Sunday 26 April 2009

My bundle.

Here is my bundle, hung in the rowan tree as part of Seth Apter's project (see The Altered Page on my blog list). It has only rained once during the time it has been in the tree - here in the UK we have had the most marvellous Spring for many years, and it shows in the surfeit of blossom on the trees, wild flowers in the meadows and the sudden spurt of new leaves everywhere. So - you can't win them all. I shall leave my bundle in its tree for a few weeks longer as the weather is set to change. I would really like it to get wet and "mushy" before I take it down and try to make it into a work of art. Happy blogging to everyone!

Thursday 23 April 2009

Singing the praises of hellebores.

Have you ever stopped to think what absolutely marvellous value the hellebore is in the garden? Now, as I type this, there are four spectacular ones all out at once, and all will seed freely around the garden. Then next year, as Vita Sackville-West says in "The Garden Book" - the seedlings will come up in all sorts of places, most of them in far more inspirational settings than the gardener would have thought to plant them.
I am short of time today - so here are the four photographs so that you can feast your eyes on the beautiful flowers.
Clockwise from the top left: Lenten rose; sylvestris; argutifolius; aquarius.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

The Aurochs are Coming!

This is a googled auroch - the ones in Devon are dark brown and their horns are much more "straight up" - think of Lascaux cave paintings.

No, they are not creatures from outer space (that's the Daleks). And yes you may well have seen them before - that is if you have ever been to - or seen pictures of - the caves at Lascaux in South West France.
Apparently a farmer in Devon has imported a herd of Heck cattle from the Netherlands. These cattle are the nearest thing we shall ever get to the extinct aurochs. Although they are similar, the main difference is that the auroch was two metres tall at the shoulder and so stood as tall, or taller than man. It was the wild ancestor of all today's domestic cattle and even the mighty Julius Caesar was afraid of them.
The farmer intends to breed from these to create a large herd and he will use back breeding techniques in order to try and make them more like their ancestors. When they lived in the Netherlands they had absolutely no contact with humans so they are very wild. According to Mr Gow, the farmer, two of the cows are particularly fierce although they are beginning to quieten down as they get to know him.
His ultimate aim is to supply them to nature reserves for grazing.
The last survivor of the original auroch died in the forest in Poland in 1627!

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Every dog(daisy) has its day.

I have put much of this post on my blog before - in its early days. I make no excuses for writing about the same subject again because my readership has increased significantly and, in any case, there have been changes to what I wrote before.

Today, here in the Yorkshire Dales, it is definitely the "Day of the Dandelion". All along the grass verges they are out in their thousands, medallions of bright golden colour, their faces turned to the sun. Even driving to the Supermarket is an uplifting experience - they light the way.

When my first husband was a small boy he lived on the airforce camp at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Close to where he lived there was an old lady who had been blind for most of her life. Suddenly, during the 1930's an operation became available that would restore her sight.

After the operation she encountered such a day as today, when every dandelion in the country was out in its magnificence. And what did she do? She gathered great armfuls of this glorious flower and filled the house with them, revelling in being able to see their golden splendour.

When we were children the boys used to chase us with dandelions and make us smell them, for smelling a dandelion meant that you would certainly wet the bed that night. The French for dandelion is pissenlit - need I say more?

The poor dandelion is much-maligned. I have put a close-up of one here for you to look at, to marvel at its construction and-hopefully- to question why we despise them so. Alright, they are a nuisance in the garden, putting down a taproot that stretches for miles and being notorious for invading lawns.

A lady I know, a wonderful quilter, made the most spectacular quilt on the life of the dandelion. The first square held an appliqued root with tiny shoots; the last square was a dandelion "clock" with some of its seeds blowing in the wind. And therein lies the secret of its success - those "blowing in the wind" seeds spread far and wide (to misquote Bob Dylan).

When I put this story on before I ended with a poem I had written - and I will do so again. You will see that I have changed the "she" to a "he" - somehow this makes the poem less sentimental (a word I hate) - I don't know why, but I like it better with "he".


he smelled the honeysuckle,
drank in the heavy odour
of the meadowsweet,
held the wild rose,
still wet with dew,
in his fingers;
ran his hand along the bough
of apple blossom,
letting its petals
caress his mouth.
He said their names,
letting the words
roll off his tongue.

he listened to the danger call
of the curlew,
strained to hear the raucous
mew of the high buzzard.
The rapid whistle
of the kingfisher
stopped him in wonder.
The call of the cuckoo
he waited for in Spring.

Then he could see.
He filled his room with
a thousand shining
cramming them into jars
on the kitchen table.
And he stared,
at the simple beauty
of the brown hedge sparrow
as it worked its way quietly
along the hedge.
Enjoy them while they are here. Every dandelion has its day and then it is gone for another year.

Monday 20 April 2009

The Stage is Set...

The stage is set, the lighting is full on, all around the bit-players are taking their places; stage-hands, mostly in pairs, are fluttering about here and there being incredibly busy. In the auditorium there is a hush, a huge sense of expectancy; are we going to see the best show in years? There is a silence you could cut through with a knife. Where am I?
I have just walked around our fields. It is eleven o'clock in the morning. The sun is full on and the grass beneath my feet is heavy with Spring dew. Here and there, dotted about the grass, are the early Spring flowers - Daisy (bellis); Milkmaids (Lady's Smock or Cardamine); wild plum blossom; Garlic Mustard (Alliaria); Comfrey (Symphytum); White periwinkle (Vinca). In the hedgerow pairs of birds are so busy they hardly notice us pass, flitting in and out of the hedge, flirting, disappearing into the fledgling greenery - yellowhammer, chaffinch, hedge sparrow, blackbird, greenfinch.
In the hedgerow the hawthorn leaves are clean and sparkling with dew. I can't resist picking one and eating it - bread and cheese we used to call it as children. Deep under the hedgerow dog violets peep out; shy little flowers they always try to hide, yet seen close-up they are enchanting.
Tiny off-stage dramas are always taking place - a pheasant's wing suggests perhaps Mr. Fox has been about; a scattering of dove feathers means the sparrow hawk has had a good meal. Yes, in Nature there is always menace as well as beauty and I couldn't resist taking the photograph of the tulip as I came back in the gate - I think it is beautiful but there is something menacing about it too, don't you agree? And the final tiny off-stage drama - just as last year the collared doves have built a totally unstable nest in the Scots pines ("two sticks across and a little bit of moss", as the poet says) and their first egg has fallen through and landed in the grass. I fully expect all the others to do the same.
Is it going to be the best show in years? In sincerely hope so, the signs are all there. In about a fortnight there will be a fanfare of trumpets, the curtains will be fully pulled back and it will emerge in all its glory - every hedgerow in the fields, on the hill side, across the horizon; every little wizzened, gnarled tree dotted about the fields - all will burst forth and our little world will be filled with the smell and the sight of the glorious May blossom (hawthorn blossom) - and I , for one, can't wait!

Sunday 19 April 2009

Lost in translation?

My son has lent me Hermann Hesse's "Steppenwolf." We don't have the same tastes in literature at all and he often lends me books he thinks I "ought to read" (Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" being the latest). So when he presented me with "Steppenwolf" I didn't exactly jump for joy. Then he told me that he found it "pretty hard going" so he thought I might enjoy it! (That's rich coming from someone who lists his favourite book as "Ulysees").
After our supper party was over last night and the guests had gone, we stacked the dishwasher, plumped up the cushions, walked the dog and then the farmer went off to bed. I like to wind down after a chatty evening, so I made myself a cup of tea and picked up Steppenwolf. I read the Preface - and so I am completely hooked.
How cleverly Hesse gives his readers just enough information in his preface to make the character of Harry Haller so fascinating that you are desperate to know more. I read the first thirty pages and then reluctantly put it down and went to bed.
Then I lay there thinking about the book. How much of it is lost in the translation? The question applies, of course, to all translated works. Surely to be a really good translator of poetry or the novel, the translator has literally to get into the psyche of the author. In this case the translator is Basil Creighton. I would go further and suggest that he has to get into the psyche of the German nation per se. And I suppose how well he does this is what makes his standing as a good translator.
Do we always lose something in translation? Say - the Germanness of Hesse, the Russianness of Tolstoy, the Frenchness of Voltaire? Would we ever be able to capture that anyway?
Has anyone out there read "Steppenwolf"? If so I would like to know what you think about it - bearing in mind my thoughts above.
It would be interesting to know what a translator thinks about it and how he/she sets about the task of translating. I have always envied people who were good at languages. I think bringing up a child as bi-lingual is a great gift to pass on. If you are born of mixed parentage then maybe you can get into the psyche of both nations much more easily.
Must go now and get the lunch - one of the perks of having a supper party is that there is usually enough food left for lunch the next day - more time to get on with the reading of "Steppenwolf" then!

Saturday 18 April 2009

Fair daffodils, we weep....

So it is all-change again in the garden as the daffodils begin to die back. Isn't it funny, we long for them to come, poets write long poems about their beauty, we write long diatribes on our blogs about them, and then suddenly one day we begin to say that they are "past their best."

Then it is all downhill - first we have to cut off the dead heads to give the bulbs a chance to replenish themselves for next year; then there is a problem with what to do with the leaves (perhaps Bob can give us a pointer here?); then soon we begin to complain about the strappy leaves - we wish they would go as they look so untidy etc. etc. But at the moment they are just in their dying back stage - and other things are taking over.

The muscari (grape hyacinths) are perhaps the most beautiful blue of any garden flower - in my garden they are very invasive and again the leaves are a nuisance; but at present they are out and their blueness dominates the whole front garden.

But the two things which give me the greatest joy are the weeping cherry in the middle of the lawn, which today is bursting into flower, and Spirea Bridal Wreath which in the next few days will become absolutely smothered with white blossom, so reminiscent of a bridal veil. So today, when I am very busy - people to eat tonight, things to do - I leave you with two images of my garden post-daffodil. Next week my bed of scarlet tulips will be out - now there's a violent splash of colour for you!

Please note## I am not intending to EAT people tonight - so if you are reading this Dominic or Denise - it is quite safe to come!

Friday 17 April 2009

When is a poem not a poem?

For the past two or three weeks I have been working on a "poem" on the subject of indecision - on trying to make up one's mind about an important issue and not being able to do so. Such decisions - and they come to us all at times - often cause me sleepless nights, when I lay awake trying to decide on the best course of action. I wish this didn't happen but it does for me as I am totally unable to switch off a worry at bedtime.

Now my problem for today is this: try as I may I cannot make the words I have written into a poem. They read like a paragraph of prose. And I want to know why that is. So - poets amongst you - and there are many jolly good ones amongst the people I blog regularly with - could you tell me why this is prose and not a poem please?


It was a long,
broken night;
sleep did not come easily;
shadows were forgiving,
their edges blurred
by the dappled moonlight
through the leaves.
In the half-light it was easy
to drift aimlessly
from one thought
to another
without coming to
a decision.

Incidentally, I wrote a poem some blogs ago about my recurring dream - a dream I have had all my life, a dream which is faintly disturbing. Since I wrote the poem and put it on my blog I have not had my dream once! Is that coincidence? I rather hope it isn't because putting this
poem/paragraph on about indecision might stop me having sleepless nights.

Thursday 16 April 2009


First of all, let me say that this blog is never going to be political - not because I don't have political views but because I don't think this is the space to air them. Secondly, the recent fiasco over spin-doctors is not the subject of this blog either (for those readers in other countries who don't know about the fiasco - don't ask, it isn't worth it). No - this blog is concerned to day with the thorny subject of hand-writing.
Yesterday the Times published a copy of the letter our Prime Minister sent about the scandal. It is the "look" of that letter that I want to bring to your notice - not the content.
During the years I taught in Comprehensive Schools I used to have a handout which I gave to any pupils in my class. It went something like this:-
First Impressions are Important.

When writing a letter, bear the following in mind:-

a) use good quality notepaper - never lined.
b) write the letter in your best handwriting.
c) use a good pen (fountain pen is best, fine biro if you must.)
d) check your spelling and paragraphing carefully.
e) remember your letter may well be the first impression the recipient has of you - make it a good one.

The Prime Minister has certainly used good quality notepaper - Downing Street heading, no less. If this is his best handwriting then I am appalled. He has used a felt-tipped pen that I would guess is well past its sell-by date as the edges of the words are blurred. The letter is just one paragraph long, although I would have personally split it into three paragraphs. There is one spelling mistake (advizer for adviser). In fact the letter looks as though it has been "dashed off" in a spare minute.
Now in today's Times, on the young times back page - specifically for children to read - there is an article about the letter, which begins "Are adults always nagging you about your handwriting?" It goes on to say that in these days when most letters are written (and spellchecked) on the computer and when most communications are by e mail, handwriting is not that important. The last sentence says "it's what you are writing not how you are writing it that counts" and gives Michael Morpurgo, the author, as a shining example of someone who has succeeded although his writing is bad.
Well, I have a message for these people, and it is this. It is elitist to say that handwriting doesn't matter. OK for the doctor to scribble a prescription which the dispenser can't read; OK for a Prime Minister to dash off a letter in old felt-tip; OK for a journalist on a national newpaper of repute to say it doesn't matter - but the rest of us live in the real world, where it does matter. I used to work for an autocratic headmistress who would not consider an application for a post in her school if the application form was typewritten ' That may be taking things too far in this computer age, but I would like to point out that the people who are showing, or saying, that it doesn't matter are a) our Prime Minister and b) a national newspaper.
Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't these the two major organisations that are forever complaining about standards slipping in our schools?

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Pastures New

Well, not so much new as familiar. Our over-Wintering sheep have gone. The transporter came - very impressive with three layers all worked hydraulically. They were reluctant to go in at first but - like sheep - once one had taken the plunge they all wished to follow immediately and clogged up the system!
As the farmer said, it was time for them to go. They had become restless, jumping on to the wall tops and knocking down stones. Yesterday, when I walked with Tess, I found that three had jumped over the beck, cleared the fence and were gallivanting about in next door's fields, kicking up their back legs and full of the joys of Spring. A shaken feed bag had them back by the same route in no time.
So they have gone - the Swaledales (the majority) - they are the ones with horns, a black face and a white nose - are going back to high on the Swaledale fells above the Buttertubs ( large holes in the ground, mainly limestone-lined, where farmer's wives used to put their butter in the days before freezers). What is going to happen to the Texels I don't know - there are only a few of these - you will see the big girl in the photo with a white face - she is enormous.
The Swaledales are hefted sheep - born on the fells they learn where their land is and they pass this information on to their offspring, so that they never stray far from their own land. Like the swallows coming back to their nest, this is another of Nature's miracles.
I have put on a photograph of the sheep going upstairs in the lorry. As well as showing you how the lorry is constructed it also shows that other feature of the Swaledale sheep - they do not lose their tails. Most sheep have their tails docked in infancy but Swaledales keep theirs for warmth. It does create problems as the tail area is often subject to maggot infestation. (Sorry about that).
So now our fields are empty and the grass can grow ready for a Summer input of cattle and some silage. It is always sad to see the sheep go, although they have left a good crop of bits of wool hanging on trees and hedges - I sometimes wish I was a spinner and could put it to good use.

Tuesday 14 April 2009


Ninety seven years ago tonight, on the night of April 14/15 1912 the supposedly unsinkable Titanic went down in the Atlantic after hitting an iceberg. Over 1500 passengers and crew went down with her.
The nearest seaport to her sinking was the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia and it was there that the retrieved dead were taken for burial. In the entrance to the harbour there is a lighthouse and a lone cottage, where the lighthouse keeper lived with his family. Seeing it you can imagine how they must have felt when the ships bearing the bodies were brought into the harbour.
The 121 lie in Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, their final resting place.
Halifax is a lovely, typical East coast settlement, with lots of wooden buildings painted in bright colours. It takes the brunt of Atlantic weather, along with Peggy's cover further down the coast.
But the sinking of the Titanic was not the only tragedy to hit this coastline. Some years ago a plane crashed into Peggy's Cove, with the loss of everybody on board. And in 1917. on December 6th there was a huge explosion in Halifax Harbour. when the French munition ship Mont Blanc,making a brief stop on her way from New York to the war in Europe ,collided with the Belgian relief ship, Imo. As the Mont Blanc reversed her engines to pull away from the collision, she created a spark with the clashing of metal and she caught fire and blew up. Almost two thousand people were killed on shore and over nine thousand were injured and large parts of Halifax were completely destroyed. The explosion happened in the narrows and the blast was carried ashore. It was the largest man-made explosion in the world before the atomic bomb,
The tragedy is commemorated by a huge memorial with a hole in the middle - if you stand and look through the hole you can see the spot where the explosion took place. Bells are regularly tolled in the harbour to commemorate the disaster.
Such a lovely, peaceful place (on a fine sunny day when I visited) but the recipient of so much tragedy, so many lives destroyed and futures ruined.
## Photographs show the narrows at the entrance to Halifax harbour - the lighthouse.
Halifax harbour and waterfront.
Fairview cemetery, Halifax and the graves of the Titanic victims - the gravestones
are built in the shape of a boat.

Monday 13 April 2009


Last year, in the middle of Summer, when the swifts were here and nesting in our eaves, we found a young swift lying in the grass. It was an opportunity to have a good look at this most
intriguing and aerial of all birds. It is thought that the swift may spend up to three years aloft before coming down to breed - they eat, sleep and mate up in the sky, high above our heads. Often, when they return here, the first thing we hear is their shrill cry - and we hear that long before we see them. In Marrakech some years ago my hotel room looked out over a park of high trees. Hundreds of swifts circled the air above those trees and their shrill cries were louder than the noises of the street below.
We picked the young swift up out of the grass and David held it in his hand. Its feet were obviously not designed for the ground, they were curled under and hardly formed. Its feathers had the most beautiful blue sheen. He took it into the field, held it on the flat of his hand and off it flew, soaring high into the air with a shrill cry. It was obvious that it could not take off again once it fell to the ground. They will soon be back again - for a short while - and hopefully we will have a pair nesting in our eaves; they have nested there for the last few years so we live in hope. In the meantime, as we wait for their arrival - here is a poem I wrote last year in praise of the Swift:-

In Summer
for a while
the swifts come.

Birds of speed
and light;
they nest in our eaves
and come and go below
where I am standing
at our highest window.

Blue-black arrows,
they course through
the damp air,
their trajectory
cutting a swathe
through the dancing midge.

These are the real
birds of the air,
eating, sleeping, mating
on the wing,
their ill-formed feet
unsuited to the land.

For the time it takes to raise
the next generation
I watch them.
Aptly named creatures,
I love their speed,
their accuracy,
their mystery...
but above all
their wildness.

One day I look down and
they are gone.
I can hear their scream
high above me;
I look up,
I strain my eyes,
try to catch
that last burst of speed,
that last manouvre of
aeronautical perfection,
before they head away.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Early Morning.

Tread softly
if you walk in the early morning,
when the silence is absolute;
when the song of the chiff-chaff,
the blackbird
and the thrush in the tall pines,slice through the silence and
leave it intact.

The seagulls circle in a thermal -
swooping and rising in silence -
as though they dare not break it
with their raucous cries.
The silver water, catching the morning light
slips and slides over the stones
with a gentle sound,
bubbling past the celandine,
the marsh marigold
and the butter burr
all pushing their greedy roots towards
the stream bed.
Tread softly, and savour
the freshness, the newness
that every morning fills the air.
There is a cleanness,
a new beginning
every morning.
Keep the silence
until the first sound of a car
breaks the moment
and the day begins.

## Photographs from my walk at 7.30am this morning. The swallow is still alone and waits on the wire; the vegetable garden begins to awake with peas, beans and onions in the ground and the strawberry and raspberry plants fed; the first cowslip on the hedgerow bank;
the garden shows off at its best.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Shall I read it to you?

There is no activity more satisfying than reading to a receptive child. I read out loud to my son long before he could recognise letters and long after he could have read the book for himself. I don't think I am giving away any secrets when I tell you that he still reads books aloud to his wife (sorry Dominic and Karen!) (whether she wants it read or not.)
In the days when my hearing was "normal" I used to listen to "Book at Bedtime" and that way I enjoyed a lot of books I would probably never have read for myself.
A couple of days ago I read that sales of talking books keep increasing, that more and more books are being adapted for radio as it is a rapidly growing market. For those with poor or no sight this must be very heartening news - to be able to enjoy one's favourite books again, albeit in an adapted version.
But it seems that the real reason for the market growth is more likely to be that so many of us do huge commutes to work and are stuck in traffic for such a long time. I can see the attraction of listening to a chunk of "War and Peace" while stuck in a jam on the M25. But the question I want ot put to you, my readers, is does this mean that eventually less people will actually read books - that they will become so used to hearing them that they will eventually forget that books are really for reading to oneself?
I think this has already been happening for a while with the televised versions of the classics.
Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Brideshead, French Lts. Woman - it is interesting that the paperbacks issued after the film/TV series always show the actors from the production in their roles. These pictures sell the books - I wonder how many of those who buy them actually get round to reading them.
For me there is no substitute for the written word. I was a great Gregory Peck fan and I loved "Moby Dick" - it was a great adaptation (not yesterday I grant you - but then I wasn't born yesterday) but watching Gregory Peck standing by the mast in a storm, with the wind blowing through his hair in a particularly sexy way, was no substitute for reading the Herman Melville version, for marvelling at his use of words, for using my imagination to create my own characters. As I read the book before seeing the film, I can honestly say that my Captain Ahab bore no relation to Gregory Peck and the same goes for Queque too.
Reading is one of the most pleasurable activities. To sit down with a good, well-written book, to feel its pages, to smell its print, to hold it in your hands, to re-read a particularly pleasing paragraph or chapter, to put it down, go and make a cup of tea and then come back to it, to create a whole new world inside your head, where the characters are yours and yours alone (for I am sure my Ahab wasn't Melville's Ahab any more than Gregory Peck was) - that is a joy and a skill which needs nurturing through every generation. Is it in danger of disappearing to the talking book, or am I worrying unnecessarily?

Friday 10 April 2009

The Lap Dog

That insidious little bug seems to have winkled its way into my head and my nasal passages, so that today is a day of Lemsips and hot drinks in an effort to persuade it to go away. The farmer is busy sorting out another section of the front garden; if I were well I would be helping him so perhaps I should be grateful for small mercies as it is a chilly, damp day.

Just a short post today as my brain has a kind of addled quality to it. But as I type this Tess is standing on her back legs looking out of the window in an effort to fix the farmer with a doggy stare which says - "Have you seen the time? We always walk at four o'clock and by my reckoning it is now half past four."

I must say that in spite of really being "my" dog - she is undoubtedly a man's dog as is evident from the photograph above. She likes nothing better than a rough and tumble - a chase round all the known rabbit-holes and an argument with a ball. Still, she has stolen our hearts and taken over our lives. Shortly she is to be given her first hair-cut and soon after that she will be going into kennels for a fortnight - I am dreading both.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Down the rushy glen.

There is something about a stream which brings out the child in me, particularly when the stream runs through woodland and the water is not too deep. That is true of our beck as it goes through the plantain at the moment - it is quite low and makes a pleasant, trickling sound. It is so clear that you can see the cream, orange and brown pebbles which line the bottom - and, if you know where to look, the odd little trout facing into the current and waving his tail to keep his position in the water. The marsh marigolds are out along the beck margin and here and there the lesser celandines prick the new grass with tiny golden stars. In the wood itself the daffodils are well out and the snowdrops are finished.

It is at this time of the year that I am reminded of all things "fairyland." At school we learned a poem - I can only remember a bit of it but i am sure there is a blogger out there somewhere who will fill me in:-### "Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren't go a hunting, For fear of little men, Wee folk, good folk, trooping all together, Green jacket, red cap and white owl's feather."### Oh! how I wanted those "little men" to be real. And then when I discovered BB's "Little Grey Men" and "Down the Bright Stream" and - eventually Tolkein's "The Hobbit" and got to know Bilbo Baggins - then these little streams promised real magic, if only you could see it.

Today the beck was really in magic mode as Tess and I walked along it - our first walk this week as we have had a visitor staying.

I came across a little bend in the beck with a tree root shutting it off from the main stream, and i decided that - if there were any little men - that is where they would launch their boat. It would be fashioned out of a paint tin lid, painted green to match the grassy banks, and the little men would launch it and go off on an adventure down the beck, into the river and out into the North Sea - their little tin lid boat bobbing merrily along on the waves.

I seem to be fighting off some kind of bug at the moment - feeling in that mid-way point between ill and well - having half a cold and half a headache - so blame all this musing on a slight temperature. But i shall continue to half-believe in the little men who come out at night after we have all gone to bed and have fantastic adventures in their own miniature world - and if I ever find a paint tin lid floating down the beck then I shall know it to be true!
### As I predicted - a blogging friend has supplied the poem and the poet . The poem is called "The Fairies" and is by William Allingham. I have just read it in its entirety on Google. Thanks to Rowan for supplying the information.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Summer Birds.

What is it that makes the arrival of our Summer birds so exciting? Almost the first one we hear is the chiff-chaff but then they begin to arrive in rapid succession. As I posted yesterday, our first swallow has arrived back - and what a lot of bloggy friends left a comment to say how excited they were. Friends in America talked about their new arrivals and Poet in Residence talked of the storks coming back. Maybe we get so thrilled because they have all come so far on such amazing - and largely unexplained - journeys. Whatever it is - welcome to you all as you come back here for the Summer. Here is what the poet Edward Thomas had to say about it:-

"When we hear a bird's note for the first time in Spring, it usually happens that conditions are favourable. If rain is falling or wind roaring in tossing branches, any noise but a loud or near one may be drowned; also mere cold and cloudiness, if they do not keep us indoors, suffice to put us out of humour for expecting. Thus only naturalists are likely as a rule, to hear the "first" note in conditions which are unfavourable, that is to say, which will not further its effect. Again, if we have minds bent on other things or altogether troubled and self-centred, the chances are against hearing it. Company and conversation, the sounds of men or horses or wheels, have the same effect as rain or wind. Thus we often hear the first cuckoo in the first mild, quiet weather of Spring, with minds more or less tranquil. If I hear it so, though I cannot imagine anyone less superstitious, I have an instant feeling of luck. Ten years ago I remember hearing the cuckoo sing for the first time when I had started out for the day. The bird was slanting down towards our plum tree and cuckooing there, so that I could not help running home in the hope that I should be the first to tell the good news!
Add to that description Delius's "On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring." and you have the magic of Spring in a Nutshell. Happy listening.

Tuesday 7 April 2009


Just a very short blog today as I have been out all day and have people staying. But I came on just to say that our first swallow has arrived on site! This is the earliest that the farmer can ever remember them coming - April 9th was the earliest before. This morning , when he went out into the yard, a swallow was perched on the wire - where they always sit. It is only one but no doubt others will join it shortly. The miracle is that they arrive here - to the place where they were born - on time, every year - all the way from Africa. What a joy it is to see them and to know that more will follow.

Monday 6 April 2009


To Northallerton today with my God-daughter - mainly to do a bit of shopping in a "proper" town - I get there so rarely. It is only twenty miles away but I don't feel like making the effort = I much prefer the countryside. But today I was chauffeur-driven and really enjoyed the treat.
In the days when Yorkshire was officially split into Ridings (it is still unofficially split!) then Northallerton was our County Town here in North Yorkshire. And, as such, it holds an important place in the psyche of our village.
The highlight of the visit was lunch at Betty's restaurant. Betty's is famous throughout the country for its restaurants in Harrogate, York, Ilkley and Northallerton. The decor, the ambience, the food, the service - all are exemplary. We dined magnificently - decided early on that we did not need a sweet, but then they parked the sweet trolley right next to our table. Well, I mean, how could we resist the coffee cake and the meringues???
I put on two photographs so that you get the general idea. Now it is time to get the tea for the farmer who did not partake of the excellent lunch, so blogging will - of necessity - be short today. Happy drooling over the sweet-trolley!

Sunday 5 April 2009

Sumer is icumen in.

Well, I think we can say that the warm (ish) season has definitely arrived. In the hedges here the blackthorn buds are beginning to pop open and the hawthorn leaves are really beginning to show green. As children we used to pick and eat these, calling them "bread-and-cheese". Up on the top behind the farm, where the farmer was digging a hole yesterday (to drain off some trapped water), there were skylarks singing - what a pleasure to have them back as they have been missing for a year or two.
Down here on the farm itself, all the bird boxes seem to have been taken, bar one. We optimistically left that one as a robin box but now realistically think we had better put a blue tit front on it, as it would be so very vulnerable to crow, woodpecker and magpie. Robins, in any case, are very good at choosing unusual places to nest. The year before last one chose to nest on the top of the farmer's bench in the big shed - not as silly a place as you might imagine. First of all - Tip, the border collie, lives in there, so none of the farm cats ever go in. Secondly - if you saw the bench you would realise that it is absolutely covered with tools, tins of nails, rolls of baler band; I would call it an absolute mess but the farmer can always find whatever he wants on there. When he told me there was a nest I went to look - in a sea of rust, brown, nest-coloured in fact, I could not see the nest, which had four babies in it. How did I finally see it? I put a lid of mealworms on the bench, stood back and waited for mother robin to get them. In half an hour they had all disappeared down tiny throats.
Walking round the fields yesterday you could smell the grass beginning to grow and you could smell that other smell of Spring - young nettles. There was a chilly wind blowing but now they have got going chilly winds will not bother the flora around here - if they did then nothing would ever grow to seeding.
I wonder - do townspeople get so excited about Spring coming, or is it a "country thing"? I thought about that on my walk - after all the Japanese almost worship cherry blossom in their town parks. I tried to think of what signs of Spring there would be in a town other than the temperature getting warmer (hopefully). Well - lots of streets have trees, which would come into leaf - and, to me, there is something very exciting about the smell of fresh rain on a hot pavement - it is a smell that can carry a long way on the wind so that you can be warned of rain on the way.
How much more exciting this time of year would have been to our forebears. No central heating, no lighting other than candlepower, no means of drying clothes other than round the fire, no money for vegetables when they were not growing in the garden. Spring and then Summer would have been a time of plenty for country dwellers and the strain of Winter living would be put on the back burner for a while.
And, of course, the poets loved it too. A E Housman's Shropshire Lad - and in particular
"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now" - Robert Browning's Home Thoughts from Abroad - and, not least, "Sumer is icumen in - loude sing Cuckoo." Now that's a thought - who will be the first blogger here in the UK to hear that wonderful sound of Summer - the cuckoo?

Saturday 4 April 2009

Two poems.

A few posts ago Poet-on-Residence (see my blog list) talked about using material already written to write poetry. He suggested picking words and phrases from publications and putting them together into a poem of your own. So for the past two or three weeks I have been collecting words and phrases from things I have been reading - mainly The Times or The Guardian, or occasionally magazines. My one criterion has been that the writing was good writing.

Now I have a list several hundred lines long and I have written a couple of poems using lines and/or words picked out to fit the bill. Here they are - see what you think of them? And do you think this is a legitimate way to write "poetry"? My feeling is that playing with good words and phrases all helps to build up the experience needed to write well oneself. What do you think?


The continual search for Utopia
on the mean streets
brings out predator and prey;
vast herds and solitary wanderers;
you may have an A to Z
but would you really want to go there?

The Affair.

The affair rumbled on,
a strange, modern form of intimacy -
being kept at arm's length
with a significance that is never made clear,
'til one day they do not mention
meeting again.

Friday 3 April 2009

Scared of maths?

Yet another survey - this time by the University of Granada - suggesting that symptoms such as nervousness, worry, edginess, tension and mental block are displayed by "most" university under-graduates when asked to do something mathematical. It seems that just under half of men and just over half of women showed these symptoms (don't think that you can call that "most" - but let's not go down that route). But in essence I think the subject is quite interesting.
There was a time, long ago, when mathematics was thought of as an art, when subjects like Geometry and Algebra were studied by fine arts students. Now I suppose we would consider maths to be a kind of science - and that may be to its disadvantage.
When I was a teacher I was always concerned about the standard of maths teaching in Primary schools - where, let's face it - the ground work is done and the pattern set for future learning. The "good" teacher, with a good maths background, would devise problems for children so that they learned the basic principles of maths. A teacher without that maths background would often concentrate on "sums". In my view children either can or can't add, subtract, multiply or divide - if they can then they have learned the technique and can now concentrate on applying it. If they can't then they need to be taught to do so - but not day after day, not being marked, say, six out of ten, and leaving it at that. Problem solving is far more important.
I have lost count of the number of times I have come across less able pupils with little or no skill in mathematics who, after leaving school have ended up on the till in a supermarket. Alright this is computer skill rather than maths skill but it used to give me such pleasure to see them rattling away on the keys in such an expert way.
Something goes wrong with a lot of young people so that suddenly they feel they can't do maths.
A reader of my blog, who shall be nameless, (you know who you are) has a real hang-up about maths. She was asked which was greater - a third or a quarter - immediately her brain seized up and she couldn't work it out. But she is a lover of cake and when I phrased the question -
"Would you rather have a third or a cake or a quarter of a cake?" she could do it immediately.
Mind you other subjects have also taken a battering in the modern curriculum. Some time ago I had cause to get my bank to query an item on my credit card statement. The young man took me into his office and rang through to query the payment, saying that the company who had charged it were in Loughborough - but he pronounced it louborough (ou as in ouch).
After the call I questioned him on it and asked it he knew where Loughborough was - and he said he thought it was a seaside place! (for my US readers - it is in the middle of the country).
He said he had dropped Geography after the first year in Secondary School but it didn't matter anyway because he had satnav.
Does it matter? Is it important that all students feel comfortable with mathematics? or Geography? or any other subject for that matter. University students have exhibited their level of intelligence by getting to University in the first place. So what has gone wrong that there are so many gaps in their learning? And can sat nav take the place of knowing where A,B and C are? Only last week in the paper there was a story of a man who followed the instructions on his sat nav even to the extent of driving down a steep bank and wrecking his car.
Answers on my blog, rather than on a postcard, please.

Thursday 2 April 2009

A Jolly Drama!

Today my friend and I went on a "jolly" across the top of the country into the Lake District - and all for a pair of flight socks!

Well - that's a bit of an exaggeration - we fancied a day out, I wanted two pairs of flight socks before our holiday and I knew of a little shop over there that sold them. So off we set, my friend, me and three dogs - Jem, Millie and Lucy. It was a perfect April day - just the sort of day Robert Browning was thinking of when he wrote Home Thoughts from Abroad. Blue sky, sunshine wall to wall, the first of the wheatears on the tops, a skylark just rising off the ground, two oyster catchers peeping loudly overhead, cherry in blossom, daffodils everywhere - what a day.

We started off in Wensleydale and then turned over the tops into Swaledale, on into the wild country. Once we were near to Nine Standards Rig on the top of the Pennines, we stopped to give the dogs a drink at a lovely little beck with a strange bridge - I have put the photograph on for you to see. Why on earth would anyone build a bridge like that?

Once at Kirky Stephen, a pleasant little town, we ventured out onto the A66 Trans-Pennine route - a very dangerous road full of heavy traffic and best avoided. But we were only on it for a few miles before we turned off to the village of Morland and the Travelling2 shop. What a lovely little village.

Peaceful and quiet on a Thursday afternoon we headed first for the Mill Cafe and a bowl of carrot and orange soup with home made bread - and a bottle each of elderflower cordial - delicious on all counts.

Then to the shop, which is really a mail order shop but which was good to look round and produced some fine flight socks (and a pair of trainers). Then it was a quick tootle round the gardens (lovely with daffodil, celandine and grape hyacinths), a nip back to the cafe for a cup of tea and a slice of cake each - then we set off for home.

What a lovely day we have had we said smugly as we coasted along the A66 amid countless long-distance lorries. Just as we were going up a rise on a bit of dual carriageway (the road is not all dual carriageway, which is why it is so dangerous) my friend's car lost all power and coasted to a halt. Luckily she managed to pull on to the grass verge but in a very dangerous position. There we rang the AA.

"Get out of the car - take the dogs - get to a safe place and we will send a breakdown lorry!"

So we got out and climbed up the bank and sat there. And waited.

Lorries passed and tooted their horns. We knew they were thinking - look at those silly women parking in such a stupid place and sitting sunning themselves on the grass! (sorry any male readers - but their expressions and hand signals said it all. ) We were tempted to return their waves with hand=signals of our own, but resisted the temptation.

The break down lorry came, with a charming young man and we were taken back into Bowes, the nearest village - where after a thorough going over the young man could find nothing wrong.

And so we came home - warily, in case it happened again - but we got home safely = so a lovely day out which ended in a bit of drama. But, as they say, all's well that ends well.

So thank you Glennis if you read this, for a lovely day out.

This is my three hundredth post, so here's to the next three hundred!