These days children don't seem to go round carol singing in small groups any more - sad, but with all the traffic about then perhaps it is as well.   Carol singers in our village, if they come at all, would come in a large choir.

Luckily some customs do continue and I love it all.   What I do not like is leaving everything to the last minute, so I like to plan the whole thing and tick things off my list - and this I am doing.

Today it was the day for buying my Christmas plants to cheer the house up.  We are very lucky here that we have a huge wholesale/retail place where the plants are first class quality.   The farmer and I went together this afternoon.   It is a lovely journey of around ten miles or so, through pretty countryside.  Once there we bought two holly wreaths (for two graves we keep up at Christmas), an azalea plant in full bloom (which is now cheering up my kitchen window sill), two cyclamen in full flower, a poinsettia, and a bowl of deep pink hyacinths just coming into bud.

Driving through our little town there are twinkling lights everywhere.   Decorating the house here is a job for Christmas Eve.  My next job is to write out my Christmas menus and make sure everything that can be bought in advance is bought and in the freezers.

I love the whole thing about Christmas and shall keep it up as long as I am able, although today's visit to the Physiotherapist has meant that this evening I am finding it difficult to walk after her half hour's work on my ankle and my knee.  Hopefully today's suffering will mean tomorrow I shall be skipping like a two year old - well perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration!  But it is our last exercise class before Christmas and we are off for afternoon tea afterwards.