Monday 29 September 2008

The beck as it winds through our pasture.
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The Beck

A beck flows through our village. It rises up on The Moor, about half a mile above us, goes underground and emerges at the West end at a bore hole. Almost every house in the village has the beck either in the garden or in front or behind . Anyone going through cannot fail to notice it - we are a village built on water.
Now just a pretty sight it was, of course, the main reason the village was built here in the first place. There are ancient bridleways all around and early artefacts have been found - axe heads, a wonderful Saxon figurehead, flint knives, crotal bells - there is even a Bronze Age crouch burial site
Through all the generations people have depended on the beck to support their everyday life. As late as the twentieth century we drank its water and throughout the years people have washed in it, washed their clothes in it, dipped their sheep in it, cooled their butter in it, cleaned their houses with it and watered their cattle. Sometimes it floods. In the 1930's there was a flood which devastated parts of the village and even earlier this month the beck came over the road and flooded the village pub and some of the houses.
Drovers from Scotland passed through with thousand-strong herds of cattle. They would pay a half penny a head to water them in our beck (around £2 for the whole herd). There is still a Halfpenny House to remind us of it!
Most of the land here belonged to the Cistercian Abbeys. There were Abbeys at Rievaulx, Easby, Jervaulx, Coverham and Ellerton and they all owned land here. They used our beck to dip their sheep and wash the fleeces as well as for drinking purposes. Monks from these Abbeys must have walked our beckside throughout the generations.
There were mills as well. There was a corn mill in our village working until 1928. Two miles downstream there was a bobbin mill and a saw mill. Where the beck runs through the grounds of Constable Burton Hall there was a trout pond. Naughty local boys used to dam the beck when the trout swam upstream and do a bit of poaching.
Along its twenty mile or so length it is joined by several other becks running off the moor. Along its length there were several other corn mills and a fulling mill. One mill is still in working order today and grinds corn into flour for sale.
Perhaps strangest of all, where the beck widens in the little town of Bedale, there is a Leech House on its bank. Here in the nineteenth century leeches were kept for use in medicine. And a little lower downstream there is the remains of a harbour. This was being built when suddenly the railway came - and that spelled the end of any attempts to make it navigable.
Now it is just a picturesque waterway - yellow mimulus lines its banks in places, here and there you can see water forget-me-not and water cress. Yellow flag irises flourish - some say that where irises are is where there was once a ford across it (the rhizomes got caught on the boots and were deposited a little way downstream). There are fish - trout and bullheads abound, but the trout never get big enough to eat.It is still useful in that it flows through the fields and provides drinking water for the cattle, horses and sheep. Its banks provide nesting places for mallard, coot and moorhen. Its fish provide food for kingfisher and heron and the sound of its gentle trickle through the fields provides a peaceful accompaniment to any walk.
Eventually - after twenty miles or so - it flows into the River Swale, then via the Ouse and the Humber it makes its way to the North Sea.
Over the centuries it has been such a hard-working stretch of water that I think it has earned its rest as it gently goes on its way.

The Wonders of Modern Science

There was a mini-disaster last night when I accidentally pressed the wrong button and completely lost my Blog List which contained all the favourite sites I like to visit. Dominic sat at his own computer and restored them all for me. It is at times like this that I realise how little I know about the computer world. It is hard for me to get my head round my blog floating in cyber-space - now I have the added problem of my blog list being restored without anyone sitting in MY chair and switching on MY computer. When I think how today's children in school are so computer-literate and I look at my feeble efforts I feel a "senior-moment" coming on. Or - having just read Lucy's comment - I shall change that to "learning opportunity" - it never does to admit to being old. I have just been thinking as I loaded the dish-washer - is there anything that today's children can't do that the previous generation can do? I can't think of a single thing but I am sure we must have grown up doing things that children today don't have to do any more. Can anyone think of anything? In the meantime - Thanks Dominic for giving me a new learning opportunity.

Saturday 27 September 2008

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Beads! Beads! Beads!!

Ever since our distant ancestors lived in caves we have made body ornaments - from sharks teeth, from bones, from cowrie shells, dried berries and, of course, beads. Beads made of wood, clay, dried berries etc.
Once you start beading it is very easy to become obsessive about collecting beads as there are some very beautiful glass beads to be had these days. In fact, you can get carried away and buy individual beads which are lovely in themselves. I've bought a few and never found a use for them! You can see one or two of them in the photograph, together with some of the things I have made.
Some of the beads in the fringe on the specs case (they are mostly dull blue or green, without the shine of the glass ones) were made for me by a very clever friend, who works in polymer clay.
The specs case was probably the easiest to make of all the things in the photograph. Once you have established the bottom row of 76 seed beads the rest grows quickly. There are only about twenty-four rows in the case as you can thread a whole"stripe" on in one row. And making the fringe is fun because you can lay all the beads you are going to use out on a table and fiddle about moving them until you get the best effect.
The case is lined with a piece of painted vilene cut to size and sewn, then pushed into the case and secured with the top row of gold beads.
I can recommend beading as a relaxing hobby but BE WARNED: beading is obsessive - once you begin to send for brochures, visit craft fairs, find beading shops - you are hooked and you see some beads which you simply have to have. I haven't done any beading for several years but I still have thousands of beads waiting to be used. It is a bit like patchwork - some material is so pretty you just have to have it even if it means keeping it in the cupboard and taking it out now and then to gloat over it!!

Thursday 25 September 2008


Most people have their favourite gadget. One person will rave about his potato-peeler, another about some attachment to his penknife. Me – I have a built-in resistance to them all and even hate the word.
It seems to have originated in the nineteenth century – in other words it seems to be a product of The Industrial Revolution and that suggests to me some minor Telford or Brunelesque figure tinkering about in the Ironbridge Gorge, inventing this and that so that he can enjoy himself smelting or forging or fettling or whatever it was they did to iron in those days, in order to make tiddly little things ostensibly to help the user take some of the difficulty out of everyday tasks but really just a vehicle for enjoying himself.
I wonder how they thought of the word. To me it sounds to be made up of two words. First of all “gad” - to go about from place to place hoping to find pleasure or enjoyment. Well that fits in with my minor Telford, doesn't it – tinkering with a bit of this and a bit of that and creating some dinky thing. Then there's the “get”. Well in the nineteenth century it probably meant “you really must get this or that.”But now I like to think of it as “jet” spelt j e t. for example, whizzing about from A to B at breakneck speed.
Well that image, for me, fits in very well with the modern, present-day equivalent of the tinkering telfordite – the Sunday Supplement Editor. He spends lots of money and bags of time producing a glossy magazine full of ads for gadgets that look really inviting on a wet Sunday afternoon when you are lying on the rug, still in your jim-jams, eating from a box of choccies and sipping a good red wine – and looking for something to spend your money on.
I once bought a hard-boiled-egg slicer – excellent for posh salads until it came apart as I dried it and one part shot up in the air and fell behind the kitchen dresser, where it resides to this day (if you saw the size of my dresser you would know why I never move it).
An egg-poacher was another gadget I bought. Well it made lovely Gordon-Ramseyish round, neat eggs which sat beautifully on half a muffin rather than drape over it like a piece of ancient Nottingham lace as it had done in my “poach in a saucepan “days. But have you ever tried washing up an egg poacher? The dish washer completely ignores it, sending it out with bits of congealed egg smelling of dish washer detergent stuck to it. The washer up dons rubber gloves and gives violent exercise to a brillo pad in an effort to remove the detritus. Use it again? No thanks – anyway I love old lace.
And then there was the foolproof gadget for fixing a garden hose to the outside tap. Foolproof? I hear you ask. Well I can tell you this fool got drenched when gadget and tap parted company in mid-flow. The angle of the parting projected a jet of ice cold water directly on to my expensive Saks hairdo – done that morning. You see now, dear reader, why my present hairdo is a Saks Poor Relation – for who in their right mind wants to wash fifty pounds worth of cutting, styling and blowdrying out in the time it takes to turn an outside tap on?
No! Gadgets and I don't mix! Hang on a minute. I've just thought of my favourite gadget after this long ramble. I am very partial to the red “off” button on the TV Remote Control.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

The fob was found just outside the door
of this barn.
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The carnelian fob - two pence piece for size comparison.

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The Carnelian Fob

In 1996, a man with a metal detector found this fob in Peacock's field on our farm. It is silver and hallmarked 1836 and was found just in front of this little barn, where the farm horses used to be kept in days gone by. I had it cleaned up and added the silver chain. The reverse side probably held a compass although only vestiges of it remain. It was found just below the surface of the grass. I have thought often about how it came to be there and have written the following fictional account of one way in which it could have been lost.

The farmer looked up towards Zebra Hill. All day the hill had stood out against the purple-black of an angry sky. Sometimes a glishy sun had illuminated the few scrappy pines on the top. Then a squall would pass over. Great drops of rain, each one a miniature prism in the bright sunlight, would race across the field, while the farmer watched in wonder at the raw beauty of the weather.

The haystacks were thatched, the fields were cropped short, the corn and root crops were all harvested. Now the land needed the Autumn rain.

The worst kind of weather always came from behind Zebra Hill, from the North, sweeping down from the moorland into the valley floor. In the coming Winter there would be days of bone-chilling cold, when the walk from the house to the barn to feed and water the horses in the evening would be a chore, carried out in the darkness, the storm lantern swinging against the farmer's body as he walked. The rain would be lashing down or the snow would be almost too

deep to wade through. But always he would have to struggle through to his beloved horses, who were such an integral part of the farm and who would be standing in their stalls, waiting patiently as they always did, for their food to arrive.

But tonight, as the setting sun swept bars of orange light across the heavy clouds, the farmer felt a glow of satisfaction. He owned this land. He had worked it in all weathers. And this year he had fulfilled the promises of Summer by getting everything in safely before Winter set in.

He took out his pocket watch and looked at the time. The watch face, tinted palest pink by the setting sun, said seven o'clock. How the nights were drawing in, he thought.

Pulling his watch chain across his ample chest, he tucked the watch back into his waistcoat pocket and strode across the field for home, his work for the day finished. The smell of mown grass mingled with the smell of Autumn bonfires and that of home cooking from the farmhouse kitchen across the field.

It was only when he took out his watch on going upstairs to bed later that night that he saw that his treasured fob was missing from his watch-chain. He searched the fields in the days and weeks to come but it was not to be found for another 160 years.

Monday 22 September 2008

Jam, Whisky and a Glass - all ready. Bring on the home-made bread!
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Season of mist and yellow fruitfulness - and blackberries hanging in swags on our field hedges.
Yesterday was "Blackberry and apple jam day" here (the kitchen smells good this morning). Today is "Blackberry whisky day". Put one pound of sugar to every pound of blackberries, pop them into a demijohn or any suitable container, swirl them round well to get the juices flowing, then add one bottle of whisky to each pound of blackberries - cover and leave as long as you can. Decant into bottles - it is a lovely deep red colour and is marvellous on a cold winter's night - or when you have a cold or a sore throat - or just when you feel like it. Enjoy!

Saturday 20 September 2008

A Man of Few Words

I am an incomer to North Yorkshire - have only lived here for twenty-one years, since retiring from teaching in an inner-city school. But I am lucky enough to be married to a man who has lived in this house for the whole of his life - and farmed the land surrounding it. He is a happy and self-sufficient man, and, as my poem about him says, he is a man of few words.

No smile
or word of greeting;
just the raised forefinger
on the steering wheel.

No word of praise
or complaint;
just tacit acceptance.

No eulogies,
no promises of undying love;
just the cuckoo-flower,
the hazelnuts,
or the subtle tail-feather
of the grey partridge
brought in the afternoon
and given with few words,
but saying more
than any gaudy bunch of roses.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Hawthorne berries

Woodland ride

The last honeysucke bloom

Oak leaves are turning brown.
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A Walk down the lane in the sunshine.

For almost the first time this year it is a perfect day. The hazy sun is shining, there is a light, warm breeze and the air is full of the smells of Autumn. So after lunch Tess, the pup, and I decided to stroll down our lane on what we like to call a “mosey”.
Our lane is a mile and a half long and has just three farms on it – equally spaced out – so there is little, if any traffic and utter peace and quiet. So off we go.
Almost all the wild flowers are dead and gone to seed – just vestiges here and there -
bits of deep yellow horseshoe vetch climb through festoons of dead old man's beard; sometimes bits of purple vetch intertwined. And on the grass verge the last few remaining white and pink clover knobs nod in the light breeze. Here and there clumps of purple knapweed are still in flower but most of their cousins, the thistles, are already seeded. We pass a patch of rosebay willow herb long turned to white 'cotton-wool' seeds. It is covered with goldfinches, feasting on one of their favourite foods. They fly off as we get near – eight of them- but only a few yards to the next patch. And so it is all the way down the lane; they keep just in front of us.
As we approach the next farm Tess is alerted to a strange noise that she hasn't heard before. The farmer is harvesting his last field of wheat. Round and round the field the combine harvester goes as we watch. It throws up clouds of dust as it goes. Suddenly a brown hare breaks cover and runs across the field. If Tess were not on her lead she would surely be after it.
The next field is already stubble and full of gleaning cock pheasants, scratching between the rows of stalks and eating their fill of the droppings from the combine. Young pheasants, recently let out of their breeding pens, stand in confused groups in the lane, undecided which way to go or what to do. They move off as we get near – more because of the dog than me I suspect as they are so used to humans.
Earlier in the year a fierce storm cut a swathe through Forty Acre Wood and as we get there I see that the woodmen have been in cleaning up. Piles of tree trunks, neatly sawn up, are piled on the edge of the ride. A young deer sniffs at the logs but beats a hasty retreat when it sees us.
Where the lane goes through the wood it is intensely quiet. Nothing stirs. It is almost eerie. Silently a squirrel runs in little leaps across the lane in front of us. Tess breaks that eerie silence with a sharp bark. The squirrel wiggles his tail, races up a tree trunk and is gone.
Once out the other side in the sunlight we can hear long tailed tits working the hedge. I stand still and look but I can't see them, just hear their chatty little conversations as they work along and pass us.
Oaks and silver briches are beginning to turn. Acorns are still quite tiny, yet many of the oak leaves are already brown. Small swags of golden leaves hang at the tips of some silver birch branches.
In the hedge the last honeysuckle flower stands out creamy yellow against the green background. Hips and haws are already deep, beady red and shiny – and look so inviting for the birds – don't eat them too soon, birds, there's a whole Winter ahead.
Rooks dig their long crusty beaks into the ploughed field as we pass. And then we are almost back home again. David is giving the grass in John's field its last cut for a bit more silage for winter. This is the first time for a few weeks that it has been dry enough for the land to take machinery.
We meet two walkers, two cyclists and a tractor in our two mile walk. We get home. Tess has a long drink of water and I put the kettle on.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Isn't Memory a Funny Thing?

Why do we remember some people who have touched our lives , and not others? I'm not talking here about significant people, but those on the periphery. people we might pass in the street. friends of friends who we might meet once or twice, even people glimpsed on a train. Sometimes we remember these people for the rest of our lives, sometimes we have forgotten them by the next day. So what makes a person - or a situation - memorable? What is it about them that triggers something in our minds so that we file them away for future reference rather than consigning them to the rubbish bin? Here are some of my memorable figures:-
The Three Sisters - Looking back they were probably casualties of the dearth of young men after the First World War (see my earlier post "In Memoriam"). Their surname was Codd and their Christian names were Faith, Hope and Charity! They lived in my Lincolnshire village and, as a child, I used to watch them pass on their way to church twice on Sundays. It was the only time I ever saw them. They wore black, floor-length barathea coats and cream, high necked blouses and large black hats. Each carried a prayer book and the three of them looked to neither right nor left. They lived in a tall, grey house with granite steps up to the front door. I never spoke to them - I don't know what happened to them - so why do they so often float
through my consciousness?
The Babushka - Coming out of an hotel in what was then Leningrad, on a bitterly cold Winter's morning, I came face to face with her. She was wearing a long brown coat, brown boots and a big yellow headscarf and she was wielding a besom, brushing away a light fall of snow from the hotel entrance. She was a heavily built elderly woman with the whole history of Russia written on her face. She didn't look at me but she looked at my cream cashmere coat (lent to me by a rich neighbour for the dura tion of my holiday!) with such a look of envy that I wanted to take it off and give it to her. She epitomised Russia for me at that time and that face, and expression, have never left me.
The Bear Man - Standing in a window in Istanbul I looked down into the street in the early morning in the Old Town and saw a small, wiry, weasely man slouching along the pathway, leading two chained brown bears - sad and pathetic creatures who padded along beside him, and I wondered what cruelty and degredation the two poor creatures had been subjected to. It is thirty years since I saw them - I wonder still.
Bertie Webb - Bertie was a friend of a friend and I met him only twice; both times when he came up from Cornwall to my friend in Lincolnshire for holidays. He was a retired Headmaster, unmarried, a spritely ninety and mad about Old Time Dancing. Why is it I can recall his elfin face so easily while often struggling to recall the faces of loved ones who have died? I have written a poem about him:

Death of a Dancing Man.
His the light step, good for the gallop,
or the Dashing White Sergeant.
As the Village Hall throbs to the music
and the bare boards rattle.

His the ninety years of swinging
the girls on his arm;
Doing the do-si-do, mastering the tango,
Passing down the ranks
of pretty girls but never marrying one.

His the death, on the kitchen floor,
Alone. After
The Valeta...
The Palais Glide...
The Lambeth Walk...
and The Last Waltz.

Monday 15 September 2008

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Textile Art

I thought it was time I put another piece of my work onto my blog.
There is a technique called Burning which I was very keen to try after reading a super little book by Fay Maxwell "Burning and Slashing"( so I got together lots of different gauzy/metallic material bits and cut them up into very small pieces. I laid them on to a piece of old blanket, covered them with a piece of gauzy material and tacked it down well (probably three inches depth to the bits). Then I machined randomly all over the piece until it was well anchored. Now comes the fun bit - with a mask on to protect against fumes I pushed my soldering iron deep into the work until it burned back and melted the metallic bits in the materials. I found that as I did pieces some of the results were exciting, some quite mundane - in fact you never knew quite what the result was going to be. This is one piece I was particularly pleased with. I have it mounted on the wall in a fairly wide, dull gold frame where the sunlight catches it at certain times of day - then it glints in places and is quite pleasing.

Sunday 14 September 2008

The water-meadows on the Ure.
Cotter force, Wensleydale
Mallerstang Common

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The Birthday Girl's Day Out.

Thursday - a lovely sunny Autumn Day - perfect for a jaunt! We set off, two of us plus two dogs, Westwards through Wensleydale, alongside a benign River Ure. The previous week it had been badly in flood but now it gently rolled along - here and there a solitary heron fishing. We drove through fields of black and white cows - sometimes Jersey cows - Swaledale sheep - Jacob sheep - all grazing and enjoying the sunshine - and arrived in the little market town of Hawes.
We stopped here for an exhibition at The Dales Countryside Museum.
Some time ago somebody found a robin's nest in a besom and it sparked off an idea for inviting forty-five artists to interpret this as "NEST - A brush with the media"' Fantastic stuff - jewellery, poetry, ceramics, painting, collage, sculpture, wood engraving, etching - all local, professional artists - a marvellous, inspiring mix.
Totally inspired (and plenty to talk about) we carried on down what used to be the Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike Road through the fells. Up, up, up we went to the spine of The Pennines and then began the descent down the other side - a very exciting ride, rather like a switchback, passing a lovely Dales pony grazing in a field . At Cotter Force we stopped to walk the dogs.
This is a walk I always enjoy. To start with it is on the flat - not all that common round here - and there is a defined footpath - and best of all there is always the chance of seeing a grey wagtail, a dipper or a kingfisher. After a quarter of a mile the ground rises sharply and Cotter Force throws its full weight down into the beck.=, peaty, brown and roaring. There's a nice strategically placed bench for a rest before the return walk.
At The Moorcock pub we turned North up towards Kirby Stephen, driving along side the Carlisle to Settle Railway line through spectacular fells along Mallerstang Edge to Pendragon Castle - one of the homes of Lady Anne Clifford in earlier times.
Up on Mallerstang Common kestrels hovered, Swaledales grazed, lapwings flapped, trains rattled under us in a tunnel on the line, a sprightly breeze blew and the sun shone. What more could anyone ask? Just what we needed before our lunch at The Black Swan at Ravenstonedale.
We did the journey in reverse instead of going back another way - we just wanted to see what it looked like with Wild Boar Fell and The Mallerstang in front of us. It was even better.
Not for the first time we both said, "Aren't we lucky to live here!"

Tuesday 9 September 2008

"The Little Grey Men" (or in this case "brown and green".

Does anyone out there remember the books by B.B. "The Little Grey Men" and "Down the Bright Stream"? They are about the "littlepeople" who have names like Cloudberry and
Well, I think I have found one!
We live in the shelter of a bank of Scots Pine trees planted when the house was built, as a wind-break. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers love them. They come with their family to our bird table and when they have eaten their fill of peanuts they start on the trunks of the Scots Pines, looking for "afters" - tapping at the bark and dislodging great chunks in their search for insects.
This little chap (I have photographed him on a sheet of paper) fell out of the pine bark and landed on the grass, where a friend found him. Don't you think he is a fine figure of an ancient troll or something (use your imagination here). And is it significant that he landed close to this "mushroom" with its pretty green concentric circles. His house maybe? Or his umbrella?
You have been warned! There are still little grey (or in this case green and brown) men about.
But I am sure they are "goodies"!
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Sunday 7 September 2008

A Personal Book Tour.

For me, books roughly fit into six categories:
There are the reference books - Atlas, Dictionary, Thesaurus etc., which I keep near to hand for things like The Times Crossword.
Poetry books are scattered about the shelves throughout the house - these are to dip into when the mood takes me.
Then there are the books one feels one ought to read. This must vary from person to person - my list (taken from my bookshelves) is all of Dickens, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Thoreau's Walden - I have read bits of them all from time to time but never from Page 1 to the end.
Travel books are important. I tend to borrow them from the library - people like Gavin Young, Paul Theroux etc. My two favourites, which I do own, are Wilfred Thesiger's "Arabian Sands" and Charles Glass's "Tribes with Flags".
Most exciting category - books I can't wait to read! These can be old favourites like "Brideshead Revisited" or books by any of my favourite authors - Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwen, Evelyn Waugh, Iris Murdoch,Salley Vickers, Anita Brookner, Hilary Mantel, D H Lawrence - the list is endless.
But there is another category - maybe the most important for me -if I can't sleep and get up to make myself a cup of tea; if I am worried about something and can't really concentrate; if I get overtired and need to relax. Then I call on my "dip into" pile. I have read all of them a hundred times and am so familiar with them that I can easily find any particular passage I want to read. They take very little effort to read but always soothe and satisfy. Here is my list. I suspect most readers have their own list. What is yours?
Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley"
Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited."
Ronald Blythe's "Word from Wormingford", "Borderland", "Out of the Valley."
Roger Deakin's "Waterlog."
John Lister-Kaye's "Nature's Child."
Montgomerie's "Anne of Green Gables."
For my Desert Island it would have to be the Steinbeck!

Saturday 6 September 2008

Rain, rain, rain!!

We have had over four inches of rain here this month. The beck has split itself into two becks, the garden is under water, and it is still raining. On the walk this morning (a very wet walk) Tess - the Border pup - went missing!! Found her at a rabbit hole after a ten minute search in pouring rain - David has gone off pups!!

Thursday 4 September 2008

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My week (7)

As I write this the sun is shining, but this has been another very wet week. Over an inch of rain has fallen here so far in September, and again the local farmers are struggling to get in the hay and the second or third crop silage. Even if the sun is shining the ground is too wet to support the heavy machinery.
So we have taken the opportunity to do some emulsion painting in our kitchen. The walls are covered with "this and that" - every time I put something new up on the wall David groans and says "not another nail in the wall." So all the bits and pieces came down this morning and the walls are now sunshine yellow again (they had gone to a paler colour). So even if it rains tomorrow (it is forecast) then the kitchen will be sunny again.
Has anyone out there a cure for a chewing puppy? Last week it was my feather duster (I came into the kitchen and thought Tess must have caught a blackbird - there were feathers everywhere). This week it is the switch and the door handle on the washing machine! So now there is a half-stable door fitted onto the utility room to keep the pup out. My lovely old wicker clothes basket has been reduced to a pile of wicker fragments. Her favourite trick is to grab the bag of potatoes and pinch them one by one, dropping them into various places - she then begins to chew them. I really wonder if she is teaching herself to peel the potatoes. At the last count she had eleven toys specifically designed for her to chew. But, I suppose she is like a lot of young children who would rather play with a cardboard box and the baking tins on Christmas morning.
Back to the rain again. A colleague of my God-daughter has a lovely phrase for a wet afternoon. She calls it "a train-set afternoon". I have written a poem on the theme because it always cheers me up that locals will go to any planned event regardless of the weather:-

A Train-set Afternoon,

Bunting sags,
flags droop;
only the hardy
splash through the puddles
in their Hunter wellies
to buy from the Cake Stall
(covered by plastic sheeting),
to hand over the wet coins
with cold, red hands,
and hurry to the tea tent
to push into the steaming crowd.

Gardens Open.
Poppies give way
under the strain,
collapsing into wet heaps
on the fresh, shining lawn.
Lupins lean,
lolling against the
heavy and spoiled
in the space of an hour.

Pine needles
drop wetly from branches,
filling the gutters,
choking the grating,
paddling into the carpet of the
Conservatory Tea Room.

In The Pavilion
the cucumber sandwiches
The windows steam up
from the urn and the
desultory talk of the batsmen.
the crease steams
through the haze
and round the edges of the field
horse-chestnuts dip their fingers
limply towards the puddles.

Monday 1 September 2008

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In Memoriam

This weekend the Wensleydale Railway has been hosting a World War 2 weekend. 'Shop windows have sported war memorabilia and men and women in old uniforms have popped up in unlikely places. Union Jack bunting has flown in the town and windows of the shops have been criss-crossed with masking tape - all vaguely familiar.
But you really have to be at least seventy to remember World War 2. And with the First World War there is barely anyone left to remember it at all. This morning, searching for something (I spend a lot of time doing this) I came across a table mat made by my Auntie Eva and it brought back memories of 4 "casualties " of the First World War - four of my father's sisters, who like thousands of other young women, never married because there was a shortage of young men left after that awful carnage.
Two became tailoresses, one a milliner and the other one stayed at home to "keep house" for her parents. They all lived together and after the parents died the four sisters remained together until their deaths.
By the time I was born they were in their forties. One was a plump, jolly auntie, who drew pictures and told stories, one was a tiny mouse of a woman who rarely spoke, one was always rather a sourpuss and the other, the milliner, worked in a high class establishment in the town and always acted as though she was a little better than us.
It was only after I grew up and they had all died that I realised the full significance of their lives - how sad they had been. The "sourpuss" had had a romantic liaison with someone who seemed to vanish from the scene overnight - no one seems to know whether he was killed in battle or just left her, but he left behind such sadness that stayed with her for the rest of her life. After she died I inherited an autograph album and several poetry books. They were all bought for my aunt by her lover and all are inscribed with his name for her "Robin" -. In one of the books is a piece cut from a newspaper which has obviously been folded, unfolded and read hundreds of times. Not very good poetry maybe but a sad reflection on a wasted life. All four had sad stories to tell - but they were not alone.
If I could come to thee! If I could leave
The toil-worn paths in which my feet are set,
And in lone hour of golden peace forget
The hard. rough things to which my soul must cleave!
If I could come and gain my love's reprieve.
If I could weep and feel thy cheeks all wet
With those fond tears thy grief would sure beget
When I knelt down in weariness to grieve.

I may not come! and ah this very thought
Makes clamorous my spirit's cry for thee,
Is there in heaven one chamber set apart,
A sacred place where the first kiss is brought?
Through the long days I'll hush my passion's plea
And let this hope lie warm about my heart. Elsie S Mead