Friday, 24 October 2014


Each Friday afternoon I go to a class for two hours and look at a diary which has been transcribed by our Tutor - a diary of a Yorkshire man or woman, usually in the eighteenth century.

All the diaries have been fascinating, but today's was the most interesting to date.   It was the 'Journal of the voyage of the 'Hope' from the port of Whitby', written by the ship's surgeon,Thomas Atkinson, in 1774.

Just a short journal it dealt with just one expedition to the whaling waters of the Arctic area around Labrador and Newfoundland.   The furthest the boat got on this occasion was the  island of Disko at the Northern end of the Davis Strait.

It seems as though on this occasion nobody got ill, as there is absolutely nothing about the crew or any illness.   This journal is fascinating because as well as telling us about the weather it tells us about the whaling (absolutely awful stuff -) it also tells us about the native Inuit people they encountered.

As far as the whales are concerned - of course they didn't realise in those days that the whale was actually a mammal, they thought of it as a very large fish (although the record of cruelty to mammals was pretty awful about this time, so it wouldn't have made a lot of difference).   Neither did they understand about the migratory habits of the whale, so some voyages never saw a whale at all.   Others slaughtered sometimes as many as four on one voyage, often dragging them on to ice floes for butchering and processing.
The work was dreadful in the most terrible conditions.

Most fascinating of all however, is their sighting of 'an Indian in his canoe'.   He tells us how they could plainly see how he was dressed and could also see his darts and harpoons and the two large seals he had killed which were lashed to the sides of his boat.   The 'Indian's'
manner suggested that he was familiar with the whalers.

Having had an afternoon of reading this journal we all agreed that it was good that whaling is now banned in most countries in the world. (note that I say 'most' and not 'all).

Sadly the Inuit were in many ways exploited - it is a thorny problem as to whether these native peoples would have been better left undisturbed.   They occur all round the world and seem to have had a bad deal wherever they are.   With these particular Inuit people, they were used by the whaling fleet in exchange for various goods, but in addition the Europeans gave them measles, tuberculosis and other illnesses to which they had no immunity, so that whole tribes were wiped out.

It was altogether an fascinating afternoon, which left me with much to think about.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Today, friend W and I have been to a metropolis.  Well, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but coming - as we do- from a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales, it certainly felt like it.

We went the forty or so miles to the large 'out of town' Shopping Park.   There we wandered round the large store we had gone to see.   There were mothers wandering round bottle feeding babies as they went; there were old ladies (who made us feel quite young) in bath chairs being pushed round; and there were even one or two extremely tiny babies - maybe two or three weeks old - being pushed around in prams with a thin blanket covering the whole pram - maybe to keep off germs or to help baby to sleep, I don't know.  I felt a bit like a country bumpkin.   And to think I used to live permanently in this kind of environment.

I began life in the deep country (first twenty-eight years) and I shall definitely end my life in the deep country.   The bit in between was spent in cities and although I was happy (and very fulfilled) while I was there, I am a country woman at heart.

Are you a townie or do you prefer the country? 

Incidentally - in nine days time - on October 31st (Hallowe'en) I shall be eighty-two years old.   I shall miss out one or two blog posts between now and then so that on that day I can publish my
2000th blog post.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hurrican Gonzalo

When we got up this morning we thought that the tail-end of Gonzalo had missed us, as it was a pleasant morning.   But no, it just hadn't arrived.   Later in the morning it arrived in force; there is a very strong gale blowing and one minute it is brilliant, glishy sunshine, the next minute pouring with rain.  I can't stand up outside the kitchen door, so I am staying put today.   Even Tess was reluctant to go out with the farmer for her lunch-time walk.

I had thought to go and visit friend M this afternoon, but have been unable to raise her on the telephone so I decided to stay at home.   As I had one of my periodic bad nights, perhaps it is just as well.  One thing is for sure - there is hardly a leaf to be seen on a single deciduous tree visible from my kitchen window.  Left to the wind all the leaves come off and (hopefully) the wind sweeps them into heaps too.   As I once read an old man said, "I don't bother sweeping up the leaves in Autumn, I leave old Borealis to do it for me" (Borealis being the North wind).

Monday, 20 October 2014

The third sighting.

Yes.   It happened.   Later on Saturday evening, watching the  television, settled down for the evening, slippers on, drink in hand (campari and tonic), 'Strictly' progressing well on the screen (apart from the glimpse we would rather not have had of Brendan's split trousers) IT arrived.   It scampered across the floor towards the screen as though it intended to do the Cha-cha and shot behind the television into the corner.   I screamed.   The farmer laughed and derided me suggesting I was far bigger than it was.  After pleading he agreed to get up, get a glass from the corner cupboard, find a card and trap the thing.   Bringing it VERY close to my face as he went out, he took it into the yard and deposited it on the hedge of next door's vegetable garden.  I hope it decided to over-Winter in mybrother-in-law's house now.  Was it the same one?   I sincerely hope so - I don't want two of that size in the house.

Our friends from the Netherlands brought us a huge quantity of bulbs when they came to visit a couple of weeks ago.   Yesterday the farmer dug over a bed just outside the landing window, dug plenty of manure, compost and grit into it and scattered about a hundred tulip bulbs and planted them.   Now, every time I go upstairs in March and April I should be treated to a wonderful display right outside the window.   We have to look forward to the Spring bulbs don't we?   That's how we get through whatever Winter has to throw at us.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Beast in the Bathroom.

Picture the scene.   It is four-thirty in the very early morning and the farmer's wife has got out of bed to go to the bathroom.   The farmer is fast asleep and she doesn't want to wake him, so she creeps out on to the landing and into the bathroom, shuts the door and pulls on the light, crosses to the far side of the bathroom and sits on the loo.

From the far corner of the bathroom the beast emerges from behind the pedestal of the wash hand basin.  First one leg, then another, until all eight legs become visible and a VERY LARGE  body in between.  Upon catching sight of me it stops, rises up on its long legs and looks at me (well I presume it does but I am not at all sure where a spider's eyes are located).  

Not wishing to wake the farmer because he might not get back to sleep again (and also not wishing him to think me an absolute wuss - he is more than half way there already), I sit transfixed and think.
This seems to be exactly what the spider is doing (do spider's have brains?) and for a while we share this game of statues.   Then, suddenly, without warning, it sets off at breakneck speed across the bathroom floor in my direction, seemingly aiming for my feet.   I raise them from the ground (as far as I can) and we repeat the whole charade.

Finally I waft my feet about and it sits very still.   I leap off the toilet, shoot out of the bathroom, pull out the light switch and reach the bed in double-quick time (didn't know I could move this fast these days) and then make sure the duvet does not touch the bedroom carpet.  (Can spiders jump?)

Later in the morning I go into the Library and find they are putting up their Hallowe'en decorations.  As I push open the door the young Librarian is just holding a very large black card spider ready to hang from the ceiling.   There has to be a third spider-sighting.   Will it be tonight in the middle of the night?   Has the spider taken up Winter residence in the bathroom?   Can I ever escape from the beast in the bathroom?   Watch this blog.

All this reminds me of long ago, in my prev ious life, when I lived in middle England and my first husband worked as a Civil Servant teaching young men in a maximum security prison for young offenders.   You can imagine - he knew young men very well and stood no nonsense (he was always very popular with his 'students' I have to say).

One year we had been away on holiday and when we returned a lady who lived in one of the houses that faced on to the bottom of our back garden came in to see us.   She was a Special Constable and said that she didn't want to alarm us but while we were away she had seen a young man from higher up the road come down to our back garden very late one night - in the dark - and tip something over the fence into our shrubbery. She told us that she suspected drugs.

Taking the bull by the horns my husband went immediately to the house and confronted the young man, whose parents were away.  He looked very shame-faced on hearing the accusation and immediately confessed.   He was scared of spiders and he had 'rescued' one from the carpet in their sitting room using the glass and card method and thought if he put it in our garden then it was too far away from his house to return.

My husband's reply (which I have never forgotten) was, "Any time you want to put a spider in our garden, you just help yourself mate!"


Friday, 17 October 2014


As Ronald Blythe says, there are one or two days in every month when, even if you had woken up from a long sleep, you would know exactly what month it was.   Today is going to be one of those days - or so it seems.

It is only nine o'clock in the morning but the sun is breaking through a thick mist.   When I got up at 5am (couldn't sleep, another story) and looked out of the bedroom window, there was thick mist swirling but I could see a sliver of crescent moon through the mist.

Where the sun is breaking through it is a deep golden colour, almost as deep and golden as the leaves on the young beech trees up the sides of the Lane.  The said lane is ankle-deep in dead and dying ash leaves, which always fall well before the beech here.   And everywhere there are Autumny smells - dying foliage,  the sharp smell of the rotting, maturing manure heaps every few fields (not an unpleasant smell at all now that it has been spread out), the smell of newly ploughed earth.

And, of course, in the garden there are the last few flowers - the rudbeckia, the schyzostlyus, the crocosmia - and that most poetic of all - the last few roses of Summer; and this year there are a lot of them.

Yes, it couldn't possibly be any month but October; and in all its glory today.   I shall forget about the Winter coming on because October always makes me happy.   It is after all my birthday month and always makes Hallowe'en special for me.

So enjoy your October day if you are getting a good one too.   Alright, it might go and spoil itself later, but I shall enjoy it while it lasts, go and have a shower and go off to meet the 'girls' for coffee as I do every Friday.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Following the visit of my Grand-daughter who is just beginning her teaching career and who is so enthusiastic about it all, I got to thinking about what is important in teaching.   And I came to the conclusion that the most important quality a teacher can bring to her pupils is to be inspirational.

I would have thought that in these days of social networking, where every teenager I meet seems oblivious to the world around them as they walk down the street fiddling with their telephone/i-pad/whatever, to be an inspiration to your class, in whatever subject, is even more important.

I sat and thought about my own school days.   My Junior School teacher, Miss Kirkbride - long past retirement age but kept on because it was wartime - was in many ways a good teacher (even if she did sit in your place while you stood beside her when she marked your 'sums', so that she could slap your legs if you got one wrong).  I remember her once running a project during the Summer term when we had to collect labels from around the world - this in war time remember.  Then she mounted a map of the world and we marked where Fray Bentos Corned Beef came from, where peaches came from.  It definitely sparked off my interest in Geography, which has never left me.

In Grammar school my English teacher, Miss Ryder, a quiet, unassuming lady inspired me from day one.   When I got my homework back I could see at a glance that she had read through my essay and had marked everything that needed marking - every punctuation and spelling mistake but also (more importantly) she would comment on anything she thought was interesting, or she would expand on what I had said. This also applied to Mrs Lucas, our History teacher - being the only married member of staff and also being (in our eyes) terribly glamorous, we clung on to her every word.   But again, she took our History essays seriously and when they were returned to us after marking she would have struck up a dialogue.  I always hated Science - I can't blame Miss Judge, our teacher, but she certainly didn't help.   For a start  we had never had gas in our village so I was pretty scared of a Bunsen burner, but she never attempted to calm my fears.  I vividly remember one homework where she showed us how to do some scientific equations and then gave us ten to do at home.   I hadn't understood at all.   She just marked all ten wrong and we carried on with the next lesson - no effort was made to keep us back and go through it with us (I know I was not the only one who couldn't do them).

If a teacher is an inspiration to the class then some of the discipline problems will disappear because each pupil knows you are interested in them.   It is the quality all teachers should aspire to in my opinion.   In Inner City areas many of our pupils come from homes which are substandard, often they live in family groups which are less than perfect too. (I am not saying that these two things only apply to inner cities).   But if they are to climb out of, or rise above, things like this they need the help of good teachers.

A lovely letter in today's Times underlines this.   A lady in Oxfordshire writes of a child in an East end of London school who had at last been moved into a high rise block of flats from very substandard housing.   Here is her letter:
'We have a lavatory - in a bathroom - which is just for us, me and my mum and dad.   I go to bed in a room which is mine, just for me.   I looked out of the window and all I could see was fairyland.'

When I started teacher training our Education Tutor (who shall be nameless) asked us all to write an essay telling her about what we had done in our lives so far.   This was the first essay of our training.   They were returned to us about six weeks later - there wasn't a single mark on any of them apart from a C at the end of every one - it is obvious she had never read them.   A lack-lustre woman, no good at teaching or marking, and certainly no inspiration to anyone.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Sheep Arrive.

The over-Wintering sheep have arrived today all ready to eat the grass off all our fields as the Winter months progress.   They have come considerably later than usual because there has been plenty of grass for them in their Summer home on the tops.  Their Summer home is on the Buttertubs (anyone who watched the British stage of the Tour de France when it came through Yorkshire will know that the riders came over the Buttertubs).   Many of the sheep are grown lambs that were here earlier in the year - they will all stay here throughout the Winter (if it snows and the grass disappears then the farmer will feed them every day.   They are a very hardy breed - Swaledales.)   It's nice to have them back.

Monday, 13 October 2014


My eldest grand-daughter, the one who married earlier in the year, has been down on a visit and, as usual, it has been a joy to see her.
She is now happily settled into teaching and loving it - it is so nice to hear her speaking about it with such fervour.   It reminds me of how I was when I first started - one feels one can really change the world.   I have a theory that once teachers lose that feeling and sink into that 'you can't make silk purses out of sow's ears' mode they should be retired from the profession as they are no longer a credit to it.

And speaking of teaching I have just read Sheila Hancock's first novel "Miss Carter's War".   I enjoyed it tremendously although it did get a bit tedious towards the end.   Novels which go 'in progression' through time are difficult I think.   There are some passages in italics which hark back to her wartime experiences, but the book is principally about teaching children and those parts I enjoyed very much.   I felt that Sheila Hancock really understood the problems.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Another day.

This time of year, every time there is a day like today, we ask ourselves 'will this be the last day of Summer?', for it is still, warm and very sunny.    The horse-chestnut trees in particular are a deep orange colour, the ground is littered with ash leaves and time seems to be standing still.   Tomorrow is forecast to be wet.

The farmer and I together with friend W. have been out to lunch - proper Sunday lunch - roast beef, roast pork and roast lamb between us - and delicious it was too.   Then we sat for a long time over a cup of coffee before beginning the short journey back home.

Taking Tess for a walk then I passed the meadow where the ten heifers are.   They were all lying full length in the sun - I couldn't help wondering whether they were asking themselves the same question I asked earlier - 'will this be the last day of Summer, moo?'

Driving through the village it was good to see various folk around doing jobs - friend C was cleaning 'his' section of the village beck out (the section which runs across the front of his garden.)   I was pleased to see that he was leaving the glorious golden mimulus and just clearing out the weed and digging a layer of mud and pebbles from the bottom. At the village pub garden the bonfire for November 5th (Bonfire Night) was already under construction - old doors, palettes, window frames - all piled high.   What a blaze that will be.   Friend T was out tending his begonias, which cover the front of his house and make such a splendid show every year.   It is as though everyone is thinking the same as me - will we get any more days like this when doing chores is pleasant work?

Looking at Cro's blog today (Magnon's Meandering on my side bar) it was really interesting to compare the French village photographs with our village.   There is really no comparison at all.   All the houses in the French village look so ancient, as does the church.   I suppose the only similarity is that as in our village, these houses and cottages were built long before cars were invented, which means they were built too close together for space for modern vehicles, so they are left on the road.

Another feature today is the quantity of spiders' webs everywhere.   I suspect they are always there but because the sun is getting low we can now see them more easily.   As I sit here typing I look through the hall window and the gap between the Scots pines is festooned with shimmering lines of gossamer.   They are so beautiful, unlike the huge spider which friend W had to capture last night by the glass and card method and eject from the house.   Of course it will be back, but she didn't care to sit watching it perfect its dance steps across the carpet all evening.