Sunday, 30 June 2013

No complaints!

No, I am not complaining - just saying that this week end has been busy and there has been no time for blogging.

Yesterday there were friends for coffee in the morning - a lovely chat about nature, art, language (one of the friends was from The Netherlands and speaks absolutely word-perfect English, with no accent whatsoever.  How I envy that ability to speak foreign languages with what seems so little effort, but in actual fact means years of hard work.)

The evening saw friends and family here, just for wine, nibbles and a chat about everything under the sun, including friend D's recent art exhibition (about which I blogged).   Those of you who saw her cow rag rug and admired it, will be interested to hear that someone bought it. 

Now, today, more friends are coming for afternoon tea of sandwiches and a 'proper' trifle - one of my party pieces - in this case a strawberry and amaretti trifle, all ready now bar the double cream for the topping.   It got an extra dose of top quality sherry as the bottle was getting on for empty when I had dowsed it with the usual amount, but I don't suppose anyone will be complaining.

Friends and family - what would we do without them?

Friday, 28 June 2013

It's here again.

Every June it happens.   One day we walk around the fields and there they are - rabbits with Myxomatosis.   Yesterday we didn't see a single one; today they are everywhere in our fields.

It is a cruel disease and I for one find it inexcusable that it was introduced.   The Myxomatosis virus was first discovered in 1896 in Uruguay.   Because Australia had a terrible problem with rabbits, the virus was deliberately imported into there in the early 1950's and it almost wiped out the entire population of rabbits.

In 1952 it was deliberately imported into France and by 1953 it had arrived in the UK - nobody is prepared to say whether it arrived by chance (it is spread by flying insects and rabbit fleas) of whether it was deliberately brought in.   The disease ran its course and wiped out over ninety percent of the UK population of wild rabbits.

But, of course, those who were not killed by it developed an immunity to it and bred - like rabbits.   So now we have a population of rabbits here who get the disease each year - the fittest survive (or do not get it because of immunity) - the others die.

And, believe me, if you have not seen a rabbit dying of 'myxy' then you have no idea what an inhuman and cruel death they have.  Personally I do not think anything justifies deliberately inflicting this awful disease on the wild population of an animal which most of us view with a kind of Beatrix Potter affection.

Over the next few months this morning's debacle will be re-enacted here on the farm many times over in various forms.   Tess, who is absolutely no good at catching rabbits but likes to give them a run for their money (they usually let her get quite close before they run and then stand by their burrow clutching their sides with laughter at her inept attempts), spotted a young, half grown rabbit and chased it.   It ran, hesitantly, blundered into the wire fencing, bounced off it, blundered a bit further up the field and repeated the exercise, squealed as she caught it.   The farmer by this time was just behind her, took it off her and despatched it quickly and humanely - it was blind and festering.   Frankly no animal should be put through that - wild or tame, a pest or not.

We pay someone who is a good shot to despatch our rabbits when they get too numerous.   OK, occasionally they might only 'wing' one and it might die a slow death.  But in the majority of cases it is a good, clean death, over in a minute  - the carcase often collected the same day by a local vixen looking for food for her brood.

I realise that any animal which is reputed to eat so much grass (they say ten adult rabbits eat as much grass as one cow) needs to be kept under strict control.   But seeing a field full of festering, blind, crippled rabbits sitting waiting to be put out of their misery (the farmer always kills any that he comes across - quickly and humanely) is in no sense justified. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The weather.

Why is it that here in the UK the weather is such a topic of conversation?  I would like to bet that in places like, for example, the Sahara, where it is almost always very hot and dry, the weather is hardly every mentioned unless there is a sandstorm on its way.   Or in equatorial regions, where it rains heavily every day, steams, then rains again.

So perhaps our reason for the weather being such a topic is that it is so unpredictable.

And is it also a fact that when we were children the weather was much more seasonable?   That when Summer arrived we could expect long, hot, sunny days; that Winter snows would fall on time?
Or do our memories play tricks, dwelling on those long, hot Summery days when as children we could go off after breakfast in the long school holidays with a packed lunch, a fishing net, a jam jar and a promise to be back at a certain time.   And did we really come back tanned, jars full of tiddlers, sandwiches eaten (probably long before lunch time) hot and tired from a day spent in full sun.   Or is it all nature's way of embellishing things?

I write this as I look out of the window on to pouring rain on a late June afternoon.   I have been into town and it is cold too.   Yes, my broad beans and salad leaves in the garden are thirsty and will welcome the rain - as will the farmer who has more silage fields cut and is busy spreading slurry on them- but is a run of three or four days of reasonably warm sunshine all we can expect these days?

We know so much more about the weather in these days of television weather forecasts - we talk knowledgably about the jet stream, global warming and the like, whereas as children we tended to rely more on the old adages;  'red sky at night the shepherds' delight', 'rain before seven, fine before eleven', and the like.

My grandfather used to look out of the kitchen window and say, 'it'll rain before night - it's black o'er Fulletby'.   The farmer's father used to predict rain in the same way by saying it was 'black over Zebra' (Zebra being a clump of trees on the moor above our farm).

I read in 'Weather Eye' in today's Times that the European Space Agency satellite on Venus is monitoring our weather and taking images of the earth 70 km above the surface.   They have found out that the jet stream winds blow at seriously fast speeds, sometimes going completely round our planet in three days.   The thing they are puzzling over though is why, in the last eight years, wind speeds have increased by as much as 25 per cent.   This sort of information goes right over my head I am afraid (and ruins my hairdo too I would add).   I think in future I shall stick to the old adages.   Have you any to add?


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

My New Header.

Is there any flower in the British Countryside more perfect than the Wild Rose?    Well there certainly isn't for me.   Every year I look forward to it coming out.   There are certain bushes dotted around the hedges on the farm and I know where all the roses are.  I also know which one comes out first.   So today - as the first flowers emerged into the sunlight - I took this photograph.   I have put it on larger than life - but you can't get too much of a good thing, can you?

The Scottish poet Tom Scott, who died in 1995, said it for me in one of his last poems, "Let go who will."   He was writing of getting old and approaching death and he wrote,
"spare me the sensitive nerve that sings,
the stormcock
and the rose".

For anyone who doesn't know what a stormcock is - it is a song thrush - quite rare round here these days but with a song which once heard is never forgotten.

The wild roses are short lived, so I shall enjoy them while they last and keep going down to this particular bush to sniff at the delicate scent they give off.

Tess will be happy to go with me as there is an old weighted barrel at the bottom of the yard which the farmer uses to weight down the back of various bits of equipment when he is towing them on his tractor.  Tess is convinced that something lives under it (she may well be right) and would spend her whole day barking at the old barrel.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Good morning madam!

I have never been enamoured of supermarket shopping - I don't like the pushing and shoving, children charging up and down the aisles and the way the powers that be  change things around in order to make you search for them, and in the process buy things you would 't normally buy.  I know there is such a thing as free will, but sometimes their so-called offers seem tempting at the time and it is only when you get home and unpack that reason sets in.   Well, that's how it is for me.   I love children but I am not too keen on them in supermarkets unless they are babies (we get plenty of them as our nearest Tesco is on Catterick Garrison and the babies are adorable).

Because I am still unable to drive (I am waiting with bated breath for a go ahead from the DVLA) and it is the farmer's busy time, I decided to try 'on line shopping' - what a treat it is now that I have got used to it.

My order always comes on Tuesday mornings between 8am and 10am and because I am fairly near to the shop I am usually first on the delivery round.   This means getting up, showering, eating breakfast and clearing the table before they come.  (I usually play the slob and eat breakfast in my dressing gown).

I am ashamed to say in these days of the working mum, that I get huge pleasure from cleaning the store cupboard and putting my purchases away.   Because I have time to peruse the things on offer I usually end up buying things for the store cupboard (today it was tinned crab and salmon, tinned corned beef and anchovies.  They are marvellous with frozen food too as it comes in a special compartment.   I put that away quickly - my freezer is full to bursting.

I feel a bit like Mrs Tiggywinkle - isn't it sad getting pleasure from such mundane things in these days of high powered women?   I am sitting here at the computer at 10.28am with all my shopping for the week done (apart from a top-up on fresh fruit and vegetables at the weekend), a rather smug feeling (sorry about that) and a decision to make - shall we have fish, new potatoes, mixed frozen veg and shredded savoy cabbage for lunch or shall we go for the corned beef and pickle with new potatoes and red cabbage, apple and onion.   Decisions, decisions - and all courtesy of the lovely delivery driver from Cardiff who greeted me with a smile and a "Good morning madam"? 

You will see which alternative I chose from the photograph at the top of the page.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Sheeps' Big Day

At last the day has arrived.   All the ewes who were losing their wool in great clumps have been shorn.   How much better they must feel for their hair cut.

They are docile creatures and seem able to put up with any indignity providing they are all kept together.   The lambs - who are not shorn in their first year - hung about in the yard waiting for their mums, getting down awkward little places and then making a fuss to get out, calling repeatedly.  The mums made not a sound.  I couldn't help feeling that a short break from their offspring was appreciated.

First both sheep and lambs had their feet treated - hooves clipped, any sore places treated and then sprayed with a soothing antibiotic.
Then both sheep and lambs were drenched for worm and injected with penicillin against infection from the feet.  Finally all of them (after the ewes had been shorn) were sprayed down the middle of their backs against flies.

Nobody seemed keen to go back into the pasture - they were happy to stay in the yard until one went - then they all went - like sheep.

The wool these days is pretty worthless - farmers get only a pittance for it, particularly since carpets  contain much less wool than they used to - for that was where most Swaledale wool went.  Time was when a tenant farmer would pay his year's rent with his wool crop.  These days it would be lucky to buy him a meal out.

The chap shearing made me laugh.   His grandson, who was helping, had only passed his driving test a week ago and had saved up and bought himself a car.   After only two days he landed up in a hedge bottom.   Luckily no-one was hurt and it could have been much worse.   Also, hopefully, it has taught him a valuable lesson.  But his grandfather told me that when he was young his father had had a saying, which was, "God castrates young men slowly and painfully."   Food for thought there, I think.

Sunday, 23 June 2013


We tend to thank the bees for all the pollination that takes place in our gardens, but of course there are thousands of insects responsible.   Bees are only a small part.   But nowhere is that pollination more evident than it is in my aquelegias this year.

I started out a few years ago with a bought-in plant of deepest blue.  It flowered really well and I looked forward to seeing it again, seeded, the next year.   Well, now about five years later, I have them all over the garden (I am a great believer in letting flowers seed - it is better than weeds seeding) and I don't think two are the same.   But there is not a single blue one.

A friend, who writes a gardening column for a magazine, says that once you have aquelegia in your garden you will never be without them again.  I would vouch for that.   They have spread round to the back patio and also along the sides of the Lane.

As I came in a short while ago from my walk with Tess I photographed a few of them for you to see.  I hope you agree that every single one of them is beautiful, blue or not.  As children we called the single ones with anthers 'dancing fairies' and the smaller double ones 'grandmother's bonnets' - aren't the colloquial names a lot nicer than the Latin names?

Speaking of colloquial names, the Lane is lined with cow parsley - just at its best at the moment - a froth of white with a pleasant smell.    A friend, W, reminded me that when we were children we called it 'mother die' - anyone else remember that?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

To Everything there is a Season.

One of my favourite passages from The Bible - particularly in the Authorised Version - is the piece which begins, "To everything there is a season."  It is as true today as it was when it was first written.   And I think these things are more apparent when one lives in the country.   I know birth and death happen everywhere but many of the things listed are countryside things.  And, of course, in the days when it was written much of life was lived in the countryside.

In farming the circle is continuous - a season for the cattle going out, a season for them coming in, a season for sowing the corn, a season for harvesting - and so it goes on, coming round from year to year.

At present it is the season for cutting the grass, and in these 'modern' days  that means making it into silage.   The days when all the grass cut was made into hay are long gone.   I do remember as a child travelling from the hay field back to the farm riding on top of a cart load of hay pulled by a horse.   The hay was made into a haystack, thatched to keep out the worst of the weather, and then left for that all important Winter food.  Now, thank goodness, things are not left to chance in quite the same way.   I know haytime was a picturesque time of year, but it was always a worrying time for the farmer.

When I read articles in newspapers it does seem as though a lot of people muddle up 'hay' and 'silage'.   I am speaking now of here in the North of England.   What goes on in the South of the country, where the weather is often more settled and warmer, I don't know.   But here in the Yorkshire Dales nobody makes hay until well into July.   

If you happen to be lucky enough to own protected wild flower meadows then you are not allowed to cut until towards the end of July in any case - to give the flowers time to flower and then seed for next year.

However, there are two kinds of silage and I think that is where folk get muddled up.    In the first kind, forage silage, the grass is cut, left to wilt and then gathered up by those giant 'hoover' things and blown out into wagons.   It is then carried to the farmyard and tipped on to a silage clamp.    When it is full the top is sheeted down and often weighted with old tyres - and then left to 'fester'.
When Winter comes and the cattle come in the clamp is opened up and the 'cured' grass is then used for feed.   Some farmers allow feeding at clamp, which means that the cattle inside can help themselves whenever they like.   Others (more usual) mix it with other things and feed it into the troughs.

The second kind of silage is the one which people seem to muddle up with hay.   The grass is cut and left to dry in the fields.   Once or twice and farmer will go round and shake it up to disperse it and allow the sun (hopefully) to get among the grass.   When it is deemed dry enough then it will be baled (usually large round bales these days) and wrapped in plastic (either black or pale green) and led back to the farm to be stacked and used in Winter.   This sort of silage is more dependent upon the weather than the forage stuff as the period during which it lies in the field is longer.

But anyone up here at this time of year who sees grass lying in the field and assumes it is hay is wrong.  When it comes to haytiming, then we really need good hot sun to dry it off and leave it crisp.   That's the best kind of hay; that's the kind that smells of Summer even in the middle of Winter.   That's the kind I love best of all - and I am sure you do too.

Life on the farm can be frustrating if the weather is not settled enough to make either hay or silage.   But anyone who saw the marvellous film of Kate Humble in the the mountains of Afghanistan last night on BBC2 and saw the hard life lived by the shepherds and their families (life expectancy 35, many children dying in infancy, no access to medicine of any kind, diet mainly of water, milk products from their sheep, flat bread which they baked on a fire of yak dung, and maybe sheep once a month, when they threw every little bit into a great pot of boiling water and ate it with their fingers) must surely be thankful that by comparison the farmer's worries here in the Yorkshire Dales are nothing at all.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Birthdays and Dilemmas.

The farmer enjoyed his birthday meal (photo is of him eating his strawberry pavlova - he always orders all the things I try not to let him eat for his health's sake!) and thanks everyone who sent him Birthday Wishes.

As for the dilemma of the title.   This is just a post to show that farmers and their wives do not spend all their time thinking about farming and do sometimes discuss wider issues.

Anyone who has ever seen the magnificent Burrell collection in Glasgow - a collection of paintings, sculptures, medieval glass - all the things that Sir William Burrell, the shipping magnate, collected over the years and finally left to the City of Glasgow in 1944 - will agree that Scotland is very lucky to have such a collection.

Sir William made a couple of provisos in his will.  One was that the collection should be housed outside of Glasgow to avoid the effects of pollution and the other was that it should never be sent abroad on exhibitions.   Both provisos were understandable in the days when he made them - there was a lot of foul air from industry and there was a war going on, when the art could have ended up at the bottom of the sea.

Richard Morrison in The Times writes about it today.  Apparently the first proviso (the collection staying outside Glasgow) was overturned some years ago when a magnificent new gallery was built, just to house it.   But now, because the folk in charge of the collection are refurbishing the Gallery where it is housed - at a cost of £45million - they would like to send parts of it abroad to earn some revenue.   There is no longer a danger of it sinking beneath the waves, as there was in Sir William's day.  But it seems that getting the proviso overturned might be very difficult.

What do readers of my blog think?   I suppose the principle applies to any proviso made in any will.   You can't ask the person who made it - but you can surmise what they might have said.   In this case you can't help feeling that Sir William would have agreed in today's climate that such journeys were necessary.   Similarly, in any will, urgent need of money (from something like a sale of land, or jewelry or the like) would probably have been sanctioned were the person still alive.

But it is an interesting issue and I will be interested to see what anyone who reads my blog thinks about it.   Only a tiny straw poll I know - but I have always found that you lot out there talk a lot of sense.

Sorry but I can't get the photograph on today - farmer thinks it is just as well!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Clara Clutterbuck.

When I was a child I had to keep my things tidy.   We were not well off and so I never remember  a surfeit of things around - my parents only bought what was necessary and Christmas and Birthday presents tended towards the useful.  But birthdays always included and cake and a party for my friends - jelly, evaporated milk, tinned fruit, sandwiches and a cake - and I never felt deprived and always felt loved.   Not like these days when everyone seems to have everything in the way of gadgets, children seem to have all the latest toys, clothes bulge from wardrobes.

But a survey today (admittedly of only one thousand people) suggests that we really are hoarders.   Top of the list comes unneeded paperwork - bank statements, old receipts,and next comes old mobile phone chargers.

I read through the list - do I hoard things or do I still follow my mother's maxim - if you don't need it, throw it away or give it away?  Any untidyness in my room always resulted in my mother calling me 'Clara Clutterbuck' and insisting that I go and tidy the room immediately.

On the whole I think I resist the urge to hoard.   I find it hard to throw away - or take to the charity shop - books.   The easiest option is for me to buy another bookcase.  My wardrobe is pretty full but I do wear the clothes in it and once I have gone a year without wearing something I have it dry cleaned and take it to the charity shop.   As for unwanted gifts (another thing on the list of things hoarded) - we have a village coffee morning on the first Saturday in the month and they are always on the look-out for raffle prizes - a jolly good way of getting rid of boxes of chocs you really don't want to eat, toiletries with a perfume you really don't like, bottles of wine when you no longer drink red wine and similar things.

As I said in a post the other day, the farmer neither wants nor needs anything for his birthday tomorrow so you can imagine that he has absolutely nothing lying around the place.   Mind you - go down to his shed and it is an entirely different story.   His bench has fifty years worth of bits and pieces that 'might come in useful one day',   The annoying thing is that often they do just that.   How he finds them in the general jumble I don't know but he can lay his hands on the smallest nail if necessary.   You can tell what his bench looks like in that one year a robin nested among the things on the bench and he told me to tiptoe in and look at the nest and I couldn't see it!

I have just remembered something that I do have a stash of - jigsaw puzzles.   Last month I gave away a dozen to a charity for a car boot sale - only another fifty or so to go (then I shall have to clean out under the stairs.)

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

An Unexpected Outing

The farmer is working exceptionally long hours at the moment spreading slurry on the newly silaged fields to help the grass grow again for second-crop silage.  He is leaving the house at eight thirty in the morning, with a packed lunch, and not returning until about six in the evening.   This means that Tess and I are on our own for the day.

Not so today though.   Friend G rang and invited me to lunch and then a walk.   Shortly after ten o'clock she collected me (I still cannot drive) and we went to her house for coffee in the garden.  She has only a small garden but it is full of greenery and very pretty.   There are pots of hosta and ferns, lots of self-sown aquelegia, clematis in full flower - everywhere is lovely.   She has a lovely little grotto which catches the sun and we sat there for our coffee, then went inside for lunch.

Then G, J, M and I drove the short distance to Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve (do have a look at their website) for a walk.   It really is the most interesting place, not least because it is in the middle of the largest army garrison in Europe - Catterick Garrison.

We walked for a good hour on well-constructed and maintained paths, through lots of different habitats.  There were pools with tadpoles and tiny fish, there were areas of heathland, boggy areas, tiny rivers, a lake, plenty of hides, masses of wildflowers (ragged robin, tormentil, cotton grass, germander speedwell, yellow water iris, bluebells, marsh orchids), butterflies, birds and a beautifully peaceful atmosphere.

We are lucky to have such a facility so near.  Apart from a small full time staff, there are masses of volunteers who help to maintain the site and various groups visit - W I's, schools, lots of organisations - and every Sunday morning they net and ring birds and have a huge variety of species.  Wednesday (tomorrow) is a moth day and friends G and J are going to help with moth identification.   I shall not be going as I have a moth phobia - and the furrier the moth, the worse the phobia is!

I took a few photographs for you to enjoy.  The nest photograph is of a nest in the long grass.   Whatever used it (bird, small mammal?) has long gone - but it certainly chose a lovely place to rear its young.


Monday, 17 June 2013

Town versus country.

As my mother was fond of saying, ' it wouldn't do if we all thought alike'.   Some folk like living in the town/city and some in the country.  I have tried both - Lincolnshire countryside - Lincoln itself- then another cathedral city, Lichfield - then a large connurbation, Wolverhampton and finally up here in the sticks of North Yorkshire.  Which did I enjoy the most?

Well during my working years it was convenient to live near to work and I taught in an inner city school - although we lived right on the outskirts and only a stone's throw from the countryside.

So I really think I would have to come down firmly on the side of the countryside.  There is nothing to beat walking out with the dog for her last utility walk at 10.30pm in utter silence - broken only maybe by the sound of an owl in the Scots pines above my head.
And I have just walked down the Lane to the accompaniment of curlew calling their young to keep away from me, chaffinches singing their heads off in the hedge and the distant rumble of a tractor and cutter working in a silage field.

Yes, I know, that silence would drive some 'townies' crazy.   A good job we are not all the same.   However, I do wonder whether some town's folk move up here into the countryside expecting a rural idyll.   The reason I say this is that there is a sudden surge of property on the market in our village.   I have no way of knowing where the sellers come from but I do know that some townsfolk just do not settle.

When my first husband and I came up here to live  twenty six years ago, a local farmer's wife said to me one day that she knew we would settle because we didn't wear posh clothes and we didn't have posh furniture!   At the time I thought it was a bit of a back-handed compliment but now I do see what she means.

If townies come up here and complain about the smell of farm yard manure, the number of cow pats on the road when the milking herd has come in for milking, the incidence of cattle on or near the footpath, then I would suggest that maybe they are living in the wrong place.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A vivid memory?

What draws one to a place?  What is it that sticks in the mind when one visits somewhere and makes one think either - I must go back there again or I enjoyed that visit but don't need to go back?

Sometimes it is memories of the place.  I will never tire of visiting Lincoln Cathedral and looking in various nooks and crannies for familiar objects, and admiring the Bishop's Eye window, and listening to the choir practising in the chancel.   Why?   Well I went to school close by and we had many art lessons sitting in the cloisters sketching; my brother was heavily involved with the cathedral for many years and is buried in the cloisters; and I could even see the cathedral, sitting as it does on top of the only hill for miles around, from my bedroom window when I was a child.

Sometimes it is just one memory.  If you were to mention Sicily I would immediately think of poppies.  When we went a few years ago, every grassy area seemed to be covered in red poppies and the memory of those takes precedence over the ruined buildings, impressive as they are.

And so I come to Arezzo.   My grand-daughter has just been to a wedding in a village close to the Italian town of Arezzo.   The moment she mentioned the place I was back in the square, waiting for the Basilica to open at ten o'clock so that I could see the Piero della Francesca frescoes.   More than five hundred years old, they sing like they were painted yesterday.  I have searched through my computer for photographs of them to put on my blog today, but can't find them.   However, I did buy a reproduction of one part because I thought it would make a really good basis for a fabric collage.   I never got round to working on it but I often look at the reproduction.

Do places hold special memories for you?  Bologna for a little back street cafe and a plate of Spaghetti Bolognaise; Balltimore for the harbour and Border's bookshop; China for the little, wizened old lady with her bound feet who sold me a flimsy paper windmill for the equivalent of a farthing and who was chastised by her neighbour for short-changing me by a farthing.  It's the little things one remembers, isn't it.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Wants and needs.

There is a difference.   I need to get supermarket shopping in order to feed us, the dogs and the cats for the coming week.   I want a lobster salad, just because I adore lobster and I really fancy it, but I don't need to spend the money on it - I shalln't starve if I forego it.
So there we have it - wants and needs.   Sadly the farmer does not show any preference for either.

This week is his big O birthday and I want to buy him a special birthday present.   What does he want, I ask - he can't think of a
single thing.   What does he need, I ask - nothing.   I suggest a new
mobile phone as he has had his since mobile phones were first invented.   It is a museum piece.   Oh no - he can't have a new one because he doesn't want to be bothered to relearn how to use it!  In any case, it isn't broken and his philosophy is 'if it's not broken, don't try to mend it.'

So we are at a stalemate.   I am baking him a birthday cake as I write and intend to add one candle rather than the number he is entitled to.   Icing and marzipan are on standby.   I am taking him and my son and his wife out for a meal on the big day - and that will have to do.

Come to think of it - I can't think of anything I either need or want.  Perhaps it is something to do with getting older.   Looks as though on my birthday in October I shall have to be taken out for a meal.
Time was I would have liked a Gucci handbag if anyone had asked - now I will make do with what I have got.

In any case handbags are dispensed with from now on as I have bought myself a shopping trolley.   This morning it had its first outing into our little market town - coffee as usual with 'the gang' and then fruit and vegetable shopping on our wonderful Friday market.   The trolley was a great success and I didn't need the L plates the farmer suggested I use for my first outing.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The next job on the list.

That is the first lot of forage silage done on the far end of the farm - cut and collected up.   Now time for the next job.  Slurry spreading to encourage the grass to grow for second crop!

Every cattle farmer has by law to have a slurry tank (those big round tanks you see on farms these days) and into it goes all the washings-out from cattle sheds and milking parlours - so basically a mixture of cattle poo and water.   Of course the tank needs regular emptying otherwise it would overflow.   Hence the farmer is off today spreading it all day.

Environmental bodies here in the UK do keep a careful eye on what farmers do these days.   We all have licences for various things - for example we have a licence to clean out the beck which runs through most of our fields, put the cleanings out on the sides of the beck to build them up (and throw back in any fish the farmer sees as he is carrying out the operation - (we have small trout and bullheads and they are difficult to see) and keep the area tidy.   We also have a licence to store an amount of rubble to fill in gateways during the wet Winters when gateways tend to get very muddy.

The weather here is damp and cool today, so for once the farmer is happy - just right for spreading and making that good, healthy smell.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Blooming marvellous.

Never in my time on the farm (over twenty years) or even in the farmer's lifetime here, has there been a year like this for blossom.  I don't know whether it is a combination of a very wet year last year and a very late Spring this year - but whatever it is then everything has decided to burgeon.

The new header, which I took five minutes ago (tripped up all the way across the lawn by two farm cats wanting their morning milk) shows the paddock outside the back door.  It is a mixture of buttercups and what I think is probably meadow foxtail grass but I don't want to go into the field and trample it down for a closer look.

It is a glorious sight as is the clematis in the garden, the white lilac in next door's garden, the hawthorn across from our bedroom window.   The blossom is everywhere.

But the buttercup field here is nothing when compared with the field opposite my son's cottage.  It is just total yellow - not a blade of grass to be seen.   Yesterday he counted the heads in just one small square, estimated the size of the field and came to the conclusion that there are at least eighty million buttercup heads in that field alone.  We need to make the most of them as all too soon they will be gone for another year.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

An Afternoon out.

How I wish you could all have been with me on my walk this afternoon.

I arranged to go over to see friend, M, after lunch.   She only lives a short distance away over the fields and maybe a couple of miles by road.   I normally take Tess with me but today, because of my mode of transport for the journey there, the farmer  took Tess for a walk while I was clearing away the lunch things.

You will be surprised to hear that I went by tractor!   The farmer is busy cutting grass for our friend and neighbour and was going very near to M's house so suggested I rode there and walked back later.

Have you ever ridden as a passenger in a tractor?  If the answer is 'no' then I suggest don't do it.  It is quite the most bumpy, hair-raising ride I have ever had.   Climbing in up three iron steps was hard, the seat was hard and slippery and the ride seemed as though we were travelling over rocks rather than the normal road.

However, I got there safely and the climb down the steps was easier than the climb up.

We had a lovely afternoon, as we always do; talking about the old times, reminiscing about childhood, chatting and laughing - old friends are always the best aren't they?

My walk back was idyllic.  The air was heady with the scent of May blossom; the fields were full of wild flowers; the curlews were issuing warning cries to their young to stay hidden as I passed; the beck was full of water crowfoot in flower; the 'commons' field was full of frisky Holstein heifers.   Ah.   What to do?

At least I didn't have Tess with me - that is like putting the cat amongst the pigeons.  'Come on,' I told myself. 'You are not a wimp, you are a farmer's wife.   Just get going.'   So I did and the little heifers behaved impeccably.

Coming home up the final pasture, through the sheep and lambs, I picked up a lot of stray wool.   The ewes are shedding wool like mad and Fiona (Marmalade Rose on my side bar) has indicated that she would like to have it.   It will take a lot of washing, carding etc., but she would like to try it and see how she gets on.    She intends to call for it at the week end.   So good luck Fi - we all look forward to hearing how you get on.

Monday, 10 June 2013

It is that time of year again.

One thing that never alters in farming is the way that the seasons come round and the jobs associated with them.   Silage season has begun.   If you look in the photograph you will see a pale yellow field in the far distance - that field has already been silaged.

We are a little lower than that and our silaging is about to start this week.   To that end the farmer has got his grass cutter out of the implement shed and is just about to overhaul it ready for cutting the first grass later in the week (weather permitting).

One thing about the grass cutting is that some of the ground nesting birds - curlew, oyster catcher, snipe - nest in the fields around here and are just hatching off their young.   Those that hatch off in the pastures are in no danger but those that hatch off in the fields cut for winter feed need to get into the hedge-bottom as fast as they can before the cutter goes round.   They do tend to move into the hedge bottom as soon as they are hatched - there is more safety there but inevitably some do get killed.   I do remember one year in one of our pastures, the farmer put an electric fence round a curlew's nest so that the cows didn't trample it down.

Yesterday the farmer's walk was through protected meadows in Wharfedale.   He says the wildflowers were amazing.   Here, because of a protection order, the fields may not be cut until late July - when the wild flowers have seeded and the birds have fledged - and the grass is used primarily for hay.   Here, in an area of large milking herds, silage is more important.

A friend is moving house and I went to see her this morning.   Her garden is absolutely beautiful - I don't know how she can bear to leave it - so I have taken a couple of photographs of it for you to enjoy.

Sunday, 9 June 2013


The farmer has gone walking today with his walking group so I am here alone with Tess.   One advantage of this is that I can cook myself something for lunch which the farmer doesn't like.

Today it is undyed smoked haddock which I am just about to put into the Aga in a drop of milk and cook for a short time.   Then I shall put it on a plate and smother it in butter - pure indulgence for me.  I love smoked fish but the farmer is not a lover of smoked food at all.   After I have eaten it I shall open the kitchen window wide so that when he returns he doesn't have to have smoked haddock second hand.

For the first day for almost a fortnight the sun is not shining.   We awoke to fog; that has gone but a light rain keeps falling and the barometer is going back quite quickly.   Well, we shouldn't complain after a lovely spell of warm weather - let's all hope it returns before too long.

I have also just completed my supermarket order on line for Tuesday delivery.   I have been doing this for about six weeks now.  At first I got in a real muddle (egg custard tarts came as scotch eggs the first week and tinned custard the next week - but I have cracked it now (no pun intended)).   If you are one of those people who like to wander round the place looking at what is on offer and pushing your trolley up and down the aisles then fine - but I only go out of necessity and now I have planned my order-on-line I am loving it.

So - lovely lunch, lovely walk round the fields with Tess, lovely read for an hour and then the farmer will be back.   Enjoy your Sunday whatever you are doing.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Livin' is easy.

We have now had ten days of unadulterated Summer weather - we can hardly believe it - after months of simply awful weather it is suddenly wonderful.   And I think we all feel better for it.

In the fields everything has burgeoned.   The hawthorn blossom is out and the air is full of the almondy scent;  the crab apple trees are in full bloom and as the danger of frost is more or less past then we should get a huge fruit crop; the buttercups are stunning in the pasture; in fact June is bustin' out all over.

Of course it is not all bright - such weather also increases the risk of flies and parasites in sheep so today the first lot were brought in and were dosed for worms and sprayed against flies.   They look a sorry lot as their wool is dropping off and yet try to get it off and it obviously is not yet quite ready to come away.  So back they go into the field for another fortnight or so before they are shorn.   They must feel awful with their fleeces hanging off in places.   But it does make their lambs look immaculate with their new curly coats.

In the vegetable garden everything is growing - peas, broad beans, lettuces, onions, leeks; salad leaves and beetroot just coming through and runner beans ready to be planted out. Such an exciting time in the garden - before all the hard work of picking, podding and freezing begins.   There was a lot of plum blossom so I am hoping for lots of plums for jam too.

Only two weeks to the longest day and then it is downhill again - so let's all make the most of it while it lasts.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Spreading the net.

According to an article by Richard Morrison in the Times this morning, there is a new book out (Rewire by Zuckerman) which suggests that the internet has really not made us spread our wings at all.   He says that most Americans still only look at US web pages (94 percent) and that we mostly used all this new technology just like we used to use other methods of communication - i.e. writing letters and chatting over the fence to our neighbours.

I thought about this and decided to do my bit to be the exception that proved the rule.   I clicked on 'next blog' at the top of my blog page and looked at six new blogs (a different one comes up each time you click on it).

The first one was a gardener in the South of England, so I sent him a comment - we have plenty in common with our interests in wild flowers and garden plants.   I hope he will communicate.     I decided on six different blogs for the experiment.   The next four blogs which came up had not be in use since around 2009, so pretty pointless trying to communicate there.   The final one was a lady on a large farm in Dakota - I left a comment there too.   Their farm couldn't be more different from ours here in the Dales, but how good to communicate.

So can I suggest that you try it?   Widen your circle in a new way - you never know what might come up.   I shall be interested to hear how you get on.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

An afternoon of memories.

Do you feel guilty if you have an afternoon doing virtually nothing?
I find it hard not to do.   When I was a child, if I sat doing nothing my mother would ask whether I had anything to do and if I said no then she would find me a job - cleaning the silver, cleaning the brass, running an errand - anything rather than seeing me sitting just 'thinking'.  Reading a book was just one step ahead of doing nothing and could be justified although such an activity was always better if it was done in the evening or even after going to bed.

I no longer feel guilty about having an afternoon (or indeed a whole day) off.  That is what retirement is all about.   So yesterday, after a lovely morning at our Writers' Group, I decided to walk over the fields to see friend, M, and have an afternoon off.

The hawthorn blossom is just emerging and before I got to a tree in bloom I could smell the wonderful almondy smell.   Sugh a heady scent and so reminiscent of the English countryside in May/June for me.

What a lovely afternoon we had, talking about the old times, mulling over ideas, laughing about things that had happened in the past.   She is a reader of my blog and had been interested in my allegiance to my home county, Lincolnshire.   Coming as she does from London (Peckham Rye) and having moved about - evacuation, boarding school, various teaching jobs - she says that she feels no such allegiance.   Are roots important I wonder?  

Is it just me that finds them important?   Maybe it is my very settled existence throughout my early years that makes them so.   I would be interested to hear what others think about it.

To end on a funny story, I must tell you about an incident that happened to me last week.   On entering our local deli I was met by a lady handing out cubes of Gruyere.   I love Gruyere and took a cube.   I enjoyed it so much that I went back for another and she pointed out that there was a table of pre-packed Gruyere for sale.
I went over and picked up a piece, looked at the man standing behind the table and said, "I absolutely love Gruyere - and this one is particularly nice."   Only then did I realise that I was speaking to a life-size cardboard cut out of a man.  I looked round hoping that no one had seen or heard me.

So, another question - am I going ga-ga, do I need my eyes testing, or have others had similar experiences?   Answers on a post card please.   Our next Writers' meeting involves a pile of post cards in the middle of the table, picking one at random and writing about it for a quarter of an hour.   Post cards are urgently needed.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Untidy? Chaotic?

Or is it just beautiful as it is?   We are talking gardens here and I really do wonder whether we have become so obsessed with weeds (so called) that we spend far too long going over the borders and trimming the lawn edges and not enough time actually enjoying the scene.

Some years ago Mirabel Osler wrote a book called 'A Gentle Plea for Chaos' and I thought about it yesterday as I walked down the Lane.

In the distance of about a quarter of a mile I saw, along the verges, stitchwort, buttercups, early purple orchids, red campion, cow parsley, wood avens and ladies' bedstraw.   They were growing in the roadside grass, pushing their way through to the light and producing the most beautiful effect.

Osler believed that the very soul of a garden was destroyed by what she called 'shrivelled and zealous regimentation'.   Maybe, to some extent, that time has passed.   Surely, apart from Parks and Gardens planting, nobody uses a ruler these days to bed out rows of salvias or petunias?   But that doesn't mean that most gardeners don't go round zealously cursing and digging up what they choose to call weeds.

Have you looked closely at a buttercup?   Have you stood in amazement on a bright sunny day and marvelled at a field full of them?   Why should they be so very beautiful, lift the heart in fact, in a meadow and yet so hated in a garden?

Ronald Blythe, the author who himself has a couple of acres of garden and is now well over ninety, has a very laid back attitude to the whole thing.   He leaves red campion, cow parsley and buttercups where they choose to grow, not removing them until they have finished flowering and set seed for next year.   He calls it 'The Giverney Effect'

This is not a plea for all gardeners to have wild gardens.   There is an old joke about a man in his garden and a visitor remarking how wonderful God was in the garden.  He replies that the visitor should have seen the garden when God had it to himself.

Neither is this a plea for roadside verges to be left untended.   They would become a hazard when it was no longer possible to see oncoming traffic.

But moderation in all things would seem to be the order of the day.   Both in our gardens and in our roadside verges, couldn't we just use a little discrimation - perhaps leaving plants until they had seeded for next year?   Anyone who has driven along a roadside during May has surely marvelled at the thousands of golden dandelion discs lining their route, and (because the dandelions are not in their garden) remarked at their beauty.

So let us please try to follow Osler's idea of a Gentle Plea for Chaos.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Going to the top of the world..

...well, the top of our part of the world anyway.

Isn't it funny - I think we are all the same.   We have had such a very long run of cold, windy and wet weather so that on the first spell of warm sunny weather we come out of the woodwork like flies.

Yesterday the farmer, Tess and I all went for a walk in North Yorkshire - going directly North from the farm.   It always seems to be uphill all the way as we go North and I suppose to some extent it is.

We went through Reeth, the unofficial capital of Swaledale and then on into Arkengarthdale, through the only village in the dale - Langthwaite - and then turned up towards Teesdale, climbing higher all the time.

Once out on to the moor there is nothing in the way of habitable buildings as far as the eye can see.   There are one or two houses but they have been derelict for

generations and just serve to show how absolutely bleak and hard life was for the farmers up here in past generations.

Suddenly, there they were, Mrs Pheasant and fourteen babies (not more than a couple of days old, not much bigger than large bumble bees) crossing the road in front of us.   By the time I had got the camera out they had crossed but the farmer grabbed the camera and took a reasonable photograph of them on the grass at the side of the road.   Aren't they just lovely?

We crested the hill and the whole of Teesdale spread out in front of us.   We stopped to take in the view - breath-taking.   At The Stang forest we drew into a gateway and went for a walk.  I am no longer a fast walker so I went at my pace while the farmer and Tess wene at theirs and when I saw them in the distance on their way back I turned round and began to walk back too.   They caught me up about a hundred yards from the car.   It was a lovely walk for us all.
The sun shone and it was pleasantly warm, but it is high ground here - sufficient to say that the daffodils are still in bloom.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Around the fields.

Saturday and another lovely day.   Maybe it is not quite as warm as it was yesterday, but the sun is out and everything is growing.

Because it is the week-end the farmer tends to be less busy and so after lunch he agreed to walk round the fields with me.   The truth is that I am not altogether steady on my legs on uneven ground and also whichever way I walk I have to encounter a field of young beast - sucklers who are out without their mothers for the first time ever and thus rather feisty.

We started with a tour of the vegetable garden.   You will see in the photograph that everything is netted.   This is to prevent wood pigeon attack - in some years we have lost all our small plants to the wretched things, so now we have learned to cover everything up until it is well-grown.   Peas, broad beans, cos lettuce, runner beans, beetroot, leeks and onions are all through and are thriving.   Gooseberries have set and are starting to fill out and raspberries are coming into flower.   One of the apple trees is heavy with blossom while the other one has only one sprig.

Then we set off down the fields.   Tess loves this sort of walk best as she doesn't have to be on the lead.   The crab apple trees are in full blossom everywhere and look lovely. 

We have one very tiny lamb.   When it came with its mother and

bigger sister it was not expected to survive.   But against all the odds it has done so and although it is very small it appears to be doing well - so fingers crossed.

 In the Plantain the blue and pink bells are out.   There seems to be more each year which is pleasing as they make such a lovely show.

Coming up the pasture I was pleased to be accompanied by the farmer.   We were hassled all the way by these young Belgian Blue cross heifers.   They don't actually get close enough to touch you but probably about eighteen inches away and then they follow you all the way up the field.   Turn round and go 'shoo' and they tear off at great speed, do an enormous circle and return to where they were.

The farmer takes no notice of them but if I had been on my own I would have been uneasy.

Coming back down the  Lane I see the first bit of hawthorn (May) blossom out - on the first of June.   That is just about the normal time up here, so you see everything is catching up in spite of the slow start.

It was our village monthly coffee morning this morning.   As I am still not driving friend W kindly called for me.   As usual it was a lovely occasion to meet villagers and I was glad when one of them told me that she had heard the cuckoo yesterday - as far as I know this is the first time for several years that the cuckoo has been heard in our village.

Sorry about the positioning of the photographs - try as I might they still appear wherever they want to.