Saturday 27 February 2010

Catching the Poetry Bus early.

Sad to say that I am having severe back problems. I am going to give blogging a miss for a couple of days - I don't suppose it will make any difference but I have to try everything. My back is fine during the day (well, a bit achy but nothing I can't live with) and once I get to sleep it is fine overnight. But getting out of bed in the morning is a real problem and is at present taking me up to half an hour of severe pain (sacro-iliac inflammation I am told). If anyone out there has had a similar problem, I would like to hear any suggestions for getting rid of it.
However, in the meantime this week's poetry bus wants passengers to write about their version of how they see death and the after life.
In so far as I am anything, I suppose I am a humanist. So here is my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) contribution, two days early:-

A Fitting End.

When my time on earth is done
I'd like to be put out in the sun.

Lay me out on a mossy bank
where the crows can come, for I'll be frank

I don't believe in heaven or hell.
So when they toll my passing bell

let the crows eat me at their leisure -
for they have given me hours of pleasure.

When my bones are clean and white,
then you may bury them out of sight,

for people may not like to view
the bones of someone they once knew.

Have a pleasant week-end. Here there is weak sun shining - a lovely change from yesterday.

Friday 26 February 2010

It Raineth!

Yesterday we were huddled under a blanket of snow and fog. This morning the snowdrops, who were yesterday valiantly blooming through a dirty grey blanket are this morning standing with their feet in the water. From the look of the field opposite, which is more of a pond than a grass field, it must have been raining all night. And it is still raining heavily as I write. So for once the old adage that "rain before seven means fine before eleven" is not going to hold good unless it stops shortly. Charlotte Bronte put it even better, when she said

Life, believe, is not a dream,
so dark as sages say:
Oft a little morning rain
foretells a pleasant day!

But the rain is really most welcome, because it has dispelled the snow, which has hung about for days getting dirtier and dirtier. And with the rain has come what Robert Frost called "A Thawing Wind."

Come with rain, O loud Sou'wester,
bring the singer, bring the nester;
give the buried flower a dream;
make the settled snowbank steam.

The farmer is clad from head to foot in his rain gear and is splashing up and down the yard through giant puddles. Tess got wet through on her walk and indulged in a mad charging through the house half hour on her return. Conversely our water has been turned off as the builder is, as I write, fitting me a new sink in the kitchen.
And as to Robert Frost's "bring the singer", the blackbirds were singing merrily at daybreak this morning - a sure sign that Spring is going to win this battle.
Have a nice day.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Going back.

Do you happen to still live in the place where you were born, like the farmer? Or have you, like me, moved around a lot over the years? And if you have been a mover-around, have you ever been back to the place where you were born, and where you spent your "formative years"?
I have been compiling a book of our family's history, as a present for my grandchildren. I know they are not particularly interested now, but in case they become interested as they get older I am putting it all into one place for easy accesss.
I began by drawing a map of the small village in Lincolnshire, where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. It was a friendly village on the banks of the River Witham and - being I suppose a curious child - I knew everyone who lived there. I knew their names, the names of their houses, their pets, their grannies - everything. I was not above turning up at their doors with my dolls pram, to show them my latest doll. Nobody ever turned me away, nor did they fail to show interest. There were no locked doors in the village and everyone helped everyone else. I don't suppose for a moment it was anything like the idyllic place I make it sound. But to the eyes of a child, it was the perfect place to grow up. When I gained a scholarship to the city high school, everyone celebrated, as I was the first village child to do so. And after that everyone took an interest in what I was doing.

A friend, who still lives there, sent me a map of the village drawn at the millennium. I show you both maps above. Where the population in my day was probably about three hundred, it is now over twenty thousand. There is a housing estate on the very place where we used to go for violets every Spring. The whole field used to be carpeted with them and the smell of violets filled the air on a sunny day.
The lane - Allaballa as it was called - was my father's and my favourite place to search for wild flowers and birds' nests in early Spring. Father knew all the secret places - we would look, but never touch or disturb - and I would record it laboriously in one of the many notebooks I filled over the years. Allaballa went to houses many years ago. As did the field alongside it, where my mother and I out mushrooming one Autumn came across a hare caught in a cruel trap.
My mother managed to get the wire loosened but the poor hare was terribly injured and died as we released it. Mother's favourite dish was jugged hare, so she carried it home and we had it for lunch the next day. But I can still see the tears coursing down my mother's face when she released it and saw its terrible injuries. (maybe that was the beginning of my love of the hare).
We can't go back and expect everything to be the same, can we? In reality the village was probably not like I remember it anyway - I have, over the years, maybe sentimentalised it. What remains is a picture in my mind, idealised like a Miles Burkett Foster painting.
But what made me think was comparing those two maps and realising that the opposite must also be true. If early man came back he would no doubt be unable to recognise anywhere, and while some settlements would have grown into huge towns, there would be many other places which had disappeared altogether. There would be places where wild flowers are growing in profusion, where pretty woodland has sprung up - and he would stand and look and remember when he had a dwelling on just that spot. Like the Thomas Hood poem, which someone read yesterday at our poetry reading:

I remember, I remember,
the house where I was born.
The little window where the sun
came peeping in at morn.
I suppose we can call it all part of life's rich pattern, all part of the ever changing scene. If we were like desert nomads and wandered with our dwellings wherever our cattle took us, then maybe we would not attach so much importance to the places of our childhood.
Do you have an important childhood place you would like to share with us? I do hope so.
###more watery words - I have had a comment from Kazia in Poland, with the following words:-
rzeka, rzeczka, rzeczulka; strumien, strumyk, strumyczek; potok. Thanks Kazia.
Keep them coming - I shall put them all on one giant wordle eventually.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

We know you are there!

There was a day - pre twenty-four-hour, wall-to-wall weather forecasting - when snow came by stealth. We would wake to a strange light in the bedroom and a strange stillness, as though the world were wrapped in cotton wool. We would draw back the curtains and gasp at the beauty and call out "snow!"

Now, of course, we know it is on its way. Meetings for coffee, shopping expeditions - all have the proviso 'that is if the snow isn't too bad.' And we know that there is a warm front creeping up the country and a cold front making one last stand down from the Arctic, and where they meet there will be snow.

So on my nightly 'back-easing' stroll around the house at 1.15am I pulled back the curtain and there it was, looking ghostly in the dark but covering the tops of the bushes in the garden. Drawing back the curtains at 7am this morning I had a better look. Somehow snow looks so much more exciting when the sun is out and the snowy world is sparkling. No such luck this morning - grey, misty and still sleeting, but not freezing.

The farmer, for ever an optimist, sets out as usual up the lane in the car to fetch the morning papers, closely followed by Geoffrey, our neighbour. Five minutes later they are both back - no papers yet, the paper van hasn't got through and the paper shop ladies are all standing about drinking coffee and complaining. So no Times crossword over breakfast, but a joyful expectation of doing it over coffee at lunch time.

We tell ourselves that this has got to be winter's last stand - it is March on Monday for goodness sake, we say - the snowdrops meanwhile endure being covered up once more - they have seen it all before Snowdrops - or to give them their proper name - Galanthus means 'milk flower' so they have really not been named after snow at all. But they weather whatever is thrown at them - and bring a few into a warm room and like the hazel catkins they open up and show us their real worth.

Today is my poetry reading day and I have chosen what I am going to read. Now of course it is in doubt, as it is one of those things with a snow proviso on it. I asked my son what he would read and he suggested Basil Bunting's Briggflatts. I had not read it before but am captivated by the language. So I leave you today with just a little snippet which looks forward to Spring and the May blossom beside the river Rawthey. If this does not lift your spirits I don't know what will.
Excerpt from Briggflatts by Basil Bunting (taken from Collected poems published by O U P)
Brag, sweet tenor bull,
descant on Rawthey's madrigal
each pebble its part
for the fell's late spring.
Dance tiptoe bull,
black against may

That's it for today, from a snowy Wensleydale.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Wandering water......

Continuing on a watery theme - I had dear old friends for the day yesterday and we reminisced about past times when we both lived near to each other in another part of the country. Now, luckily, they too have moved North so that now we only live about forty miles apart - they in The Lakes and we in The Dales - and a wonderfully scenic forty miles it is too. So we see each other frequently again. Yesterday my oldest friend was sixty so we had a celebration meal. As there was snow lying we sat by the wood-burner and chatted all afternoon, and the subject of rivers came up.

There is something about water which seems to attract us all. Maybe in the UK it is because we are an island, although I suspect that it goes deeper than that. All our settlements were originally built upon water - we needed it to cook, to drink, to wash, to wash our clothes, to keep our cattle alive, and I think that, deep in our psyche we still hold that memory.
I have spoken often about our beck here and how it had a string of mills along its banks until the end of the nineteenth century. and how the Cistercian monks walked its banks and relied on its constant flow to water their sheep, and how the Scots cattle drovers paid a half penny per head of cattle to use its waters on their way through to market. But this was not unique - this same pattern of use, certainly in the UK, could be applied to any watercourse. And I have seen similar situations where little mills are still in use in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, the Taurus mountains of Turkey, the streams on the Greek islands - man has always utilised a water source
to his advantage.
And so we got to talking about another watercourse which my friend and I both knew well. The River Worfe is a tributary of the mighty Severn river - it is a tiny little river which flows through the beautiful countryside of Shropshire - arguably England's greenest county. It has glorious walks along its banks and in years gone by we have done them all. We have spied kingfishers, herons, pied flycatchers along its banks; we once found a slow worm (the only one I have ever seen) on the footpath; and on one occasion we had a little adventure.
Strolling along on a Sunday afternoon, we happened to spot a sheep in the water, up against the bank, standing still, its head down - obviously stuck and just as obviously resigned to its fate - it had decided there was no hope and it would drown.
One of us ran along to the nearest farm while the other two or three crossed the bridge and went back to see if they could help it out of the water. Its fleece was saturated and it was very heavy indeed. Luckily the farmer was in and he came straight away and together we pulled the sheep out onto the grassy bank. We smiled yesterday as we remembered that long before we got its feet firmly on dry land it had turned its head to nibble away at the grass. These little incidents stick in the memory and make up the fabric of life for me at any rate.
My previous husband loved the river and in particular the area around a village called Rindleford, where there was a mill and a miller's house. In the time of Richard II it was a fulling mill but it eventually became a corn mill. At one time it was also used for crushing linseed for oil.
My husband painted the mill in oils and it hangs on my staircase today as a constant reminder of those happy days. I thought you would like to see the painting - in the photo above.
One man, Dr D H Robinson, made it his life's work after his retirement to write a book on this little river and it is full of most interesting little snippets of information. Here is just one story:-
One miller, who had been moved to an old person's home in the nearby town of Bridgnorth, had a son who now worked the mill and who was a notorious drunkard. When the old miller died the son went to fetch the coffin in his pony cart and then left the cart with the coffin outside the inn. He then drove home very drunk and got the card stuck in the middle of the river where the poor old miller was forced to lie in his coffin throughout the night. Rather a fitting end I think to a man who had lived all his life on that river and must have loved it.
There is something nice about sitting with old friends on a snowy day in a warm room, with a cup of tea and a wealth of old memories. Wish some of you could pop round - the kettle is always on and the teapot at the ready.

Monday 22 February 2010

And still the water flows.

Following my meme last week about colloquial and regional words for water, a friend who is not a blogger herself has compiled a list of all the Welsh words she could find about watery subjects'
I am putting it in my blog today so that you can see what a masterly work of research she has done. So here it is - and many thanks to you Gl for going to the trouble of researching them all.

Aber, ffyron, bachie, bala, blaen, ffos, mar, trinant, fydgaled, brochan, cilan, cam, camddwr, carrog, rhydoldog, cloddian, clydach, coegen, dwr, maesnant, ffinnant, ffrwd, garnant, rhyd, gronant, gwyrfai, hirnant, cloch, neint, sychnant, pystill, sychnant, rhoddneu, ffrwd wyllt, llif, glais, cymmer. (I have omitted the one or two which I had already been given by other bloggers).

My visitors have just left for their return journey to Windermere - now I must go and stack the dishwasher. Have a nice evening.

Sunday 21 February 2010

The Poetry Bus.

Yes, i know I am early at the bus stop this week - and it is pretty cold standing here in the snow - but today and tomorrow are busy days with folk to lunch and hospital visiting, so I am posting it early so that it is one less job to do.

This week's challenge was to write a poem about ourselves - TFE even suggested that if all else failed we were to tip out our handbags and describe ourselves from their contents. Obviously he knows a thing or two about the inside of ladies' hanbags, doesn't he?

Here is my contribution, and it doesn't involve handbags at all.


Where has she gone, that slender girl
with shining hair and pale, clear skin?
I look in the glass and see no trace
of that young girl; although within
my head, she's just the same.

The thickened waist, the greying hair,
the creaking joints and wrinkled face;
all tell me tales of passing time.
Yet in my head they have no place
In this life's ageing game.

Inside December still gives way to June.
I sing the same song, dance to the same tune.
Some cultures cover mirrors when you die,
but 'til that time, my mirror does not lie.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Saturday walk.

Tess, the black cat and I have just been for a walk down the pasture. The sun is quite warm on our backs, the rabbits are frisking about in the fields and have dug a large hole under the barn. The black cat is seriously interested - he is adept at catching (and scoffing) tiny rabbits fresh from the nest (sorry), The farmer is busy spreading effluent on the fields (sorry again) and when he has done that he will concentrate on collecting all the heaps of nature's prunings which lie about waiting to go on a bonfire. Dare I say that there is a modicum of spring in the air today. (that is probably reason enough for a snowy downfall overnight.) Have a good weekend.

The watercourse has burst its banks!

More names for watercourses arrived in my inbox overnight - so here they are to add to yesterday's list:-

From South Africa - spruit, umfula, umfulana
From Norway - lok, sig, sik, sikle, bekk and elv, groft and renne.

Also on one comment (I think it is Bovey Belle, but am in a hurry and have not got time to look now) there is a wonderful word I have never heard, which I presume is a colloquial word for 'daft' - the word is 'blardy'. I feel another meme coming on!

On the subject of watercourses - isn't it interesting how there are suffixes - e.g. bach and bachlein (for a smaller version) and here, above, umfula and umfulana (zulu words). Have a nice weekend. I shall, hopefully, post later in the day after morning coffee with friends.

Friday 19 February 2010

Water, water everywhere...and lots of different names for it.

Thank you to everyone for the tremendous response. It all makes such interesting reading. I spent an hour or two looking them all up yesterday and I publish the list below with derivation where I was able to find it. I'm sure there are just as many colloquial words for watercourses that are not on this list but what an interesting exercise it has been. So here they are:-

Bachlein - these two from PIR in Austria - he thinks from the same derivation as 'beck'.
Beck - from the Norse bekki (our area of the Dales is steeped in Norse history and words).
Billabong - this from Australia of course, and a word we all know from 'Matilda'
Branch - from E Texas
Brook - from the Anglo Saxon brok.
Bourne or bourne - used mainly in the South of England and from the same root as burn.
Burn - from the Anglo Saxon burna.
Creek - this widely used in the US but originally from the Norse criki.
Cut - from the 13th c. cutten.
Dyke - Anglo Saxon originally meaning a mound but then adapted mainly for man-made dykes
(this is particularly true of Lincolnshire when the fens were drained).
Ghyll or Gill - from the Norse gil.
Moat - from the French mote
Nick - for a salt watercourse (used in West Virginia)
Race - from the Norse ras
Rill - from 19th c German
Ryne and Rynel - both Anglo Saxon derivation
Runnel from the same source
River and Rivulet - both originally from the Latin
Run - used in the US - probably from the same source as runnel.
Stream - Anglo Saxon.
Spring and Vernal Spring - reported from US but the first also used in UK
Streamlet - Anglo Saxon.
Wadi - arabic.
In addition to those I also have Acequias (Mexico) - thanks for that addition.
Caroline at Coastcard sent me four Welsh ones:-
Nant, Tull coit,Cil and Dulais. If you wish to read more about these, she is posting today on the subject and can be found on my blog list.
Finally, three from The Netherlands - stroomje (stream), riviertje (river) and beekje (beck)
Sufficient to say that everyone came up trumps, as usual - and I really enjoyed sorting them all out. I shall now pop over to Wordles and see if I can make a wordle of them all.
PS If any more come floating in during the day today, I will add them on tonight.
STOP PRESS: More have come in over the day, several from Dutch friends and another one
from Wales:- vliet, slootm slootje, frisz, strom and afon. Thanks to everyone for participating.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

A meme for Friday.

When I first started blogging in July 2008 I put on a post about our beck. The beck runs through most of our fields and provides water for all our stock to drink. In addition there is a footpath running almost along its entire length on our land and that footpath has been there since the Middle Ages, when it must have been used by the Cistercian monks of nearby Jervaulx Abbey, who used to keep their sheep on all this land around here.

When I posted it back in that July Loren, of In a Dark Time the Eye begins to see, asked what a beck was - it was not a word he had heard. Now, yesterday, when I mention the beck again Cindee asks the same question.

Here in North Yorkshire a small water course is either a beck or a ghyll. In Lincolnshire, where I come from originally, such a watercourse is called a dyke or a brook (as in Tennyson's Brook). In the midlands, where I lived for many years, it is called simply a stream.

So - here is the meme. Please, if you read this blog, will you post on Friday the word or words which you use to describe a small water course. I tried this once before in my early blogging days and got about ten different words then. Hopefully as there are more of you and as you come from so many different parts of the world, we shall get even more words this time.

Looking forward to hearing from you. I can't find a picture of our beck to post with this, I seem to have eliminated them all from Picasa. When Tess and I walk this afternoon I will take a new one and post it on here later in the day.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Spring mending-time on the farm.

It seems that every farm throughout the world has Spring mending-time. Here bits of wall are down, gates have fallen into disrepair, and as Robert Frost so rightly says,

'Noone has seen them made or heard them made.
but at Spring mending-time we find them there.'
Bits of wall have become heaps of stones out into the field, one gate has rotted away, another has a gate post which has rotted, branches have been ripped off trees by harsh winds and now lie across hedges - giving sheep an ideal 'ladder' to freedom.
Land two hundred feet higher than the farm has had quite a covering of snow overnight. Driving through the countryside this morning the surrounding hills shine pure white in the sunshine, while down at our level it is quite a Springlike day. Cars in our little market town's market place
have two or three inches of snow on their roofs, telling us they have driven in from higher ground.
So tidying up and mending has begun. The stile leading from the barn pasture in John's# is just about wide enough to allow a lamb to pop through and get separated from its mother. In another month or so ewes and lambs will be in the pasture and the gate which covers the stile has fallen off, so the farmer's first job is to make a new gate. I show you it here. A work of art it is not but nevertheless it performs its job well and the sturdy ' hinges' made from old tyres will last a few years - watch out if you pass through that stile, those hinges snap back and catch your heels if you are not wary.
At the other side of the same pasture the gate post has rotted away and the old wooden gate hangs sadly drooping into the mud of the gateway. There is an unwritten rule on farms that gateways always get muddy in winter - whether there is stock in the field or not - it is one of life's little mysteries. Now the old wooden gate has become firewood for our wood-burning stove , as has the gate post. In its place is a sturdy metal gate post and a new gate has been ordered. Do notice the stile at the side of the opening. It is marked by two huge stones which have most likely been in place there for hundreds of years, for this particular footpath which runs along the side of the beck, has been the way through for monks at Jervaulx Abbey, who farmed this land in the Middle Ages.
There is something about a gate, isn't there? When we take photographs we like to photograph open gates, thus leading the eye through the gate and into the picture. My header last month had just such a gate, leading the viewer through and up the snowy hill and then out of sight over the hilltop. These gates, however, are closed - their purpose is to keep things in, not lead them out. For sure as eggs is eggs if there is an open gate whatever animal happens to be in the field will be out of the field in no time. Not for nothing do we have notices around saying ' Please Close the Gate'.
These ancient fields with their well-trodden footpaths could tell a tale or two. At one time they were all much smaller fields but over the generations farmers have taken out hedgerows. The other photograph I have posted today shows an old 'cam' (a local dialect word for an old hedge) which used to be a field boundary but no longer serves a useful purpose. The farmer leaves it there because it is mostly hawthorn and provides berries for the birds each winter and nesting sites each Spring. For the past few years a blackbird has nested at the foot of one of the hawthorn trees in this cam, well hidden by bramble thorns and ivy. But the dogs know where the nest is and frequently go to have a look at it. When this happened last Spring Mrs Blackbird sat tight on her eggs and looked at them with her beady eye and they both backed off. Sensible dogs.

Monday 15 February 2010

The Poetry Bus will be full today.

TFE has set us a real challenge this week - in the week of St Valentine he wants us to put a poem about love on the bus. I find that very hard to do without being overly sentimental. I can't help thinking of poets like Christina Rosetti, who did it so well - and John Donne. Modern love poetry is not on my radar, so I was very pushed for a writing style. In the end I wrote two - one about flowers as a symbol of love and the other about how we met boys in the early fifties.

Valentine Gift.

Red roses,
flown ten thousand miles
to a glass vase.
Feed with rose food,
guaranteed for seven days,

Hazel catkins,
cut from the hedgerow
brought in to flower
in the warmth of the room.
Soon heavy with pollen
they'll fill the house
with their scent.

Wednesday Nights.

On a Wednesday night in the village hall
Was the Vicar's Threepenny Hop,
where the lads all met to eye the girls
(t'was before the days of bop).
The St Bernard Waltz
and the Palais Glide -
we were doin' the Lambeth Walk.
And if they were lucky they got one of the girls
to go outside for a 'talk'.

Where are those days of innocence
when a 'talk' meant maybe a kiss?
When a close up dance in the last waltz
was the nearest thing to bliss.
Where the girls all sat at one end
in their pretty summer frocks -
and the lads all strutted their stuff at the other
in their psychedelic socks.

The second owes apologies for the rhythm to Christy Moore's McilHatton.

Have a nice day!

Sunday 14 February 2010

Saint? Valentine?

'Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

Men were charmers ever! Marlowe in the mid sixteenth century went on to list a whole lot of things he would provide for his love should she choose him. Gowns of finest wool, slippers with pure gold buckles...I could go on. Mind you all men were not so poetic about it in those days. The earliest lonely hearts ad has been found - dated 1695 - and here the young man stipulated that he wishes to meet a Gentlewoman with a fortune of £3000 of thereabouts. So he wasn't pulling any punches, was he?

The fact that there was probably no Saint Valentine doesn#t seem to matter much. I think the general opinion is that the festival goes back to Roman times and celebrated Lupercal, when the young men used to go around Rome beating young women with twigs - a practice said to eliminate sterility in women(I think in those days it was not even contemplated that the sterility problem could be with the man!)

When I was a child we always used to believe that on St Valentine's day the birds began to have thoughts of pairing up. Judging by the goings on at our bird table - where countless cock blackbirds are strutting their stuff and fighting each other, where collared doves are already flitting back and forth with tiny twigs (they are the worst possible nest builders - they build in our Scots pines and the eggs fall through on to the lawn) and the pheasants are positively luminescent - our surmise was not far wrong.

But thinking of today's young men and women - how do they meet these days? When I look back at my Family History, my mother's family lived within a twenty mile radius as far back as I have traced. Each generation married somebody from their own village - or in the case of the women, from the village where they happened to be in service. Of course, we have no way of knowing how happy the marriages were, because in those days you had no option but to stick together, come what may.
Certainly in my family, I was the first to marry somebody who had not been born in the area. How did I meet him - well we worked together. In the case of my second marriage we lived near to each other and fortuitously the village footpath went through the farmer's land. But I was an incomer (or an offcum'd'un as they are called round here). These days social mobility means that hardly ever do people stay in the same place as they were born.

So how do people meet each other? We had village dances, we all went to church or chapel, we took part in all the village activities (and a lot of these I suspect were popular because it was an opportunity to size up possible suitors) - there were countless ways. I am not so sure there are those opportunities these days.

On the subject of Valentine's Day - I must say that farmers and Valentine's Day are not used in the same sentence. As somebody wrote in our local paper yesterday - what do farmers give their lady loves on Valentine's Day? Answer - hogs and kisses.

Where did you meet your partner?

Saturday 13 February 2010

The Year of the Tiger.

Tomorrow sees the start of the Chinese Year of the Tiger. But I think we can say with certainty that this will definitely not be the year of the tiger for the tiger. For a start - as it is Tiger year in China, there will be a huge increase in demand for tiger products. Superstition still holds sway in China and spare tiger parts are always in demand - skin, genitals, bone, teeth, nails - are all sold in China - and all come from poaching of these magnificent beasts. How do we get rid of superstition? I suppose through constant education through three or four generations.

Thinking about superstition - maybe it has largely died out in the Western world - although I rarely if ever, walk under a ladder, do you?

When I look back to my childhood my mother had superstitions which I no longer practise - or even think about. She would never have may blossom in the house - that was very unlucky - as was ivy. All the ornaments in our house had to be looking inwards if they possessed a face - it was unlucky to have an ornament with a face looking out of the room through a window. How daft can you get? Now I just smile at these old memories - but will it be the same in China as they join the developed world in a big way? I doubt it; these ground up potions sit on apothecaries shelves and tempt all to buy to help their sexual prowess, or halt their diseases, or give them happiness. I think it will take generations for the habits to die out.

And the poor tiger can't wait that long. It is estimated that only about two thousand live in the wild in India now, and although they are ostensibly protected animals, they are still poached. Where there is big money to be made, then there will be unscrupulous people who will stop at nothing.

The only tigers I have ever seen have been in captivity. The last two I saw were in a small zoo attached to an aquarium in Denver. Two enormous beasts lay high up in an enclosure and looked down on us with very wise eyes. At the time I thought it was tragic that such animals should be in captivity, but now I am not so sure.

If the tiger dies out during the next fifty years it will be a tragedy. But I am not sure what we as individuals can do to stop it. Any ideas out there?

Friday 12 February 2010

Kenneth Graham sure started something.

It seems from my post the other day on moles, that no-one (apart from farmers) can bear to kill a mole. That image of shy little mole in Wind in the Willows has captivated us all. Of course he is not a bit like that in real life - he is quite a killer in his own little way - but what is certain is that Mole has found a place in our hearts. Pamela (from the House of Edward) tells me that they relocate any small animals they find in their garden. That made me smile and it is also reminded me of a story from thirty years ago, which I will share with you.

We lived on a housing estate in the West Midlands - the houses had large gardens, ours especially so as we were the top house at the end of the last cul-de-sac. At the bottom of our garden was a small back road leading to a footpath, and a few houses. In one of those houses lived a mother who was a croupier at a local night club (that raised a few eyebrows) with her teenage son who, in the words of the gossips of the estate, was 'a bit of a tearaway' - always staying out late and playing loud music. Get the picture?

We went away on holiday one year and, as usual, the ladies who lived opposite to our garden on that little road offered to keep an eye on things while we were away. They did this every year and we were very grateful as it meant we didn't have to worry about a thing.

When we arrived home they were quickly over to tell us that something very strange had happened while we were away and that they thought we should contact the local police. Apparently one of them had been standing in the bedroom window in the early hours of the morning and had seen the 'tearaway' young man creep down the road with a glass in his hand and tip something behind the bushes at the bottom of our garden! They speculated that it was probably 'drugs' which he was hiding/storing in our shrubbery.

My husband, who worked in the Prison Service all his working life and was very upfront about things, decided he would tackle the issue himself. He waited until he knew the young man was in and then he went to the front door. The young man opened the door. This is more or less the conversation which took place:

H. I understand that the other night you tipped something from a glass into my shrubbery.
YM How do you know that?
H You were seen by the neighbours.
YM Oh God, you can't do anything round here!
H (by now getting suspicious) Well, come on then, explain yourself.
YM (blushing furiously) If I tell you you won't tell my mates, will you?
H (getting impatient) Come on then, spit it out.
YM Well I'm afraid of spiders and there has been a big one in our living room for nights. My mum says they won't hurt you, but she was out on that night doing her late shift at the Night Club, and this giant spider ran across the carpet. I was so scared I grabbed a glass put it over the spider and slid a post card underneath the glass.
H Why didn't you kill it?
YM (blushing again) - well it hadn't done me any harm, had it - and you can't just kill living things like that. So I put my dressing gown on and crossed the road and tipped it into your garden. Only I think it's come back because I saw it again last night.
H (final words before parting) You can tip spiders into my garden any time you like my lad!

That same young man grew up (in all senses of the word) and is now a dad himself.

Moral of the story, I suppose, harking back to yesterday's post - ' you can never judge a book by its cover'

Thursday 11 February 2010

Book covers.

After yesterday's instructions on how to make a mask I have had several e mails asking me what pelmet vilene is. I think another name for it is Pellon. Pelmet vilene is stiffened vilene originally made to put inside window pelmets - it is readily available at haberdashers.
I also said that using the mask technique you could easily make a book cover. I have had an e mail asking me how to do that. So here are the instructions.
I wish I was good enough to sketch and get the sketches on to the computer - but I am having to resort to words! However, the photographs above might also be of help.

Book Cover. Get your book and measure it carefully. Then cut a piece of vilene the same size as the complete book cover plus 1cm all round. Measure this from the right hand edge of the front of the book, round over the spine and through to the farthest edge of the back cover.
(e.g. if the front cover of the book you wish to cover is 13cms x 18cms you would need a piece of vilene approx 30cms x 18cms plus an extra centimetre all round) - the approx. measurement would of course depend upon the thickness of the spine of your book.
Using the technique I described yesterday for the mask, cover your vilene completely on one side - at this stage you can add motifs, buttons - anything you like. When you have the vilene exactly how you want it to look, back it with a piece of felt. You can, if you like, bondaweb, or glue, the two together - but I prefer to fasten them together round the edge using zig zag stitch on the machine and gold metallic thread. You end up with a piece of highly decorative vilene nicely backed with felt. Now you need to cut two 'flaps' (see photographs above) - measure the vilene exactly the same depth as your cover and as wide as you want them to be (remember you have to slot the book in when you have finished). There is no need to back this with felt as the reverse side will not be seen. Decorate the two flaps to match the cover you have already done.
When you are satisfied with the result zig zag down the edge of the flap on one side (the side which will be loose), then zig zag round and round the whole cover, keeping the flaps in place so that they become an integral part of the cover.
I hope this is clear - it reads a bit garbled, but I think the photos will help - this particular book cover was made of material but the technique is the same. Hope those of you who asked for the pattern can understand my instructions. Good luck. I expect to see a few book covers on a few blogs shortly!
It is twenty years today since Nelson Mandela was released. Do you remember what you were doing on that day? Like the assassination of John Kennedy and the death of Princess Diana - most of us remember what we were doing on these Red Letter Days.
Wouldn't it be good news on this anniversary if we were to hear that Aung San Suu Kyi had also been released from house arrest in Myanmar.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Lovers and St Valentine.

As St Valentine's Day comes round again, I thought I would show you a mask I made for a masked party - then if you get invited to a masked ball for St Valentine's Day you can make your own! Yes - gentlemen - I mean you too.

When I photographed it on the wall of our bedroom, I realised that it was next to a painting of lovers - and it seemed appropriate to show that to you also - the painting is an oil and was painted by Dick Rivron who painted for some years in Australia and died in the late fifties. It is one of my favourite paintings - I hope you like it too.
However, back to the mask. You can use this technique for making a book cover, a book mark, anything in that line - the sky's the limit.
I started by cutting a mask shape out of pelmet vilene and then cutting out the two eye-holes. Then I gathered together oddments of chiffon, sweet papers, bits of net, bits of colourful material, especially metallics - any old thing as long as it was bright and cheerful. I cut these into small pieces, sprayed the vilene with a temporary glue and laid all the pieces onto the glue in a random order. Then I free machined all over the lot with gold thread, so that every single piece was really well anchored down and the gold threads almost predominated. I went round the edges with a zig zag stitch to neaten them off. I backed it with a piece of velvet before doing the zig zag.
Then I found a piece of thin dowel, glued it well and wound hand-made paper round it in strips to make the handle. The final touch was to string a few beads into four or five dangling threads where the stick and the mask join - and there you have it. It took half an hour at the most and I think you will agree that it does look rather mysterious.
All I need now is a masked ball to go to - and a fantastic ball gown (plus a slim figure, nimble feet
and maybe a gondola in Venice) - well a girl can wish!

Loverds an

Tuesday 9 February 2010

I am a mole, and I live in a hole.

Early last Spring, on one of our walks to Cotter Force in the Dales, I published photographs of the huge mole hills and did a blog about moles. On Sunday, on our way to a dinner date, we called again to walk at the Force (Yorkshire speak for waterfall) and saw that the same field had huge mole hills all over it.
Now there are those among us who feel it is cruel to destroy moles. They certainly are very pretty little creatures with their velvet coats, long snouts and shovel-hands. They are expert at digging tunnels and clever enough to know that as they dig those tunnels worms drop in their laps, so to speak - worms, their favourite food.
The hills of loam which they put up all over the place serve no useful purpose, they are merely heaps of soil which the mole pushes out of the way as he digs his tunnel. Gardeners love to collect this loam to fill their flower pots; it is usually delicious stuff for planting.
But, of course, the farmer finds these heaps of loam all over his grass field a nuisance. To start with where there is a molehill there is little or no grass, and secondly, when silaging takes place this soil tends to get into the silage bales, which is not good. So most farmers set mole traps to catch the moles on their land. I am torn two ways.
They are such pretty little creatures. In the old days gamekeepers used to catch them and skin them and have waistcoats made from the velvet skins. Often they would impale the dead moles, along with rats, crows and other 'vermin' on a string of barbed wire - to advertise to the world (and their bosses in particular) that they were doing their job properly.
Sometimes moles do come above ground and then they eat small dead vermin too. But mainly they spend most of their lives underground and are consequently nearly blind.
There is a little nature piece in the Times today, which says that they make a dome like mound under a bush for Mrs Mole to have her babies in May and they also use this little space to lay up in winter. But from our walk on Sunday I can tell you that once the ground loses the frost Mr and Mrs Mole are up to their tricks again - and long may they continue.
I know some readers in US are unsure of what a mole looks like. Later in the day, when I have a little more time, I will try to put a photograph on to go with this blog.

Monday 8 February 2010

Small crisis.

No blog on yesterday as we were out to lunch fortuitously as it happened because the small crisis is that our Aga has gone off. It suddenly switched itself off and so the kitchen is heated just by the central heating - I have no method of cooking other than a microwave - and we suddenly realise just how warm the aga keeps the whole house. Added to that our aga engineer, who services it twice yearly, seems to have gone to Australia to visit his daughter. I was given another engineer's phone number but he is on holiday for the whole of February and all I can get is an answerphone to another engineer, who is not calling me back. The farmer is dismantling its innards and it is looking as though water may have got into the oil. However, in the giant scheme of things we are not starving, or suffering from an earthquake or any other catastrophe - and at least we had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for lunch yesterday, so we are definitely on the up (says she optimistically).
So - let me ask - on an entirely different subject (the less said about the Aga the better) - are you a cat owner or a dog owner - or do you not have pets? Bristol University has done some research which they say suggests that cat owners may be more intelligent than dog owners. There has been some hilarious correspondence over the issue in The Times.
We have Tess and Tip, Border Terrier and Border Collie respectively and we also have Blackie and Creamy the farm cats. So I am not sure where that leaves us.
Today there are two lovely letters. The first is to remind us all that cats do not have owners - the writer suggests that all they do is lease their services in return to food. He also suggests that cat owners are gullible and therefore (like most academics he says) lacking in common sense. The other letter says the writer knows for certain that she is regarded as staff by her "small furry family members."
So let's have a count so that I can make a list and see how it all works out in blogland. Are you a) a cat's servant. b) a dog owner. or c) can't stand either of them.
In the meantime - it is snowing again and more is forecast and it is cold too. But spare a thought for our friends on the Eastern side of US (Kate of Country Girl for one) where there is a huge amount of snow. Our measly little covering is nothing by comparison.
Keep warm folks!

##RIP Johnnie Dankworth, who died on Saturday. I saw him at The Drill Hall in Lincoln in about 1950 - magic.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Secret reading revisited.

In the late thirties, when my sister married and left home, she left behind a giant stack of film annuals, and a large poster of Rudolph Valentino on her bedroom wall. So, as I learned to read, I became a film fan manque, so to speak. I was reared on Jean Harlow, Nova Pilbeam, Mae West - and above all, Rudolph Valentino. All these sepia portraits of glamorous women played a major part in my life - so much so, that when I finally read that superb read "The Great Gatsby" the characters were immediately brought to life from those old portraits. Oh what glamorous and exciting lives they lived compared with mine - I thought as I got a bit older.
Fast-forward ten years - still in the age when "sex" was rarely, if ever, mentioned and when there was no television and when my reading was confined to books like "Black Beauty" (my friend, Janet, and I used to cycle to her grandmother's farm on our bikes, pretending we were on Black Beauty and another horse - we took it in turns to ride Black Beauty, keeping a careful note so that there was no cheating!) Janet suddenly came up with a bright idea. We had discussed what people did when they were married (?) and I did once ask my mother if you could have a baby when you were not married and when she replied 'no' I pointed out that our next door neighbour's daughter had a little girl - and I had never seen a husband. She said he worked away and when I kept up the questioning she told me to go away and play and not ask silly questions.
Fortuitously, Janet found a book her mother had read and put on the bookshelves. It was called The Sheik and Janet had read it when her mother was away for a few days and her dad was in charge. She said it was all about what people did when they were married - and she thought you could also do it when you were not married because the lady in the book wasn't married.
She duly arrived with said book when my mother was out and we hid it under my winter clothes in the drawer of the dressing table. Each night, after I had gone to bed, I read a few pages under the sheets, reading by torch light. Oh how we gobbled up the romantic nonsense - and spent hours discussing the finer points while riding Black Beauty to Fiskerton and back!
Well, Virago have republished The Sheik (2002) and I have just been lent a copy - how it brought back memories. It is racist in the extreme and sexist in the extreme, but in both cases this would not have been thought odd when it was published in the 1920's.
But the really interesting thing is that it was written by Edith Maude Hull who was the wife of a Derbyshire Pig Farmer. Nobody seems to know much about her as she appears to have spent her life either travelling or being a farmer's wife. All I can say is that she had a very vivid imagination. She also provided Valentino with what was probably his greatest role (which explains why my sister's wall poster showed him in arab dress). I can't help wondering how much EM Hull was paid for the film rights and whether she died a rich woman. The write-up in the front of the reissue says she 'fell silent in 1939.
Did I enjoy it this time round? Not really - it is horribly dated and as the blurb says 'a touchingly artless expression of female sexual masochism' - but it sure brought back exciting memories of clandestine reads. As far as I know my mother never knew anything about it.

Friday 5 February 2010

Little things we easily miss.....

My father was a clever man. Unfortunately he was born in the late nineteenth century when, apart from the few rich people in every village, the majority of villagers were poor. At eleven years old he passed what was then called "the scholarship". but his parents were just too poor to be able to afford his school uniform - also they could not afford him to stay at school until he was sixteen - a prerequisite of going to Grammar School. He was never bitter about the situation and he was always one for improving his knowledge throughout his life - he loved poetry and knew many poems off by heart and he loved all natural history - we spent hours together bird watching, looking for nests, spotting wild flowers etc. And - above all he absolutely loved learning - and flaunting - their Latin names. A bit of that has rubbed off on me; I am more likely to know the botanical name for a garden flower than I am to know its colloquial name.
So it will therefore come as no surprise, after reading this paragraph, that Tess and I have been out today spotting Lichenes and Bryophyta!
Yet another grey day here, although relatively warm after the recent cold spell. Tess and I set out on our afternoon walk and I took my camera. When the farmer enquired what I hoped to photograph on such a grey day, I said I was just going to look for anything green - anything at all.
It was easier said than done - everywhere was brown, wet, soggy and dirty. That is until we spotted some bare branches absolutely covered in green - brightest green imaginable. I have no idea whether this is lichenes (lichen) or Bryophyta (moss) but I have no doubt someone reading my blog today will be able to enlighten me. Whichever it is, I am sure you will agree that close up these little plants are exquisite. I suspect they are lichen because although they look so soft and velvety, they are actually rather hard and coarse to the touch. (the same is true of those lovely gambolling lambs one sees in the fields - they look so cuddly but if you get to pick on up you will find they feel a bit like a pan-scraper).
Later on the walk - by this time accompanied by the farm cat - we came through our walled front garden and saw that the moss on top of the wall was really flourishing, and the lichen on the garden wall was leaving large whorls of the most beautiful pale grey.
Well, I photographed them all and I hope you enjoy seeing them - certain proof that all is not dead in this winter season, that as well as all those plants stirring under the soil and popping up little shoots, the lichenes and the bryophyta and playing their part in adding a little colour to February.

Thursday 4 February 2010

What a difference the sun makes.

On a morning when there is an inch of new snow, thick fog and a temperature hovering on 0, I am watching the sun trying to break through the foggy cloud. One minute the sky is dark and there is barely enough light to see, the next the sun has broken through and appears momentarily as a golden ball. Then a hazy light filters through and transforms the scene before another cloud passes and it is dark again.
I was reading yesterday evening about light and how it influences the painter. Artists who live up here in the Yorkshire Dales wax lyrical about the quality of the light in the hills; the St Ives school of artists were totally inspired by the reflection of the light off the sea.
Claude Monet regularly left Giverny and went to visit his brother in Rouen. In 1892 when he was staying at a hotel in the city, he was so inspired by the light falling on the stone work of the cathedral that he decided to do a series of studies. It resulted in a total of thirty incredible pictures, each one marked with the time - e.g. afternoon, 2pm to 3pm - each one different and yet the same subject. What he was saying was that the look of the stonework changed at every hour of the day, depending on the quality of the light falling on it.
Apparently, I also read, John Constable called his picture "The Hay Wain" by the title "Noon" because he was interested in how the light fell on the scene at mid day. However, his friends christened the picture "The Hay Wain" and that title stuck.
As I write this, just after lunch, the fog is back and it is dreary and dark outside. The snow is slowly dripping away and the sun is hiding behind the blanket of fog. But it will be back.
There is something wonderful about a hot, sunny day with a cloudless sky and a blazing sun (I wish), but I can't help thinking that the little subtleties - the shaft of sun shining through dark clouds, the early rising sun striking the bole of a tree or the end of a barn, the sun shining through raindrops - these are the things which make us gasp at the sheer beauty of a scene.
However, until such an occasion, the wood-burner is lit and glowing, the kettle is on the hob, the dog has been walked and I shall settle down by the fire. Today I have to get the farm ledger up to date and balanced - so I might as well do it in comfort.

Wednesday 3 February 2010


Friend of Winter,

the snowdrop
hangs its head,
battered and bruised
by the wind.
In the byre,
heavy with lamb,
pick at the hay and
stare with slit eyes
at sleet in cold black puddles.
hard to the touch of
the walker's boot,
lie empty; the grass
old with no green shoots.
In the hedge,
hazel and alder
flaunt their lanterns
lambs' tails -
waiting for a burst of
sunshine to bring out the pollen.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Nonsense words!

Jinksy (napple notes) is a past master at writing rhyming verse - she has such a sense of humour and she just seems to find the right words. I suggested to her that she send a line round blogland and we all added a line - but she said (and I agree on thinking about it) that it really would not work. However, I have taken up her challenge to write a nonsense verse today - here it is:

Two elephants met in a bank,
where they'd come to secure a loan.
'Hi' said one to the other,'I'm Frank'
'Hi' said the other, 'I'm Joan!'

'No, you misunderstand, I am FRANK,
So I'm telling you right here and now.
That while you are wearing that hat
you look such a silly old cow
that you'll never secure a loan -
you might as well just go home!'

Said Joan, ' I am truly affronted,
I knitted this hat myself,
It's a very intricate pattern
- you want to try knitting something like this
with my 'hands'

The moral of this little 'pome'
If you want to secure a loan,
You are better to do it by phone -
But get a move on before they have spent all their money on paying out bonuses!

Monday 1 February 2010

Ghost road to Berlin.

Dominic asked us to post this morning a piece of flash fiction or a poem after listening to a piece of music. My hearing is such that I cannot hear music well, so I chose instead to write using the title as a prompt. Speaking to him about this on Saturday morning, I realise that what he wanted to ascertain was whether after listening to the same music we would write totally different things - or would there be a connection. Thinking about this, I would guess there would need to be a piece of music without a title because otherwise surely the title would influence our thinking. What do you think?
However, I am posting my piece here - and after it the description of why I wrote it.

Ghost road to Berlin.

It was colder then
and we were hungry
on the Long March.

It was colder then
in January '45.
Sixty miles in three days
and we were hungry.

We sheltered at night
in the barns,
huddled for warmth,
our boots
frozen to our feet.
It was colder then
and we were hungry.

We left Stalag
in a blizzard.
We could hear
the Russian guns.
We would have welcomed them
as comrades.
But we were made to leave,
forced at gun-point
to march in the blizzard.

And we were hungry.
Bread and water given
by the roadside,
comrades shot for
failing to keep up.
All the time the guns
were getting closer.

We wondered if our captors
would decide our fate
because we knew
that they knew
that our captors were winning
on the Ghost road to Berlin.

Sixty years on
Grandfathers, sons and
walk the Ghost road.
The tears flow
for the fallen -
the tears of old men
no longer able to keep that
stiff upper lip.

And the footsteps of the fallen
fall gently on the soft snow
and leave no mark.

In January 1945, as the Russians advanced towards Berlin, the Prisoners of War in Stalag Luft III were force-marched sixty miles in appalling conditions. Two hundred men died on the march, either from exposure or from being shot because they were unable to keep up.
This year, for probably the last time, the survivors who are still living (it gets fewer each year), joined by sons and daughters and grandchildren of the men, re-created the walk, joined by RAF personnel. As in 1945, there was deep snow on the ground.
This 'poem' is mainly put together from things that the old men said when they spoke about it at the start of the walk.