Thursday, 24 July 2014


We are having a real heatwave here in the UK - day after day of hot sun and more or less cloudless skies.   For the farmers it is a real boon; the grass is growing well, the hay is crisping
and they are all able to get on with haymaking and silaging without looking at the sky every hour to see whether rain clouds are looming.

The Summer feels like the Summers used to feel when we were kids.   Our Mums would pack us up a load of sandwiches (usually home made jam). a piece of cake (if we were lucky) and a bottle of something to drink, and we would be off for the day on our bikes.   We mostly went down to the river - to swim, to lounge on the bank, or (if there were any houseboats moored) to chat to anybody there.   And of course we would swim in the river.   As far as I am aware, certainly on the Witham,'my river, ', nobody ever drowned.  And we would burn in the fierce heat.   It was a matter of honour to get one's back so burnt that it peeled and then browned.

We learned to be pretty self-sufficient, to look after ourselves, to keep well clear of unsavoury characters (oh yes, they were around in those days too), and to arrive home in time for tea.   Woebetide us if we were late - and in any case we would be famished by then and ready to eat.

The big thing that has changed of course is the volume of traffic on the road.   Hordes of cycling kids carrying shrimping nets and paraphernalia would be a major hazard on the roads now.
And the computer has come and taken over the lives of a lot of children.

But I can sit here in our cool dining room, which faces North and is always cool however hot it may be outside, and I can read, I can reminisce about the old days if I wish to, I can plan what I intend to have for lunch (nothing too strenuous to make), but above all, I can keep out of that scorching hot sun - I no longer enjoy its close company.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The media have a lot to answer for.

I am attending a class on Tuesday evenings on the Poetry, Literature  and Art of the First World War.   In it we are looking at the Poets - Wilfred Owen, Sassoon and the like; the Painters  - Paul and John Nash, John Singer Sergeant etc.  And we are discussing the effect these people had upon the general population during and after the conflict.

In those days, what else did the public have to inform them?   Well they had propagaganda films, posters, leaflets etc. They had the word of mouth of those returning from the Front.  And they had the gradual realisation that what started as a 'jolly hockey sticks' kind of jaunt, where it was almost fun to join up, to the point where it became obvious that 'over there' it was hell on earth.

How very different then from now where it is thrown into our faces while we sit on the settee eating a box of chocolates, or doing the washing up, or the ironing.

In the newspapers the Headline will be accompanied by a photograph, usually a very graphic one.  It will move from one conflict to another, leaving behind one when another starts up.  (Is there still fighting in Aleppo?   If so it hasn't been in the newspapers for weeks - other conflicts and disasters have taken over).

Last night the Headline news on the television was of the awful situation in Gaza - where a building was destroyed and the dead were being brought out.   One person was still alive - a finger moved - but the rest of her family were dead.

Is it a coincidence that there do not seem to be war poets, war painters or anyone writing about these wars?   Or are there such people in the places where they are occurring?

And is this daily 'in your face' contact perhaps making us impervious to the awfulness of it all?   I don't know the answer - I just know that there seems to have become a point where the newsmen move from country to country, grasping the sensationalism and then moving on.

War these days is dreadful in a completely different way with all the sophisticated weaponry, but the result is the same - thousands killed in the name of some ideology or other.   We need to know about it -  but how and under what circumstances would we be best served?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

There is a shortage of time today as the farmer and I are going to our friend's funeral later this morning and then will not be back home much before tea time.   This evening is my evening class on the art, literature and poetry of the Great War (which I am enjoying immensely).   So here is a bit of inspiration for you.

When we went to my Grand-daughter's wedding a couple of Saturdays ago, we passed very close to The Angel of the North, the iconic statue by Antony Gormley, which stands alongside the A1 trunk road just outside Newcastle.   There is a convenient lay-by and the statue is surrounded by a large, grassy area.   I hadn't realised just how very tall it is - it is most impressive.   It has made me want to go to Crosby, near Liverpool, to see his figures in the sea even more.  Good art is always inspirational.

Here you are Liz - I have made the print more readable - just for you!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Red sky at night

I am learning all the time. We are haymaking again today; another friend, with a much larger field, wants his making into hay for his horses and he wants it to be ready to lead in at the week-end. This week looks a reasonable week so that the farmer has begun the cutting today. He looked at the long-range forecast last night (on Country File John)and the forecast up until the week-end looks quite promising. It struck me forcibly on Friday how farmers and countrymen in general decided on the order of jobs in the days before there was any sophisticated forecasting. There was a sharp breeze blowing and the leaves on our rowan tree outside the kitchen window were almost blowing inside out. The farmer remarked on this, saying that the leaves were blowing inside out - that was a sure sign that rain was on its way. And I thought of all the other country sayings: Red sky at night a shepherd's delight. Red sky in the morning a shepherd's warning. Rain before seven, fine before eleven. It's the west wind that brings the rain and the east wind that brings the cold. The North wind brings the snow. There are countless others and that and the farmer's intuition were all he had to go on when planning farm jobs. The farmer will often come in and say ' there's rain in the air' or 'there's snow coming in' and he places a lot of importance on the view over the moor from our kitchen window - a lot of weather comes from there he believes. And he is probably right. So nowadays it is a combination of things that decide when farmers begin their haymaking, but it is still a tense time. The price of cattle feed in Winter fluctuates greatly and the more each farmer has stored in his barns when winter begins the happier he will be.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Gone haywire. The print has gone large and is filling the screen. All semblance of a post as usual has vanished. As you know, I hate change and never understand what has happened, but I will press on until my son can come and hopefully sort things out for me. Yesterday was a hot, humid and at times wet, day here, with thunder in the distance. The farmer is gradually returning to 'normal' after his series of tests and is now waiting to see the specialist. Today he feels well enough to walk round the lead mines in Swaledale with his walking group and as there is a slight breeze it should be pleasant. Friend W and I are going out for a sandwich lunch somewhere and then this evening a group of us (9) are off to the Chinese for a meal. Where would we be without friends eh in these dismal, dark days when the news from all quarters is of wars and rumours of wars? I prefer to bury my head in the sand and not listen to the News bulletins if I can help it - after all, we only get one view and it always appals me how the news cameras are there for the drama and move on after a couple of days as though the whole thing has gone away - it seems it is no longer news-worthy. Yesterday W and I went to a village called Preston under Scar, where there are a lot of artistic folk living, and once a year they have a week-end Art Exhibition in their Village Hall. It is always a pleasant occasion and coffee and biscuits with friends is good too, isn't it? Back to normal (whatever that is) soon I hope. Enjoy your Sunday. My son has corrected it for me and shown me how to do it if it occurs again. Thanks for all those helpful comments. I am pretty sure that I hit the wrong button during posting yesterday. Anyhow, all's well that ends well. Nice Wensleydale cheese, walnut, apple and mayo sandwich for lunch, sitting looking out over a lovely view of Wensleydale. What's not to like.
This is an experiment folks to see if it prints on my blog page. Something has happened so that when I try to get on to my 'New post' page, the print comes up so large that I can't get the blog on. I have tried everything to return it to normal - pressing 'new post' no longer sends me to the right place. I expect it is a simple problem but at the moment the way to correct it escapes me. Any ideas anybody?

Friday, 18 July 2014


Please don't think I am 'trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs' as we say, but it has struck me over the past few weeks, both on my blog and chatting to friends here, that people really don't understand the difference between hay and silage.

In the old days, when fertilising the fields meant spreading the 'muck' from the cattle etc. and when the cattle, certainly here in The Dales, spent their winters inside in the small barns dotted around the fields, the farmers made hay.   The grass would not be as plentiful as it is now with all the artificial fertilisers which are put on early in the year, and sometimes, if they were unlucky, they would only get one crop.   Two crops was considered a bonus.

The hay would be baled in small bales and stored in a section of the small barns, so that each morning the farmer could go in and fill the hay racks for the cattle.   They would be let out once a day for water (and how they loved that).  Before the days of balers the hay would be forked into the back of these barns and the farmer;s father would always go round the edges of the field and gather in the bits and pieces, so that none was wasted.

Any spare hay would be stored on pallets in a hay barn - or made into a haystack which would be thatched before the winter to keep it as dry as possible.

Farmers still make hay up here.   My farmer makes it because it is his favourite job on the farm (sense of nostalgia?).  Folk up here who only own one field, particularly if they have a horse or two, make hay and store it for the winter feed.

But the majority of farmers make silage.   Here in The Dales it used to be all small farms, but as they are sold off when farmers die or retire, so these small farms tend to be added to existing farms in the locality.  The herds of milking or suckler cattle are increasing in size and huge quantities of winter feed are required.

Usually the first thing they do is to fill a silage clamp with what we call 'forage' - grass which is cut, gathered up and put into a clamp, which is often covered with plastic and then weighted down with something like old tyres, to 'cure' before the winter.   The clamp is often near to the winter-housing so that the cattle can help themselves.

The rest of the silage (two or three cuts over the summer, depending upon the weather) is baled up - in either square or round bales, wrapped in plastic and stored on the farm.

So often I hear people saying the hay in the field looks good, when it is really a silage crop.   So I thought I would clear that up once and for all.

Fridays come round quickly - my morning coffee with a group of friends day - so I am putting this on before I go.   Later in the day the farmer and I have to go to Hospital in Middlesbrough for the farmer to have a lot of balance tests, so it will be a busy day.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Job done.

Our first batch of haymaking - three fields - is cut, dried, baled and, as I write, being collected in - well before the threatened thunderstorms.  And it is looking good - always a relief.

There is more to come, but at present things are up to date.

I am feeling confident with my computer and friend S came along and showed me how to delete things in batches rather than one by one.   She is understanding - when I said that I was useless at anything new and lacking in understanding about how the computer really works, she very kindly reminded me that I was not brought up in the computer age.

But I know this for sure - it is a marvellous thing for people over retirement age to get involved with computers - to try and master new skills.  Alright, there will be frustration and you will have to keep learning new tricks, but it keeps the old grey cells active. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

I hardly dare to say so, but so far I am managing well on my new computer.   The engineer, who has looked after me from the beginning, found an Acer which is an updated model of the one I already had, so it is not all that different.  The only difficulty so far is that the keyboard is further over to the left and I keep pressing the wrong keys.   Being a shorthand typist in a previous life (very previous) I don't usually look at the keys, but at present I am having to.

Haymaking is on hold as, contrary to the long-range forecast at the weekend, which said it would be fine and sunny until thunder on Friday, today  it has become cloudy over the last hour and there have been several heavy showers.  Hot sun is forecast for tomorrow, so with a bit of luck the farmer will get it in then before the weather breaks for real on Friday.

Last evening was the second of four classes in 'The Art and Literature of the 1914-18 war.'   There are seven of us and we have really interesting and lively discussions.   I am enjoying it so much.

As I write this I can hear the farmer in the background, listening to the news.   Rockets fall in Gaza, children killed and injured.   It is always the innocent who suffer isn't it - just as it was in the Great War .   When will they ever learn?   The answer, we all know, is never.

I will sign off now and explore a few new channels on my new toy.  See you tomorrow.