Monday, 14 April 2014

A find.

To the right of our porch, where it joins on to the front wall of the house, is a New Dawn climbing rose.   At its feet, aquelegia self-seed every year, and as the position faces due South they are already grown quite tall.

A hen pheasant has chosen this spot for her nest this year, laying one egg each day and carefully covering them with bits of straw and leaves, coming next morning to lay another egg.   The farmer found the nest yesterday, after seeing the hen pheasant in the front walled garden every day for the last week.

This morning, straight after breakfast, I crept out to look if she was on the nest.   She wasn't, so I took a couple of photographs for you to see.   They are neither of them good shots but I wanted to get out of her way as quickly as possible and I didn't wish to disturb anything.

A hen pheasant laid in the garden last year and I worried that she would never get the young ones out of the garden, because it has quite a high wall round it.   But she led them down to the gate, flew over and then encouraged them to go under the gate.   Pheasant always quit the nest site quickly after the chicks are hatched as there is quite a strong smell from the empty eggs and this can be picked up by the fox.

Another exciting thing to keep my eye on.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Birds

It has arrived!  The first swallow showed up in the yard yesterday afternoon.   This morning it sits forlornly on the wire waiting for more to arrive.  But it is always good to see the first one - the one that has made that incredible journey all the  way from Africa and has arrived here, on the farm, where it was probably born last year, ready to scoop up 'mud' from the midden and repair and rebuild its nest ready to start breeding this year.  I always see it as the indisputable proof that Spring has arrived.

Our farmer neighbour, A, has a wild duck which has built a nest on top of his straw stack and is aready sitting on her eggs.   A uses this stack every day as bedding for his large dairy herd, which is still inside for Winter.   Now, being the countryman he is,  he is skirting round this part of the stack to leave the duck in relative peace so that she can bring off her brood.   I just hope that if she achieves this the ducklings will be able to make the perilous leap down to the barn floor before setting off for the beck fifty yards or so away.  Ducks really are daft when they choose where to make their nests.

This is not the case with most other birds (apart from the collared doves who, as usual, have built a nest in the Scots Pines:  it is windy today and we fully expect to find the nest, or at least the eggs, on the floor by tonight) and already we can see blackbirds furtively slipping into the holly hedges with nesting material.  There are even blackbirds scratching for worms on the lawn, which suggests there might even be babies.  Friends who were round last evening told us that both swallows and a blackbird nest in their barn and that during nesting time have a very uneasy relationship.

We always have a pair of pied wagtails in our farmyard.   They choose various places to nest, the most unusual being one year, when they had a nest, and reared their ,in the concrete mixer.
This year they are flitting about but as yet we haven't seen where they are building.

The poet, John Clare, loved the pied wagtail and wrote about it in a poem which is one of my favourites:

Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain,
And tittering tottering sideways he ne'er got straight again,
He stooped to get a worm and looked up to catch a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks trample where he would,
He waddled in the water pudge and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water pudge you waddle in and out,
Your home is nigh at hand and in the warm pigsty,
So little Master Wagtail I'll bid you a 'Goodbye'.

We are also lucky enough to have two pairs of yellow hammers who visit the bird table every day.   Both appear to nest in what we call our 'bottom fields', fields with fairly low hedges but which are thick and dense when they are in leaf, with a mixture of species - hawthorn, holly blackthorn, elder - so that there is plenty of cover.
Once the nesting season is well underway I like to walk along the hedgeside on my lunchtime walk with Tess, and I usually see them searching for food for their babies.

What an exciting (and renewing) time of year it is if you are interested in Nature with all its aspects.   Everything is starting again after a taxing winter, and with the arrival of that first swallow then we know things are well underway.

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

This and that

Last night, when the farmer went to shut in the hens at 8pm he surprised a big dog fox, who was just slinking past the hen hut.   They were all in, but the pop-hole was still open so they had a lucky escape.   He sloped off along the hedge side - all the pheasant were making such a racket and there wasn't a rabbit to be seen.  We shall have to be very careful in future - if there are cubs then I can see the vixen making visits during the day time, when my hens roam the fields, so in that case we shall have to keep them in.  Sadly, the farmer has told our 'man with a gun' - it seems hard but we really can't afford to let him just roam freely - I just wish he would go somewhere else so that I didn't have to worry about his demise.

                           * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Often, on a Saturday morning, I meet friend, W, and we go for a coffee (or two) into our little market town.   Today the farmer has gone off with the Wensleydale Society on their Ramble - this time into Swaledale.   They left at nine o'clock this morning as they were meeting in Muker, which is an hour's drive away.

As we were both going to be alone for lunch, friend W and I decided to go further afield for our coffee.   Where did we go?   We went into Swaledale ourselves and had coffee at a lovely centre where there is a cycle-hire shop with a bunk house above and a cafe next door.   All are owned by the same people.   They hire out bicycles and provide maps with selected routes to follow;  they provide food and accommodation; they run courses - it is a marvellous set-up.  The lunch menu looked so good that we decided to have a drive up the Dale and then return at lunch time.   Where did we go?   We went to Muker!   By the time we got there, the walkers had long gone - just their cars by the road-side let us know they were there somewhere.  We had a look round a craft shop and also round Swaledale Woollens, a shop which sells beautifully knitted woollies (there is a long tradition of knitting in the Dale).  There was a fine drizzle falling but I expect the hardy walkers hardly noticed it.   Then it was back home to collect in my washing which was no drier than when I put it out as the drizzle had spread to Wensleydale too.   My friend helped me to collect it in (thanks W) and it is up on the drier.   The sitting room fire is lit as I have friends S and J coming for a drink and a chat this evening.

Aren't these sudden decisions to go out to lunch the best sort?   A lovely surprise, a day well-passed in nice company, what could be better? 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Down on the farm.

At last the fertiliser is spread on all the fields.   They are all greening up, as they should do in Spring.   Today I notice that the field opposite, which is sown with wheat, is being fertilised.   A couple of days ago the farmer did all our fields - we are all grassland.   Last night there was a heavy dew so already some of the fertiliser will have begun to go into the ground.

I walked round the paddock with Tess so that I could take a photograph of the farmer on his Same tractor.  It is a pretty boring job riding up and down the fields while the spreader on  the back whizzes round and flings the little pellets here and there.  But what a difference it makes to the state of the grass when Summer comes - and with the price it is it jolly well needs to.

Tess of course was not even remotely interested in any of it.   She had only one thing on her mind - RABBITS.  The objects of her desire were down a certain hole and there she stood transfixed.   At least if gave me the chance at last to take a photograph of her since she has been for a hairdo.   You will see from the rabbit hole that it is fairly well hidden in the grass.  I suspect there were babies down there from the way her ears were going.

I saw what I thought was a dead rabbit in the middle of the paddock.   Luckily Tess didn't notice it at all.   I walked right up to it, only to see that it was crouched down, its terrified eyes looking at me as I bent down.   Suddenly it made a bolt for it.   I was sorry I had gone over to look because I really could see the terror there in its eyes.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Dreaded year end.

Well, we are round to the first week in April again and here on the farm that only means one thing - the financial year end; the date when all the 'books' have to be balanced, all the receipts and such like sorted, numbered, clipped together and put into a folder.   Then the whole lot is taken to the Accountant and I can heave a sigh of relief.

Every year I promise myself that I will balance each page of the ledger when I get to the bottom of the page, but I never do.   Consequently, I now have about four pages of figures to add up and - worse still - balance.    The first page worked like a dream but the second page - oh dear - I struggled with it all afternoon and finally gave up at tea time.   I should have known better than to continue once it didn't balance.   Experience tells me that it is better put away and seen afresh the next day.  So today's programme is plan the lunch and then get out the ledger.

Yesterday was the exercise class for the over sixties in the morning.   It doesn't get any easier, that's for sure.   One hour's concentrated exercise, non-stop, and we are all glad to sit down for a cup of tea at the end.  But it definitely is good to move about in an ordered way, stretching and exercising each muscle, taught by someone who knows what they are doing.

Two hen pheasants are mooching about the front walled garden.  I suspect they are both nesting somewhere in the undergrowth, like one did last year.  The vegetation is growing so quickly that there is plenty of cover for them.

We have a fine crop of baby rabbits in the fields.  I can see some of them gambolling in the paddock from the kitchen window, and one, braver than the rest, pops on to the lawn for his supper every night.  He is so pretty.  He had better watch out for the farm cats who at the moment seem to be existing on a diet exclusively made up of rabbit.   Their food is uneaten and when the farmer went in to feed them last night, both were stretched out asleep on the hay, both had huge stomachs and neither moved when he went into the barn.  There were numerous rabbit skins on the floor - they are certainly good at skinning their prey.   Pity the rabbit skin man doesn't still come round - we would make a fortune.

Ah well, the ledger calls.   Might have a coffee first - anything to put off the evil moment.   We are having bacon and egg for lunch so I can't make preparing lunch an excuse.

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Poetry Evening.

Last night I went with a friend to a poetry evening at our Arts Centre.   There were twelve there, plus the poet and it was a pleasant evening.   We were invited to read our own poetry and I thought I would share with you one of the ones I read.   I have put it on my blog before, but it is a long time ago, so many of you will not have read it.  Before I put it on I'll fill you in on a bit of background.

My mother was one of eight, all born around the last decade of the nineteenth century.   All the girls went into service when they left school and the boys went to work on the railways, which were just coming into their own in fenland Lincolnshire.   Over the years all the family did well, married, settled down and began to prosper (it was the age when this happened to so many people).   All except the youngest boy, Tom.   He was the 'black sheep' and I adored him.

Tom worked on the railway, didn't marry, spent all his spare time (and money) in The Black Horse, where, when he ran out of cash he would dance on the table for the price of a pint of beer.

As night fell he became a poacher, the bane of the lives of Landowners, Gamekeepers and the like.   My mother lived in fear of meeting him when she got on the bus to go into town (he lived in the next village, where she had been born).   She had married the son of a Methodist Lay Preacher and we spent our lives keeping up appearances.

He once saw us on the bus, called out down the bus for us to go and sit with him, I ran and climbed on his knee, my mother came reluctantly.  I remember he gave me a ten shilling note - a lot of money in those days.  I worked out what I would spend it on when I got into town.   My mother made me put it in the Penny Bank!

When he died everyone in the village came to his funeral.   The local hunt came, on horseback, and lined the route to the church;  all the Landowners and Gamekeepers turned up and they gave him a rousing send off.   My father always said they came to thank God that at last they had got him out of their hair!

A Lincolnshire Poacher.

Dance on the table Tommy,
while away the night,
'til a clear moon rises
and the stars add their light.
Then you'll blend with the hedgerow
and you''ll set about your work
and you'll reach the flowing river
where the silver salmon lurk.

Dance on the table Tommy,
dance the night away;
when the night's at its blackest
and the dawn's far away -
you'll be down in the furrow
with the wild, brown hare.
You'll be hoping that he's caught
in your cruel snare.

Dance on the table Tommy,
faster, faster still,
'til the cold, white frost
sparkles bright on the hill.
Then you're out with your sack
and your killing twine.
Pheasant tastes delicious
with a good, red wine.

Dance on the table Tommy,
fill your skin with ale,
for you won't go a-poaching
'til the sky turns pale.
Then you'll set off with your rod
and hope no-one's about
and you'll end up with a catch
of a fat, brown trout.

Dance on the table Tommy,
Tommy'll dance no more;
for the old Grim Reaper
has scythed him to the floor.
And the Lords and the Gamekeepers,
who heard his Passing Bell,
will be there at his funeral
to say their last farewell.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Facts, facts and more facts

Was it Mr Gradgrind in Hard Times who sang the praises of facts?
I'm not a Dickens fan but I seem to remember something along those lines from the days when I had to study him whether I liked it or not.

Well, my head takes in such a lot of facts.   On nights when sleep evades me, I get up, make a Horlicks and sit in the warm kitchen.   By my chair is my special bookshelf, filled with cookery books and books to dib into; books by Ronald Blythe, Roger Deakin, John Lister-Kaye, Robert Macfarlane; books I can pick up, open at random, read a page or two and then put away.

I read so many fascinating things, think, 'I'll remember that,' and promptly forget it.   So here, while they are fresh in my mind are several facts I read a couple of nights ago when I couldn't sleep -

Did you know that James Joyce, arguably Ireland's best writer of all time, had so many rejection slips before he had any work accepted, that he papered the loo walls with them?

The Mayor of Naples. a city notorious for appallingly bad driving, was once asked what exactly did the traffic lights mean.   He said that if the light was at red you had to be a bit careful with how you proceeded, if it was at green it was fine to go along as you were.   What about the yellow, somebody asked?    That is just for gaiety was his answer.

The third fact concerns the composer, John Ireland, who died in 1962.   He was asked out to lunch by Geoffrey Shaw.   Shaw had in his pocket a poem written in 1664 by the poet, Samuel Crossman.
He passed it across to Ireland and asked whether the poem would be suitable for setting to music.   Ireland read it and then, turning over the menu in the restaurant, wrote a tune there and then.   It was what is now one of the favourite hymns - 'My song is love unknown.'

I expect, like me, you will forget all of this in a short while.   But it makes interesting reading, doesn't it?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Two day gap.

I am sorry about missing two days of blogging, but I really do not know where the time has gone.   Both days have been full from dawn to dusk; not a bad thing in itself, but there has really been no time to think of a post, let alone put it on to the computer.

However, after a busy morning, I am here this afternoon, so time to catch up.

A visit to our Feed Merchant's (I always go along for the ride) brought about a sight that I haven't seen for a long while.   I would love to have a photograph to show you, but - isn't it always the way - I hadn't taken my camera.  At the entrance to a farm along the way, a mole-catcher was advertising his trade and his expertise.   When I was a child in Lincolnshire countryside, where moles were always a major problem, most farmers employed a mole-catcher and there was great competition for trade, hence the need to advertise.

Moles are a problem on grassland, particularly in the time coming up to silaging.   The little heaps of soil they push up in the grass are really no good at all mixed in with the grass for silage.   So somehow moles have to be cut down (they will never be eradicated, thank goodness - they are really quite pretty little creatures and it seems sad that they have to be 'hunted' at all - but farmers can't afford to be sentimental.)

The farm we passed had the mole catcher's advert along the barbed wire by the gate - a long line of dead moles hung on the wire.   There were about twenty of them strung up - the mole catcher obviously saying 'employ me and I will do a good job at getting rid of moles on your land'.

When I was a child the row would include stoats, weasels, crows, jackdaws, moles, rats, mice, squirrels - anything in fact which posed any kind of threat to the farmer.   Times have certainly changed, although the farmer has been catching very large mice all week as they have been attacking the wild bird food - ten so far.


Something silly is happening to the font type on my machine.   It is probably my fault (most things on the computer are) , but I shall not try to change it in case I lose the lot.   Apologies.

It was our monthly village coffee morning this morning and as usual I went with friend W.   For our village there was a jolly good turnout of forty five folks.   J and A who set the tables  make a really good job of it.   There are nice plates of biscuits, nice white china and this morning, each table had a tiny vase holding a couple of daffodils and a sprig of forsythia.    The last coffee morning was on S. David' Day and each table had a tiny Welsh flag. It is touches like this which make the whole thing special.

We had a few moments quiet during the morning to remember three villagers, two  had lived in the village and the other only left a short time ago.   All have died during the past week.   They were all a good age (one was 108) but they will all be missed.

Also this morning I was thinking of a lady who is usually very active in our coffee morning but who is this morning undergoing an operation for breast cancer.   Two other friends have also been diagnosed with the disease and both of them have their operations on Wednesday morning.   Such events serve to remind us to make hay while the sun shines and get on with our lives, enjoying every minute.


Let's finish on a more cheerful note.   Tonight, all the Friday morning coffee gang are going out for a Chinese to say good-bye to friend H, who leaves us on Monday to live down South, nearer to her children.   This is about the third farewell dinner we have had because, although she lives in a delightful cottage very near to the centre of our little town, her sale took an awful long time to go through.   Selling and moving can be such a stressful time can't it?


On that note I shall sign off.   A joint of ham is in the Aga cooking for tomorrow's lunch.   I shall read a few blogs on my sidebar, then I shall light the woodburner and settle down to watch the Grand National horserace on the television.   Tomorrow evening we go to a Poetry evening in our Arts Centre, where a local poet is reading her work and asking for others to read theirs too.   I shall look through and choose one or two of mine, but whether I read them will depend upon the prevailing atmosphere on the night.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Looking at the apple selection on the fruit counter in our grocers this morning I was reminded yet again of how the selection of apples has changed.

There were New Zealand cox's, rather small British cox's,  Bramley cooking apples, tasteless Golden Delicious (a misnomer if ever there was one) and Braeburn apples from goodness knows where.

What has happened to our native varieties?   Where are the Worcester Pearmaines, the Beauty of Kent, the Ellison's Orange Pippin, the Newton Wonder, the Russett, the Beauty of Bath and all the rest?

At certain times of the year our Greengrocery stall on the market will have Beauty of Bath 'the first apples of the season' and later on they will have 'russetts', almost the last apples of the season.   And, of course, they always have Bramleys.   But all other apples seem to have vanished.

Or have they?  Once, about forty years ago, we were in a small town in the Vale of Evesham (a major fruit-growing area), and we came across a greengrocers with a whole row of baskets outside, each one containing an 'old-fashioned' apple.  They were various sizes, some were a bit scabby - but by golly the ones we bought were far more tasty than anything I have tasted since.

When I was a child we had an Ellison's Orange Pippin and a Beauty of Bath tree in our garden.   They tasted divine.   Was that my young, unclouded palate or have apples all become the same size, the same taste, clones to suit some E U regulation?

If anyone lives in a fruit growing area, perhaps they can answer the question for me.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Diary for April 1st

It is our Writers Group in the morning.   I thought I would post the piece I have written for tomorrow, to see what you think of it:

An owl came to our bird table last night.   Just as dusk was falling he landed on a post, stretched, shook himself and settled down to watch.   His colour and his shape in the half-light told us he was a tawny.   An owl, a secret bird of the night.

Little threat to the gamekeeper, on the watch for small mammals and, in season, small birds, he goes about his business largely unthreatened.   He is more likely to die of starvation in a snowy Winter than persecution, unlike his cousins the buzzards and the sparrow-hawks, who flaunt their intentions in broad daylight.

We know where he nests in a hole in the old ash tree.    Sometimes he sits by the entrance and just watches.   But his keen eye, keener than we can ever imagine, can pick up the movement in the grass which will provide a tasty snack for him or his mate.

In the fields celandine are in full bloom.   Every bank facing South has a hundred bright suns.   We hate them when they are in our gardens, but in the fields they bring such joy.

Echoing that brightness is the marsh marigold, the kingcup or water-blob of our childhood; so common then but rarer now in its wild form.   Yet it thrives along our beck for weeks until finally it gives way to the paler water iris, in past times a good indication that you were nearing a ford, where footsteps had broken off pieces of iris root which had floated downstream and rooted along the bank.

In the hedgerow the yellowhammer has started to sing - a little bit o' bread and no cheese - a cheerful song.   And yesterday he came to the bird table for seed, easily identified by his bright yellow head.   It seems as though yellow is the colour of the month so far.

On the farm, the land is far too wet to get on with the really important jobs of fertilising, harrowing, rolling, getting the pastures ready for the cows to go out and the meadows ready for silaging.   Instead the farmer is busy collecting all the sticks and branches brought down by the Winter's gales, tidying up the fields, repairing fences and, best of all, having huge bonfires.   This love of bonfires goes back through the ages and I for one never tire of standing by the fire with my pitchfork and poking back bits of escaping wood.