Tuesday 30 December 2008

The Scenic Route to the Supermarket.

Does anyone actually LIKE going to the Supermarket? I find it a necessary chore sometimes and I set out at 8.30am today to miss the crowd. Dull, misty morning - won't be much about.

How wrong I was. Before I got to the top of the lane I had had to slow down for a brown hare (my most favourite animal) and had seen a little owl sitting on a post.

I drove through our village and up on to what used to be the Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike Road. As soon as I turned the corner onto it, there is a dew pond on the left and there were fifty or so lapwings, standing like statues, all facing the same way, their feet in what is at present little more than a muddy puddle.

Further along the same stretch of road two curlews coasted across the road in front of me and landed in a damp field. They are a common bird round here, nesting in our fields and flocking in the winter - we sometimes see flocks of fifty or more - but only two today.

Almost immediately after that a great horde of mixed fieldfares and redwings swooped across from one tree to another. How I wish there would be a few waxwings with them!!

And then - the piece de resistance - in the silver birches on the grassy verge - a black cock, incongruously perched half way up a tree, presumably eating the shoots.

There was no view today - it is dull and misty - but on a usual run to Tesco there is the added advantage of the most fantastic view right across the Vale of York.

All that before ten in the morning - not bad for a seven mile journey to supermarket shop is it? Oh! and the shop was almost empty so I had a gentle walk round - and bought myself a bunch of roses to celebrate!

Monday 29 December 2008

"Always look on the bright side!"

I pick up the paper over breakfast. The headline speaks of the utter horror in Gaza - it has gone on for years - it is appalling. Page 2 tells me that there are five fatal stabbings a week. Page 3 speaks of a Siberian blast of cold air which is going to envelop the British Isles for the next fortnight. Fold the paper and put it to one side and drink my coffee. Then make a pre-New Year resolution. Begone all this reminiscing, feeling sad, looking for bad news. The holly has shrivelled, the cards keep falling over, the best choccies have gone from the box, I cannot face another turkey sandwich................ but I am henceforth going to be the bearer of good news only.

Trawl the paper for good news and find three cheering stories:-

GP Taylor, the former vicar who retired to write the very popular "Shadowmancer" has come up with a new book for reluctant readers. It is called "The Doppleganger Chronicles" and has colourful graphics in a black border to suggest a computer screen, cartoon strips, text, illustrations - everything that we might see on the internet. He says, quite rightly, that today's children are really the first generation of readers who have been brought up on the computer. If they won't read "ordinary" books then we have to give them something else. I am sure it is significant that over 200 children queued to buy his first book in this format.

The white-clawed crayfish, native to the rivers of the Yorkshire Dales has been declining in numbers, forced out by the bigger, more agressive American signal crayfish. Now it has been bred in captivity with a sixty percent survival rate and is being introduced back into the rivers around us here.

So here we have two stories which give us somebody adapting to the modern age rather than sitting complaining that "things ain't what they used to be." And something/somebody struggling for survival against the odds.

Now to my third story which begins in such an awful way and yet has a happy ending. Some unspeakable person put his dog in a suitcase and threw the suitcase into the river (my immediate thought is that someone should do the same to him). Against all the odds the dog, a four-year old mongrel bitch, tore its way out, scrambled on to the river bank and was rescued, fed, dried, cuddled and given a warm home. There are still good, warm-hearted people in the world - they are in the vast majority -and they give us hope as we go into another year.

Happy New Year to you all.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Born to die!

Yes, I know, from the moment we are born we are getting older. When you are 25 it doesn't mean much; when you get to 45 it begins to grate; when you get to 60 then you really begin to think seriously about it. "They" are now saying that 70 is the new "middle age", and when you look at Helen Mirren in her bikini in her sixties, Judi Dench, still incredibly sexy at 74 and Sheila Hancock, still whizzing off round the globe at 76 (have just read her "Just Me" bought for Christmas and a really inspiring read) you get the feeling "They" may be right. Nevertheless, getting older does begin to take on real meaning, hence the following poem:-

Now that I am getting older
I would like to Spring-clean my brain;
take out the old dusty books
of Latin verbs,
replace them with
memories I've forgotten;
clean the shelves
and re-arrange
in Alphabetical order.

Now that I am getting older
I would like to take down
the Post-It notes
in my head
that have lain unread
gone brown
and brittle;
wipe where they have been
and leave everything
clean and sparkling.

Now that I am getting older
I would like to edit the memories;
take them out,
examine them,
erase the painful,
enhance the good;
returning them for
easy reference
in Alphabetical order.

Now that I am getting older
I would like for Christmas
a mental photograph album.
It would be annotated
and underlined,
sitting on a clean shelf,
ready to be taken down.
It would be
clearly laid out
and easily referenced
in Alphabetical order.

But now I begin to fear
Alphabetical order.
Will I remember if
G comes before M
and where R lies?
I may need a new set of
Post- it Notes
to remember
Alphabetical order.

Saturday 27 December 2008

Christmas stirs up more than just pudding!

Somehow Christmas is almost the focal point of the year. As the Christmases roll on - and boy do they roll on as one gets older - June arrives, you blink and the shops are full of tinsel and tinny muzak carols.
As we sat around the fire on Christmas night, just the two of us, having had a lovely day and a lovely meal, we got to thinking about other Christmases. You can always remember what you did on Christmas day, memorable meals, memorable company, memorable presents. We thought back to when our parents were alive. David is one of six children and in the latter years they would all come home for Christmas dinner, sharing the work load between them and giving their parents great joy. It was nothing for there to be twenty two sitting down to dinner at the kitchen table, the dining room table and the little gate-leg table only used on such occasions.
I come from a much smaller family and there was never a dinner when we could not all get round the big square table in our dining room. But still there are the memories.
My father was a great one with his "sayings" (tomorrow will be Friday and we've caught no fish today!) being one of his regular utterances on Thursday evening (I still find myself thinking it often, even if I don't say it out loud.))
And at Christmas dinner he always quoted the same nonsense rhyme. Where it came from I don't know - but he managed to say it every year - if he forgot we soon reminded him. So here it is. Where does it come from? Has anybody heard it before? I know there is a poem with the same first line, but the rest must have come from somewhere and I would dearly like to know where. Does anyone else know any nonsense rhymes? Or were they only known in our family?

It was Christmas Day in the workhouse,
The rain was snowing fast.
A barefooted boy with shoes on
Stood sitting on the grass.

One fine day in the middle of the night
Two dead men got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other;
Drew their swords and shot each other!

Ah! nostalgia, nostalgia. What daft things we did and said in our young days (says she from her dotage).
Hope you are all gradually recovering from the excesses of Christmas.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Christmas Presents

This is the Christmas wish list (taken from The Times of 22nd December) of children aged between 3 and 15, who live in the slums of Nairobi.

a mobile phone
a toy soldier
a toy car
chicken, chapatti and orange juice
shiny black shoes
meat and chapattis
a smart dress
food for my family
story book
sponsorship for school
red plastic shoes
some good boots
plastic flowers to decorate the house
corrugated iron to mend roof holes
really new clothes, not second-hand
sponsorship for secondary school.

to learn more, go to www.dfid,gov.uk

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Nearly here!

Well, bloggers all, deck your halls with boughs of holly because it is nearly here. Are you ready? (What a daft question, is anybody every "ready", whatever that means). I have just been making Cranberry and Orange Relish to eat with the turkey and the whole house smells of that most Christmassy of scents - cinnamon.

Will this Christmas live up to our expectations? Does Christmas ever? Somehow with all the hype about Christmas we expect it to be perfect - perfect dinner, perfect presents, snow lying white on the ground, frost sparkling in the trees, everyone merry and bright. Of course life isn't like that and realistically we have to make do with what we have. When I consider what some people are having this Christmas - cholera, warfare, hunger - I think we are jolly lucky and shall act accordingly.

If you are one of those people who spends Christmas snug by a log fire with a pile of books and a glass of something (and chocs) on the table by your side, here is Susan Hill's (The Magic Apple Tree author) list of books she would like to re-read this Christmas - old faithfuls all.

She is writing in today's Yorkshire Post:- John Buchan "Thirty Nine Steps" (it is on UK TV this Christmas by the way - don't miss it!); Nicholas Monsarratt "The Cruel Sea"; Agatha Christie "The 4.50 from Paddington"; Dorothy L Sayers "The Nine Tailors"; Marjorie Allingham "Tiger in the Smoke"; Conan Doyle "The Hound of the Baskervilles"; Nancy Mitford "The Pursuit of Love", Gerald Durrell "My Family and other Animals"; and many more. But if you get through that lot you will do well!

Our little town of Leyburn in The Yorkshire Dales tries hard to get into the spirit of Christmas. This is a shop window in the town. At night it is lit up with fairy lights and it gives the whole town a festive air.

Whatever you are doing this Christmas, wherever you are going, safe travelling and have a wonderful time. Quite a few people who are not bloggers and do not have a Google account read my blog - so in addition to all bloggers may I also wish a Very Merry Christmas to the following:-

Glennis, Robert, Frans and Riet, Maggie and Sid, Brenda and Roy, Amanda.

Click on the picture so that it fills the screen and get that Christmassy feeling. The sleigh was made by a local man who has loaned it to the shop for their Christmas display.

Monday 22 December 2008

"Ghosts of Christmas Past"

Visitors all week-end has meant "blog-on-back-burner". When they had all gone at 3.30pm yesterday, I switched on to blog and found mind so clogged up with decorating, cooking, entertaining and washing bed linen that I read a few of my favourite blogs and then switched off. I must say it was quite surreal reading Mad Bush Farm's blog for Monday December 22nd, when it was only 5pm on Sunday, December 21st here!

This morning my mind is much clearer and is not yet clogged-up with today's ephemera and my eyes lighted on my Christmas Silver Bells. They are a good fifty years old, yet them come out fresh, shiny and "ringing" every Christmas as they have done for all those years.

Christmas seems to be a time for remembering - maybe because it is a focal point in the year, we can often remember what we did over the festive season. So I sat with my cup of after-breakfast coffee and cast my mind back to Christmas past.

First to old Christmas tree ornaments. My mother used to wrap each one carefully in tissue paper and put it in the "tree box" at the back of the cupboard under the stairs. This box would be carefully brought out every Christmas eve, when we would unwrap each decoration and greet it like an old friend. Our tree grew in the garden and was dug up each year, brought into the house, then planted outside again. I think we used the same tree every year but memory plays funny tricks as you get older, altering facts to suit the situation - so maybe we had a few. But we would carefully put our decorations up - you had to be careful as those thin glass ornaments were so very breakable. There was a tiny, shiny gold trumpet, a jade-green glass fish with silver scales, a little silver house with red windows (how i loved that one - best of all). Then we would clip the metal candle holders on to the tree, put in the little spiral red candles and light them - just for five minutes - and watch carefully because of the fire risk. Then they would be put out and never lit again (we even kept the candles from year to year.) Reading through this I realise how many times I have used "carefully" - well it was like that. Those ornaments were very fragile and not only could we not afford to replace them but also they became such objects of affection that we didn't want to lose them.

Then I got to thinking of specially memorable Christmasses and I found that they all melded into one, so it was hard to select special events. But one or two stand out.

The first Christmas with our son, in a cottage in the country, when he stood up for the first time and let go of the furniture, wobbled but stayed vertical and beamed at us as much as to say, "Look at me, I've done it!"

The first Christmas without our son, when, suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome we found it all very strange.

But there is no doubt about my most-memorable Christmas. It was in the early 1940's, I was a small child and my brother was away at war. On Christmas eve we brought in the tree and got out the ornaments, and put on the trumpet, the little glass fish, the silver house - but my mother's heart was not in it. My brother was away and she didn't know where he was or even whether he was safe. Both parents made a big effort, I suspect for my sake, but we went to bed with them in sombre mood.

In the middle of the night there was a loud banging at the back door. Mother and father got up. It was war-time and there was blackout - so the situation must have been quite scary. I remember standing at the top of the stairs, crying at the noise, and father telling me to go back to bed. But of course, I didn't - I too came down stairs.

Father unlocked the back door and opened it and there on the step stood my brother, his glengarry cap at its usual angle, his kit-bag at his feet - he had somehow wangled a few days leave and hitched a lift and walked the three miles from the nearest town - and here he was.

That was our best Christmas ever and my mother never forgot it and spoke of it until the day she died.

My blogging may be intermittent over the christmas period as I have visitors quite often - but may I wish anyone reading this a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Joyful New Year.

May we all find time to spare a thought for Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Mumbai - and all the other parts of the world where it is not peaceful, where there are tribulations we can barely imagine. May the situation in all of these places change for the better in 2009.

Friday 19 December 2008

The Hunt is Up!

This week our local hunt had told us that they were going to be in our area. We do have foxes but we personally do not have any trouble from them. In spite of the "fears" that hunting would cease to be when the legislation against it was passed, this has not happened and although hunts are no longer allowed to kill foxes with the pack of dogs there seems to be no shortage of people who want to hunt.

I do not support hunting but the farmer has always allowed them on to his land and he loves the spectacle of it all. This time they did see a fox in the distance but never got anywhere near to catching it (yippee I say!)

There has been such a lot of wet weather, with two inches of rain falling last weekend, and our fields are very wet. On Wednesday, when the hunt came, there were eighty followers. As they came down the field opposite our farm the farmer was horrified to see them galloping across the field (not our field, I am glad to say) so he rushed up to our pasture gate to tell them that if they wished to cross our land they must go down the track - and walk, not gallop, otherwise the field would be so churned up that it would take all Winter to recover. I am glad to say they complied and afterwards the Master called to thank us for allowing them passage.

I must say that they are a splendid sight when in full flow - but I am always very glad when they don't get a fox.

I thought you might like to see a photograph of them (the car belongs to one of the people who follow the hunt in cars (dozens of them , can you believe). I didn't like to get any nearer to take it as the farmer was remonstrating with them to go steadily down his field and I thought they might think I was photographing them for evidence!!

Thursday 18 December 2008

More on stone walls.

Field boundaries round here are entirely dependent upon indigenous material lying in the field. If there have been enough stones (in our case, limestones) then the farmer, many centuries ago, would have gathered them up and built them into a field boundary. If the field eventually changed shape (e.g. the farmer bought or sold some of his land) then it would be only a little trouble to demolish the wall and rebuild it in a new place. Even travelling about The Yorkshire Dales you notice a change in the colour of the stone used in the walls. In some places there is also a tradition to put "throughs" every few layers. A "through" being a slab which is slightly wider than the wall so that it sticks out either side and helps to steady the wall. For there is no doubt that frost, rain and wind (not to speak of stoats and rabbit who often live in a wall) are all capable of demolishing a wall. On our farm parts of the walls come down every year and one of the jobs to do in Spring is to build them all up again.

The two photographs above were taken in 1994 when my father-in-law was still alive. In one picture you can see the wall down, which gives you an idea of how small stones are used to plug the gaps. My father-in-law is sorting the stones out to rebuild it. In the other picutre he has begun to rebuild and you can see how neat and tidy it starts out, before weather conditions begin to move and reshape the whole thing.

Where there are no available stones then we have hedges. Some of these are hundreds of years old and have many different species in them. Holly is always present - it makes a good, thick, impenetrable hedge which the birds like for nesting; hawthorn of course is usually there along with field maple, blackthorn, spindle and a host of small trees (ash, sycamore etc.) which have self seeded. Over the years all these are colonised with wild roses (rosa canina) and with wild blackberries. Here and there will be a hazel bush which throws out beautiful golden catkins in the early spring.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Owl Time

For a few years we had a resident Barn Owl in an old tin barn extension. Then a gale blew down the tin and the barn owl left us. Now a neighbour has one which has taken up residence in one of his barns. A friend saw him the other evening just as night was falling. He was sitting on a post at the side of the lane, overlooking the grass verge. Verges are his favourite place, for it is there that he is most likely to find his favourite food - vole.

I have a small collection of Victorian stuffed birds, of which the barn owl is one. I am sorry about the reflection of the flash on the glass, but at least you can get some idea of what a beautiful bird he* is.

* for he read he/she

Owl Time

In that wedge of time

when the sun has gone down

behind the rise

of the moor;

when the sky is still

tinged with pink

and the moon,

rising over the bare

black branches

of Givendale,

is casting its silver light.

Then you might see him!

He will slip,


across the grass,

searching, searching

for the mice.

You will catch him

for an instant

in your headlights -

silent, white ghost of a bird.

He'll see you

with his superior eyesight.

He'll hear you

as you pass.

But his mind will be thinking

Vole! Vole! Vole!

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Good fences make good neighbours.

Tiny green shoots are pushing through the ground under the Scots Pines. Outside the back door the shoots are well up and showing glittering white "eyes". Yes, the snowdrops are coming through - a week to Christmas, five days to the shortest day, but there they are large as life and twice as welcome. With unfailing regularity, every year, they make their appearance just when the days are short and dark. "The dark days before Christmas" my mother used to call this week - and what better time than that to give us due warning that the snowdrops are coming!
Last night the sun had gone to bed well before four o'clock and by five o'clock it was dark. There was a sprinkling of hazy stars. When we get a cold, bright night here in The Dales, the sky is spectacular. The field opposite our house is flooded after Saturday's heavy rain and I was hoping for a bright night last night before the water goes down, because then we can see the reflection of the stars in the water and we get a double dose.
A combination of cold, frosty weather, a Southerly wind and two inches of rain on Saturday has brought down the dry stone wall around my cottage garden in the village. It came down suddenly, leaving a gap and blocking the path.
David took our local dry-stone-waller, Fez, to look at it on Sunday morning, and - hopefully - he is going to rebuild it some time this week. As the poet, Robert Frost, says "Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down."
It happens all the time up here, but luckily there are plenty of skilled wallers around to quickly build it up again.

Monday 15 December 2008

Coming to a bird table near you!

We have a bird table just outside our kitchen window. We spend a small fortune on sunflower hearts (without husks, as the husks make such a mess), mixed seeds, fat balls and peanuts. As a result of this, and of the fact that it has such good cover close by so that the birds can nip into the rhododendrons quickly if the sparrow hawk comes, we get a huge variety of bird life. Nothing rare but most days we get chaffinch, greenfinch, tree sparrow, hedge sparrow, robin, blackbird, coal tit, great tit, blue tit, long-tailed tit (sometimes), yellow hammer, collared dove and greater-spotted woodpecker. Quite often we have as many as twenty four chaffinch.
But it is the greater-spotted woodpecker who causes us the most pleasure. It is a he as he has a red nape. His arrival always follows the same pattern. First of all he lands on a pine tree trunk, looks around, then nips across to the shaft of the bird table and goes up and down that several times, finally landing on the peanuts.
Everything moves out of his way! It is a perfect example of the pecking order. When he has had his fill of nuts (and you can almost visibly see them going down as he eats them) he looks around for deserts and zips back to the Scots Pines to travel up and down the trunk, searching under the bark for juicy grubs. Bits of bark come flying through the air as he rips them off in his search.
Some time ago I put a gremlin shaped piece of bark on my blog - how clever of the woodpecker to peck off a gremlin, I said. Pat suggested it was a Hamish McTavish - and once the suggestion had been put in my head I could see the wee Scots fellow.
Well- now I want you to suspend belief for a while - that woodpecker
has been even more clever, because this time he has pecked off a map of Britain (no Northern Ireland, sorry).
OK - so I know there is no Severn Estuary, no Solway Firth, to name but two omissions.I don't expect he has travelled all that far, But it is Christmas - wrapping presents, making mince pies, icing cakes,
stuffing the turkey - need I go on? I like to put something on my blog every day if I can, and I have had this map sitting in my photo album for three weeks, waiting for the right occasion. And this is it. Done, dusted - will get back to mince pies now. Happy Christmas!

Sunday 14 December 2008

Snow again!

There are two views here - one from my landing window at half past seven this morning and the other of the sheep at half past eight. A very wintry scene after two inches of rain yesterday.
I found two quotes which fit the bill. Which one you feel is right probably depends upon whether you are a "glass half full" or a "glass half empty" kind of person. Must say that at this moment (9.15am) the first one appeals to me most, but as I sit typing this in the hall I see that the sun is shining through that landing window, so maybe in a little while I will find the second quote more to my liking. Have a warm day!

"Withering and Keen the winter comes
While comfort flies to close-shut rooms," John Clare

"If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" Percy B Shelley.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Finding links with the past.

Ronald Blythe in "River Diary" talks of one of the most sure ways of linking with the past being the scent (and sight) of flowers. I agree with this. If I was to walk down the side of a hawthorn hedge in early June, I could be pretty sure that the May Blossom on the hedge would look like it looked to our ancestors a thousand years ago - and that the smell would also be the same. I think the same could be said of birdsong. The sound of a skylark on moorland on a hot summer's day will not have changed one iota over the years - so we can be sure we are hearing exactly the same sound that our great-great-grandfathers heard.
Somehow these somewhat tenuous links with the past generations give me a sense of comfort and a feeling that nature perpetuates itself, that things - animals, people, plants- come and go in the giant scheme of things and each of us is just a small part.
Anyone who has read my blog for a while will remember me writing about the Neolithic Stone Axe that we found in one of our fields, and the silver and carnelian watch fob dated 1863. These were quite rare findings and, as such, very exciting.
But we often come across other links with the past which are much more common. Three of them are photographed above - the spindle whorl, the clay pipe and the flint knife - thousands of these lie about waiting to be found. If you type spindle whorl in Google you will find a whole list of recent finds, some of them beautifully decorated. Putting Clay pipes into Google will also throw up various examples - so they are not at all rare. But to me they are exciting links with the past.
Spindle whorls were used to hold down the thread with weight while the spinning was done - hand spinning. I saw these being used in Turkey in the Taurus mountains by nomadic women as they walked behind their menfolk. I find it exciting to think that at one time people walked in our fields spinning as they walked. It is made of lead and is quite heavy for its size and it has been beautifully decorated although most of the pattern has now worn off. But if I hold it in my hand I feel a link with the past which is hard to ignore.
We have picked up a few clay pipes - this is the most complete. The hole to the bowl is very narrow - smoking must have been quite hard. There is a hatched heart on the bowl which leads me to think it was made for or by a sweetheart. Not so, says Heather, an expert on clay pipes. This one dates from about 1860 - a time when farmworkers were feeling particularly disgruntled with their work conditions and when Trades Unions were beginning to be formed to help them. This heart signifies an allegiance to a Trades Union Movement. A bit more prosaic, but when I look at it I think, who held it in his hand before me, was he working the field, did it break and did he discard it, or did he drop it and lose it?
The flint knife was picked up in my garden. It is easy to think it is just a bit of old flint but for two things - this is not a flint area at all and this flint has been chipped away to give a very sharp edge - that edge is still capable to cutting today. How long that has been there is anybody's guess. Other flint knives have been found so it is not a rarity.
I have a friend with very sharp eyes which she has trained to look carefully as she walks. She has found countless little treasures and then done research into their origins - things from Roman times, Viking times. She is also a dab hand at finding and investigating owl pellets!
The links with the past are all around us, to be heard in bird song, to me smelt in flowers, to be handled and thought about in objects dug from the soil. One question remains - I wonder what I have lost, dropped or inadvertently left around that future generations might find. And if they do, will they pick the object up, hold it in their hand and speculate on my time here on earth?

Friday 12 December 2008

The Farming Week.

Our loose-housing now has its full complement of cows and heifers- thirty of them - all pedigree Holstein stock and many of them Prize Winners. They belong to our neighbour, who has a Holstein Dairy herd. As we no longer have cattle of our own we over-winter some of his stock for him.
About three weeks before their calving date he will take them back home and feed them extra "ration" to give them a pre-calving boost and also to get them used to eating the ration again so that when they go into the parlour they will eat it readily.
Taking the calves away from their mothers is always a tricky point of discussion amongst non-farming people. For anyone reading this who doesn't understand the process (probably the same readers as those who were not sure of the significance of ewes' red bottoms), after birth the young calves are separated from their mothers. The mothers are individually milked and that milk is then given to the calf (by bottle) so that the calf gets that all-important colostrum from its mother. Quite often the calf has instinctively sucked from the mother before they are separated anyway. Some farmers leave the calf with its mother for a day or two but eventually all the calves become bottle/bucket fed.
It seems hard. When I first came into a farming family fifteen years ago I hated to hear the mother calling for her calf. But, of course, a cow gives the most milk when she is newly calved. And the cows forget quickly and the calves always seem happy playing and eating together in deep straw.
In Summer, when the herd is out to grass, calving usually happens in the field. Then the calf and its mother are often together all day. In the days when we had a Dairy Herd (before having Foot and Mouth Disease in 2002), we had a wonderful old cow - Number 55 freeze-brand - who used to steal the new-born calves from their mums out in the field. When we went to call them in for milking she would be at the gate watching for us, proudly saying, "Look what I've got!" She made our work easy because often the mother would be happily chewing the cud oblivious to it all.
One of the saddest things about Foot-and-Mouth was that all our stock, sheep and cows and calves, had to be killed and burnt on our premises. The animals were lined up in the field waiting to be craned on to the top of the huge bonfire - and to see number 55 like that was so upsetting because she was such a character.
But farmers are resilient - they have to be by the very nature of their job. Most farmers love their animals and wouldn't be in the job otherwise. There are exceptions but thankfully not round here, where all the stock look happy and healthy
The sheep are at last beginning to eat the hay and the sugar-beet nuts we are feeding them every day. These hefted sheep from "the tops" hold out against it as long as they can. If there is snow, rather than eat the hay they will clamber up the hawthorn hedge to see if there is any greenery left there. But, at last, they have got the message that the hay in the hay rack is there to eat and that the line of rooks standing along the sides of the trough are eating the sugar beet nuts put there for sheep not crows. In fact they run calling to meet the farmer when the tractor comes into the field. Not for nothing has the expression "follow like sheep" entered the English Language. One-come-all-come is their motto!

Thursday 11 December 2008

Two cheering stories for the Christmas Rush!

This time of year we all get a bit stressed however hard we try to avoid it. I was going to wait until after we had been to our feed merchants this morning and then put on a blog about that. But there are two such cheering stories in today's Times I want to share them instead. One is just very funny and the other is so heart-warming in the run up to Christmas. The funny one first:-

In South Lanarkshire in Scotland a middle-aged farmer has written his name in letters 150feet high across his field with his "muck-spreader". He said that he was going to write his full name, but as JIM took three spreadersful of slurry he decided that Jim would have to do! He justified doing it by saying, "Some artists use brushes, I use a slurry tanker!" It was photographed by a flying instructor passing over head. Tried to persuade David to do the same but all I got was a look.

Now for the really heart-warming Christmas story - in Newquay in Cornwall an anonymous artist has spent his time since September painting the Christ Child on pebbles. Now he has scattered three hundred of these tiny images in the street for people to collect in the run-up to Christmas. Each pebble is only a few centimetres across and each depicts baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. It is the sweetest little image. The artist said, "It's just to spread the real meaning of Christmas and touch people's hearts."

Now, aren't you starting the day with a smile on your face?

Wednesday 10 December 2008

A Haiku for a Winter's Day.

Crows sit on the wire
Making black arpeggios
In the Winter sky.

Keep well wrapped up, snug and warm!

Tuesday 9 December 2008

After the snow.

Here is a photograph of the farmer feeding the ram and his entourage of twenty ewes.
(so far nine of them have red bottoms!! will keep you posted on that.) You can see that we had quite a lot of snow last week - around eight inches in fact.
It has all disappeared now although the lane is very icy morning and evening.
This afternoon I went round my garden looking at the plants, many of them laying flat after the snow. But surprise! surprise! Here is a list of the flowers that are in bloom:-

Roses - 1 bud on Dark Lady, 2 fully out on Peace and several buds on Gertrude Jekyll.
Herbaceous geraniums - eight buds just bursting into flower on Dalmaticum.
Helebores - Christmas roses in bud; argutifolius in full flower.
Cyclamen - very tattered little clump of cyclamen coum.
Winter jasmine - of course.
Aubretia - one or two purple flowers here and there.
Perennial alyssum - two sprigs of rather battered bright yellow flowers.
Winter viburnum - plenty of buds ready to burst.
As I predicted all the holly berries have gone to redwings (you can still see the berries on my header - I would love to get it in a narrow strip across the top of my blog but I cannot see how to do it. Anybody out there to help???)
Cotoneaster horizontalis - still covered in tiny bead-like berries.

Isn't nature wonderful!!

Monday 8 December 2008

To Mothers everywhere.

Since I began blogging several of those on my Blog List have lost a parent. I know, in the general scheme of things, we grow up aware that our parents are not going to be around for ever, but that doesn't make it any easier when it is time for them to leave us.

As I put my dirty linen into the machine this morniing I thought about my own mother and about the easy life I have compared to hers. And I am sure that during her lifetime she would have had similar thoughts about her own mother. The stresses and strains of modern living for us are very different and in many cases lead to the kind of busy life that our parents would never even have dreamt of. But in terms of sheer hard, physical work we are a favoured generation - we might choose to work hard on the garden, the decorating, but we rarely HAVE to do it.

Nowhere is this hard graft more evident than on Washing Day. Whereas I put my linen into an automatic machine, switch it on and go away to do something else - here is an outline of my mother's washing day in the 1940's in the very rural fens of Lincolnshire.

7am. Fetch buckets of water, two at a time for balance, from the stand pipe in the village street (we had no water laid on to our house). Father had already left for work. When I was old enough I would sometimes get the water for her while she did the next job. 7.30am. Light the fire under the copper.

Washing would be sorted, starch and "blue" mixed and various dolly-tubs, wash-tubs, dolly pegs, rubbing boards etc. would be got out ready. Once the water in the copper boiled she would be away.

Materials were not the easy care of today - shirts were often twill or even flannel which took a lot of washing and drying. Father had a clean starched loose collar every morning and a clean starched white handkerchief. Large items like towels and sheets would be folded and put through a huge wooden mangle to make them easier to iron. Then the whole lot would be carted down to the lawn and hung out to dry. If it was poor weather there would be the extra chore of lighting the fire in the wash-house and stringing the clothes across for drying.

When water has to be carried you soon learn not to waste it - so the end of washday would see the scrubbing of wash-house and kitchen floors. Then there would be the ironing. With only gas lighting there was no electricity so ironing was done using a flat iron heated on a trivet over the fire.

My mother lived long enough to have a "twin-tub" washing machine. It was her pride and joy and was treated like a major domestic god. David's mother lived long enough to have an automatic but for a long time refused to use it as she thought it wasted good water!

In the time it has taken me to scan the photograph and put this on my blog, my washing has finished. Most of it is easy-care, non-iron. The Aga in the kitchen ensures that it will be ready to put back in the drawers by tea-time.

So this post is a salute to all mothers and to their mothers before them. It is not so long ago - certainly within the memory of David's grandmother - that women in this village in The Dales washed their clothes in the beck, Oh how times have changed.

I am just off to make myself a coffee and read a chapter of my book. Another reminder of my mother. If I had picked up a book during the morning my mother would have said "Haven't you anything to do?" - does that strike a chord with you?

If you are interested the people in my photograph as as follows:-

Top left: Maternal grandparents. Top right: Paternal grandparents.
Centre right: Mother and Father.
Bottom: My sister on her wedding day. My Brother with his bike. Me and my mum.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Quality of Light.

Up here in the Yorkshire Dales the quality of light - particularly when the Winter sun is low in the sky - is superb. JWM Turner captured in to perfection in his paintings of this area (there is now a Turner trail you can follow). Today, with snow still lying and a low sun already shining at 9am, trees, barns, walls are lit here and there with an almost magical light. With no camera equipment other than an ordinary digital camera, it is impossible to show you the "spotlight" effect this low sun sometimes produces. So I give you instead a poem.

"Scarth Nick" is an escarpment in Wensleydale. There is a road running obliquely down the nick and at the top of the road there is a viewing place. Stand in that place and you will look across Wensleydale and down Bishopdale - one of the best views in the Dales and one I would love to capture on camera when the sun is making its spotlights to perfection.

The View from Scarth Nick.

A spot light shines
on Friesian cows
and - for an instant -
they are Prima Donnas,
holding centre stage.
Then a cloud
switches off the light.

A golden poplar,
lit from the side,
gets a starring role
before the light goes out.

There are bit players -
the barns,
the sheep,
the sometimes-sparkling water
of the beck,
a red car that, for a second,
catches the sunlight.

But for today
the cows
and the tree
are the stars.
Tomorrow will be
a different play. Pat Thistlethwaite

I hope you get the picture.

Saturday 6 December 2008

One small step for mankind.........

Good morning! My friend, Weaver of Grass, has kindly allowed me to take over her blog for today. WoG and I are old friends and have been together for thirty five years woman and bear. I came to her from darkest Peru via Wolverhampton. We have had our ups and downs but dearly love each other despite this. Unfortunately my orange hat has gone missing owing to small humans being keen to wear my coat, hat and wellies when they were young enough to fit into them

So - hatless - I come to you today to proclaim a huge achievement to Beardom. We oldies are always quick to criticise the young - I do it myself from time to time. So I am doubly proud today to salute those four Spaceteddies. I take my hat off to them (well I would if I could find it).

For two hours and twenty minutes after being launched from the fens of East Anglia, those chaps, wearing specially designed space suits (year 8 Parkside and Coleridge Community Colleges), hovered thirty kms above the earth in a giant weather balloon.

Then they gently parachuted back to earth into a field near Ipswich, fifty miles from their launch site. Ed Moore,a third year student, said,"It went off smoothly and we retrieved the bears unhurt."

This is the world's first Bear only space flight which took off from Churchill College, Cambridge.

So can we please have three loud bloggie cheers for beardom everywhere: hip,hip.......; hip,hip.........; hip,hip........ Thank you for your time.
Signed: Paddington Bear.

Friday 5 December 2008

Where is your Muse?

We writers are a neurotic lot aren't we? Sometimes we think we have Writers' Block and we can hardly put pen to paper; then we get a rejection slip and we become riddled with doubts about our ability to produce anything readable; or somebody makes a remark about our style and we try to change it - to no avail.

The Saturday Guardian does a feature each week called Writer's Room. There is a photograph and text about where a particular writer does his or her writing. In the photograph these days there is usually a computer, a word-processor - all the trappings of modern technology. Sometimes the room is in apple-pie order, sometimes in a state of ordered chaos. There might be a glorious view out of the window or it might look out onto a brick wall - sometimes the desk is nowhere near the window, as though outside would just prove a distraction.

Iris Murdoch, who wrote the most erudite novels, always wrote with an HB pencil on lined paper exercise books. She also worked in a state of complete chaos, the full extent of which was really only revealed after her death.

George MacKay Brown, the idiosyncratic Scottish poet, would get up early, eat his breakfast, clear a space at the table and write amongst the debris of his meal.
He would have his back to the window so that he had no distractions. I wonder if he thought about what he was going to write whilst he was eating his breakfast! Like him, Penelope Mortimer also wrote at the kitchen table (before or after washing up the breakfast things?)

Vita Sackville west - the best gardens writer for me - wrote in a beautiful writing room in Sissinghurst, a room in the tower which she called her "lair". It has been preserved in its original state today. The desk does not overlook the garden but she wrote with the window open so that she could smell her beloved roses.
There are photographs of herself and her husband, countless vases of flowers and a lovely little writing stand complete with pens and inkwells.

Virginia Woolf had her ink bottle permanently fixed onto a board so that she could rest it on the arm of her favourite armchair where she did all her writing. George Bernard Shaw on the other hand took himself off to a shed at the bottom of his garden. (This reminded me of Edvard Greig who composed in s lovely little shed overlooking a lake - what inspiration!)

Angus Wilson liked to sit on his window-sill to write - distraction just a pane of glass away and DH Lawrence wrote a lot of his words while sitting on a rock looking out to sea.

When Iris Murdoch was showing the first signs of the Alzheimer's Disease which was to end her writing career I remember reading in The Times that she said that the muse had left her for good.

Having thought about this I have decided that I shall write what I want to write, in the style that I like best and in spite of having a lovely study with a beautiful view today I shall sit in my armchair by the fire and look at the deep snow outside and just hope that the muse arrives.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Let it snow!

Six inches of snow and still snowing. Very Christmassy, but I shall never look on the Christmas robin with great affection again - one is defending our bird table against all comers - even tried to see off a magpie and gave another robin "what for" when it tried to get to the beef suet I have put out. The scene outside is very pretty from here in the kitchen but the lane is almost impassable. The farmer battled through it to fetch our daily papers, so at least we have up-to-date news to read. This is the first snow Tess has seen in her ten months of life - dashed round in it like a whirligig.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Dedicated to all terrier owners everywhere!

“I'll come when I'm ready”
“Tess!” she calls.
Does she not know
that rabbits, running through
the snow, need chasing
'til they pop below
the ground.

“Tess!” she calls.
Is that my name?
I only got it when
I came to live here
when I then became
their dog.

“Tess!” she calls.
I think I'll go!
Although I'm having fun
I know it's Tea-time
and I've got to show
who's Boss.

“Tess!” she calls,
and calls-and calls.
But rabbits live in our
stone walls and smell so good
that her voice falls on
hard ground.

“Tess!” she calls.
Who's that I see?
It is, it's my friend, Jake;
and she is scared I
might get bitten.
But I shalln't go
because I know
she's smitten!

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Deck the halls..............

Walked round the fields in the snow with Tess this afternoon. There was a biting North West wind; one of those winds that is a constant blow rather than being gusty. There was no need to wonder which direction it came from - all I had to do was to look where the sheep were huddled in the hedgeback shelter. On the moor the snow lay thickly and the sky above looked full of it, and all coming this way.

Tess loves the outdoors whatever the weather and spent the hour chasing rabbits. At one point she jumped over the beck. It was full and black and flowing swiftly but luckily she cleared it and scampered off in her search for more rabbits.

A fortnight ago the hedges were thick with hawthorn berries, the hazels had plenty of hazelnuts and the blackthorn still had its sloes. Now they are all gone. All the leaves are gone too and the trees and hedges are bare and black.

There are no cattle out now but the sheep have the free run of the farm as all the gates are open. This doesn't altogether stop them from breaking out but it is a help when they are free to wander. There is a stillness about the fields and I feel that there may be snow coming.

On the way back Tess and I walked along the holly hedge which borders our vegetable garden and there - in the middle of the hedge - is a holly tree and it is still covered with berries! I photograph it and wonder whether to get the step ladder and collect a few branches and keep them in the shed to decorate up at Christmas. But then I catch sight of a flock of maybe five hundred fieldfares and redwings and I decide that their need is greater than ours, so I leave the berries to their fate. They will make a good meal for the birds tomorrow. My guess is that by the end of the week all the berries will be gone and it will be greenery only for Christmas!

The local huntsman called to say they will be hunting around our area on Saturday. I have very mixed feelings about hunting as I love foxes - but they have hunted these fields for generations and the members of the hunt are well-known to David. He enjoys the sight of the horses and hounds in full flight, so I keep quiet and keep my fingers crossed that all the foxes are well out of the way when they come.

I will try and catch sight of them for my blog if they get this far.

Monday 1 December 2008

Rambo has arrived!

Looking suitably macho rambo emerges from his trailer, all strapped up with red reddle and raring to go. He surveys the field - nobody's taking much notice really. A few heads are raised but that's all.

He takes a few steps into the field and sniffs - slightly more interest as all the "girls" begin nonchallantly to drift towards him. He is a big lad.

Suddenly there is a mad rush in his direction - are they all keen to make his acquaintance? The answer is emphatically NO! The farmer has just deposted a mineral lick in the field and they all dash past him to get to the lick first.

So far there has been no interest whatsoever - he has spent today relaxing in the shelter of the hedge away from the keen North wind and well in the sun. The girls are all playing hard to get.