Saturday 31 July 2010

Waiting at the Bus Stop.

Here I am on a dull Saturday morning, waiting at the bus stop; my brolly and macintosh at the ready and my sandwiches packed.
I thought this week end's topic was splendid - to take a group of word-verification words and weave a poem round them. I did several poems as it was such an enjoyable exercise. What I found was that however you did it there was a strong whiff of inuendo, Maybe it is an age thing - when I was young I didn't even know that the 'f' word existed - and I still can't bring myself to say it. Even the simplest things - like going to the lavatory for example - were always cloaked in a kind of Victorian primness. My father always referred to going to the lavatory (which, by the way, was at the bottom of the garden!) as going to 'see a man about a dog.' Thinking about it, I am sure society in this country was only just beginning to emerge from the Victorian era - when they even put frills around the bottom of piano legs to hide the 'ankles'!
So here is my untitled poem. Make of it whatever you will.

If your boxylls feel all wobbly
and your tabioc is numb,
then send for the mendenti
(use the phone and he'll soon come).

He will tell you you're reldeste,
that your hicabous is dead,
that you need a new combonsu
(that'll put you in the red!)

So, blestios amigos,
hoist your copsibow instead, and
cast your prosions to the four winds.
(Remember - you're a long time dead!)

Friday 30 July 2010


Yesterday afternoon was our Poetry afternoon. In case you haven't read of this before, a group of us meet once a month (University of the Third age) and read our favourite poems, giving a short account of the poet and why we like the poem - followed by a bit of discussion. We meet in each other's houses and finish off with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits and cakes. It is all very civilised and thoroughly enjoyable - and such a variety of poems (from the sublime to the ridiculous really).
Yesterday we had bits from the Authorised Version of The Bible, Betjamen, Keats, U A Fanthorpe, Bridges, Shakespeare etc. All lovely to listen to. Interestingly I read Keats's Ode to Autumn, which I have not read for a number of years. I had completely forgotten how beautiful it was and how full of imagery.
But what I wanted to draw your attention to today was the other poet I chose to read. Isn't is odd how poets go in and out of fashion? One poet who has gone out of fashion completely seems to be Charles Causley.
Causley was born in 1917 in Cornwall. He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and then he became a teacher. John Clare was his muse (if you can have a male muse - discuss) and his recurring theme was innocence.
At the meeting yesterday one of the ladies knew someone who had been taught by Charles Causley and he had said what a profound influence Causley had had on him. And yet we rarely hear of him these days.
So I leave you today with what I think is one of Causley's best poems. Sorry if you find it a bit dated. I am not sure what makes a poem dated - but I do know that Keats's Ode to Autumn is as fresh as the day it was written.
I urge you to seek out his poetry if you don't know it. His collected poems 1951 - 2000 is, I think, out of print but probably available from second hand book shops.
However, you can read the poem Timothy Winters here, at the Poetry Archive (where you can hear him read it, too). In case you wonder when you read it, 'helves' is a Cornish word for a desperate pleading.

As a matter of interest - in my first teaching post in the nineteen sixties, I had a boy in my class who's mother sewed him into his shirt each Monday morning and it had to last until the end of the week (and he was often incontinent).

Yes, dear readers, there are still children like this in school.

Thursday 29 July 2010

Seasonal Recipe Day!!!

Here as promised are two great Winter warmers. I published both last year but some folk are asking again so I make no excuses for repeating them both. Blackberries are almost ready here - and very prolific this year so far - sloes are still hard and green and will not be ready until late October, and after a frost or two.

Blackberry whisky. (In the photograph)

This is so easy and the result is the most beautiful jewelled red.

1lb blackberries; 1lb granulated sugar; 1 bottle cheap whisky.
Wash and pick over the blackberries and leave to dry. In a demijohn mix the blackberries with the sugar and pour over the whisky. Leave for about two months and now and again pick the demijohn up and shake it well so that the sugar is completely dissolved. Finally decant into bottles (how much depends upon the size of the original bottle - should make almost two bottles) through a fine strainer. Marvellous if you have a cough; also good by the stove on a cold Winter night! Enjoy.

Sloe Vodka.

Neither the farmer nor I like the taste of gin, so we follow the advice of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and use cheap vodka (which is almost tasteless) instead.
It used to be a real chore to make as you had to prick each sloe with a darning needle to release the juices, but there is a quicker way - wash the sloes, dry them wall, put them in the freezer and open-freeze overnight. Make the mixture the next morning - quantities as for blackberry whisky - 1lb. sloes; 1lb. granulated sugar; 1 bottle cheap vodka. Method the same too - keep shaking over the days to make sure that the sugar has dissolved and leave for a couple of months before decanting through a strainer.
The result is much drier than the whisky - if you like a sweeter drink then add more sugar when you make it. The result is also a lovely colour but we have none of last year's supply left - so I can't show you a photograph!

I understand that you can use raspberries instead of blackberries for the whisky recipe - obviously the flavour would be different but it might be worth a try.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

A Jolly Outing.

Today my grandchildren have been to see me and together with my son and his wife we have all be for a little outing. Richmond in North Yorkshire is an ancient town with a ruined castle and a castle wall walk and a picturesque river walk. But it also has one very modern asset.
The Old Station has been there since the end of the nineteenth century but has not been used as a station for many years. It has been a hardware shop, but around six or seven years ago it was converted into an absolutely lovely complex, keeping all its original features. It now houses a micro brewery, an ice cream parlour, a bakery, a cheese shop, a super cafe and a well-planned exhibition area, as well as two well-equipped small cinemas.
So we all went to the Old Station for a coffee and cake and then a look at a new exhibition called 'Up on the Wall'. 128 artists have each paid for a spot on the wall and on that spot they can exhibit one work of art (there is photography, embroidery, watercolour, gouache, oil painting, drawing,) and if that work sells they can replace it with another - or if they wish to remove the existing work they can put another in its place - in other words they have paid for one bit of wall space. Quite an original idea and one which seems to work well.
I took a couple of photographs to show you what the Station is like. One is taken from the 'platform' looking down into the cafe area (which is where the train lines would have been) and the other is taken from the mezzanine floor looking down into the cafe - so it just gives you some idea.
If ever you visit Richmond (the Richmond of 'Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill' fame) - for it is right on the Northern tourist trail - then do take time to pop into The Old Station (although you nearly need a mortgage to buy coffee and cake!)

###STOP PRESS Tomorrow I will post my annualpost of recipes for both sloe vodka and blackberry whisky as people keep asking for them. See you then.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Farming Northj Yorkshire style.

Up here the corn is just beginning to ripen. There is not a lot of arable land around the Dales - this is grassland and sheep country with a dairy farm thrown in here and there for good measure. But some farmers grow a field or two of corn for winter feed and the sign that it is beginning to ripen is that combine harvesters are on the move. Most of our roads are little more than lanes and meeting a combine harvester coming in the opposite direction creates no contest - you just get out of the way and let it go past.
Further South harvesting has been taking place for a few weeks now, but up here we are what is called ' close to the weather' and things take a little longer. But there is no doubt that corn has been cut - the proof came today in the form of our first load of straw. And with its arrival the thought struck me - up here farmers really spend the whole of the Summer preparing for Winter.
We cut the grass to make hay or to make silage - for Winter feed when the grass in the meadows has stopped growing and has gone dormant for Winter. We fill the barns with straw for Winter-bedding. And on a house-keeping level, we stock up the freezers with surplus vegetables for Winter-eating; we gather the blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries and make jam and chutney for Winter-eating; we pick blackberries and make blackberry whisky for colds and sore throats in Winter; we pick sloes to make sloe gin - a warming drink on a chilly night.
No wonder in the 'old days' harvest festival was such an important time - people really were thanking God that everything was safely gathered in, in the knowledge that once this has happened then animals and people alike would survive the Winter months with plenty to eat. Add the logs from the sawn up branches of a few fallen trees and you would be just as snug and warm as the cattle would be snuggled down in the straw.
Now that almost everything can be bought in the supermarket we have no need to make jam and chutney, wine and sloe gin - it is all there on the shelves for us to buy and making it has become just an enjoyable hobby for some. But we still have to store that straw, and believe me, today, with a brisk Westerly breeze, there is straw everywhere as well as in the barn!
The cats are happy - a nice high stack of straw to sit atop - a bit closer to the newly-hatched swallows; the farmer is happy - good clean straw already for putting down in the loose housing in late October; the only person who is slightly unhappy is the farmer's wife, who is still wading through straw in order to get to the back door - I cannot tell you how it has managed to spread itself about.

Monday 26 July 2010

Going down....

'Down' is the operative word around here on the farm today.

First of all the farmer has grass down. He cut it on Saturday as the long-range forecast was good for the next few days. This is not our grass but grass which he cuts for various field/horse owners. The grass is to make hay for winter feed and is therefore very important to each and every owner. Since he cut it on Saturday the barometer has gone steadily down.

Today, the cloud is down so low that you could be forgiven for thinking that we do not live in hilly country for there is little to see beyond the next hedge (see my misty, grey photograph). Consequently the air is full of mist coming down and enveloping everything in fine dampness. Not the kind of thing we wish for when we think of haymaking.

As it is also 'Washday' the clothes are hanging down sadly and damply on the clothes line, the iron is still sitting on its shelf in the cupboard, very unused.

So - determined to cheer ourselves up Tess and I walked two miles down the lane. Just before we set off the farmer drove off down the lane for his three weekly visit to the Physiotherapist. As we reached the two mile marker and turned to come back, the farmer came up behind us in his car. I had written the date of his appointment in the wrong date on the calendar and his appointment is for tomorrow.
He was surprisingly cheerful (not at all down - he has seen the weather and the way it behaves for many a long year)) and he even offered Tess and me a lift back home. Tess was all for jumping in the car, but not yours truly. My goal is to loose two stone - one has already been lost and I am on course/track/a mission to lose the other stone before my next holiday, so I nobly turned down his offer and Tess and I walked back up the lane. The way things have gone down today then I can truly say that the only direction now is up - and as I write a weak sun is pushing through the clouds.

As regards our next holiday (mentioned above) dear friends who live in The Netherlands (and who read this blog regularly) have invited us to go for a few days during late September. Yesterday I booked the airline tickets on line (still feels a bit odd doing that), so if you are reading this F and R - we are so looking forward to coming. Have a nie evening.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Afternoon Tea.

When I was a child (and yes, best beloved, it was a long, long time ago) meal-times were set in stone in our house, and I suspect in most houses in our village. You had your breakfast together, round the kitchen table, at around half past seven, before the men of the house went off to work; you had dinner at mid-day (none of your fancy lunch times in those days) and it would be a two or three course hot dinner; tea-time would be around five o'clock, or when the men came home from work. The meal would be what is called here in Yorkshire 'High Tea' and would be another substantial meal - and then there would be a supper at around bedtime.

Of course all this has changed now. Here in Yorkshire we tend to have breakfast, lunch and tea - and a drink at bedtime. Some of our friends eat their main meal in the evening, but really the farmer needs his substantial meal at lunch time - so that is our biggest meal of the day.

But the meal which seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth is 'afternoon tea'. And that is a shame because it is probably the most relaxed of all the meals and also one of the easiest to prepare.

So today we had friends for afternoon tea. If you are reading this N and S, then thank you for your company - we had a really enjoyable couple of hours with pleasant conversation and a nice relaxed afternoon (not all that summery, rather overcast and damp - well it would be, wouldn't it, as the farmer has more hay down.

I thought my readers, and particularly those in the US, would like to know what kind of things one serves for afternoon tea - so here is a photograph of the table - sorry about the fruit bowl, that is not part of the picture but I forgot to move it before I took the photograph!

We had Wensleydale fruit cake with Wensleydale cheese (both made locally), shortbread biscuits, raspberries and strawberries picked this morning from the garden and locally-made ice-cream. And of course as many cups of tea as we felt like drinking.

Tea is our staple drink here in the UK but we never get it properly made when we go abroad - sadly even in the U S we tend to get hot water and a couuple of tea bags. There is no substitute for freshly boiling water poured directly on to the tea bags (or loose tea) in the teapot, left to brew and then poured up. Sounds simple doesn't it? But sadly, in our experience, rarely does it come like that once we have left these shores.

What would you serve for afternoon tea? It would be nice to read about afternoon teas you have eaten.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Are you coming on a walk with us?

We have not had a walk lately on a Saturday have we? So put on your walking boots, get out your walking stick, pick up your camera and let's be off. If you want to bring your dog feel free - Tess always likes a bit of company.
I think we will cut across the fields and on to Mill Lane and into the village. The weather is warm and rather sultry and the lane is quite dry underfoot. But first we have to walk down to where the cows are making their way back to the milking parlour. The farmer leaves all the gates open and at around two o'clock they all begin to wander back. They're sensible girls and take very little notice of Tess and I as we weave our way through them. (The breed is Holstein).
We pass a little owl - a young one judging from the way it flutters into the hedge and has a job to find its footing. The little owl is diurnal and we have quite a lot of them about, but it is good to see a baby.
As we reach the beck Mrs Mallard with three rapidly growing babies paddles hurriedly by, intent on reaching the safety of the little bridge, where she can hide until we have gone away. Two of the babies are brown like her and one is almost all yellow with bits of brown here and there - but then there are a few white drakes about so maybe that accounts for it.
At this time of the year the beck is full of water crowfoot which looks very pretty but which, I am sure, impedes the progress of the duck family as they hurry away. The bright yellow mimulus grows in clumps along the waterside, as does the giant willow herb, so there is plenty of cover for the ducks.
In the hedgeback the thistles thrive (one year's seed equals seven year's weed!) ensuring a good crop of thistles again next year.
Here and there remnants of cranesbill remain although they are rapidly going to seed. In the hedgerow the hawthorn berries are beginning to turn red and the crab apples are bright and shiny.
We reach the lane and make our way along the beck side, a route which is at least a thousand years old and trodden by the Cistercian monks from nearby Jervaulx Abbey, who owned and farmed this land in the Middle Ages. I never walk it without thinking of its antiquity.
Dominic lives on the side of the beck and we call, but they are not at home. I leave a jar of freshly made raspberry jam on the doorstep and take a sneaky photograph of their garden, which is looking particularly nice today.
Walking the mile or so back home Tess and I are both a bit foot-weary, but we have enjoyed the walk - I do hope you have too. Now we are back home I shall put the kettle on - would you like to stay for a cup of tea? The farmer has just gone to pick the next lot of raspberries (we are inundated), so have a bowl of those with some of our local ice cream if you feel like it. See you again tomorrow.

Friday 23 July 2010

Bringing home the bacon.

Dogs look up to us,
cats look down on us,
Pigs is equal!

Jimmy Docherty last night finished his farm animal series on the television with a look at pigs. They really are quite noble animals - highly intelligent (to variable degree, as with humans) and very sociable (ditto). George Orwell recognised this by making them top of the chain in Animal Farm.

We don't have pigs here on the farm. There was a day when every farmer kept a 'house pig' which he raised, fattened and then killed for the table. Many country folk did the same. I well remember our family pigs from my childhood.

We once had a lovely old sow Large Black. Each morning, before going off to work, my father would mix up her mash feed. During the day all vegetable scraps - including potato peelings - would be kept and boiled up in a bucket on the copper. That would constitute here evening feed. Every time we passed the pig sty we would give her titbits - an apple, a biscuit - she would come to the door and call when she heard us coming. She was the family's cossetted pet.

Until, that is, the day she was walked the 100 yards to the butcher's yard to be killed. The next time we saw her she would be strung up on a wooden tripod in the garden. Then my mother and my two aunts would spend a couple of days doing what they always called 'getting the pig out of the way.' This involved cutting up the joints (no freezers in those days), salting the legs of ham and the flitches of bacon, stuffing the chine, making sausages, chopping up meat for the pork pies and then making up twenty or so 'parcels' of the bits and pieces (always called pigs' fry) to take round to all the neighbours. At the time I thought it was a yearly event full of excitement.

Now I am sure that any meat from a family pet pig would turn to sawdust in my mouth! Much as a I love a rasher of bacon for my breakfast and a ham sandwich for my tea, I presfer that they come from some unknown, unloved piggy source.

But yes, looking at those pigs last night, it is easy to see why they are 'equal'.
Such knowing, intelligent eyes; such response once Jimmy learned to speak piggy language.

As for the ryhme, above, well there is no doubt about it - our cats do look down on us from a superior position. If they want milk (or preferably cream if you have it, please) then as I walk up the farm yard they will do their best to trip me up.
They don't just ask, they demand. And when their food is put down they will either deign to eat if or turn their noses up and go and catch a baby rabbit just to show me that they can quite easily look after themselves and that they only choose to eat what I give them.

As for dogs - well, as far as Tess is concerned the Farmer is her world. I might have bought her, I might feed her, she is ostensibly my dog. But who has the best, most exciting walks, who goes round the fields several times a day, who enjoys a rough and tumble in the evenings? There is no contest - that she looks up to the farmer as her world I have no doubt. Poor old muggins is just here to open the tin of dog food.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

A Matter of Life and Death

I am reading a book of writings from that most English of magazines, Country Life. The author is Carla Carlisle, who writes a regular column. (If you are reading this, thank you, Sue, for lending it to me - I am really loving it). Every article is good to read - some make me laugh, some almost make me cry (the death of a beloved old dog for example) but -without exception - all of them make me think. And it is from that stirring up of one's thoughts that every good book generates that today's post takes shape.

Every farm has rats. Any farm that has corn stored has more rats. This time of year, particularly, rats breed fast. Therefore they have to be controlled. I try not to think of the bright, perky, very intelligent rats which sit in cages in our local Pet Shop waiting for some little person to adopt them - and jolly good, friendly pets they make too. I once knew a pet rat called Heseltine - he was piebald (if you can apply that to rats as well as horses) and when he walked into the room he usually stopped the conversation. He lived (dare I tell you) in the back of the knife drawer (did I mention that his owner was a middle-aged bachelor who lived alone?) So, when the farmer sets his rat trap I try to keep Heseltine well out of my mind. The farmer catches maybe one rat a week - and it keeps the population down.

The sparrow hawk lives in a tall tree in Forty Acre Wood, only a matter of half a mile as the sparrow-hawk flies. She has mouths to feed and those mouths need little birds. So most days she sweeps through our yard like a javelin, keeping low, keeping by the hedgeside, in the hopes of catching a little bird unawares. Birds are marvellous at looking out for each other and our bird feeders have very good cover (rhodendrons, fir trees) so she rarely catches one. But occasionally there will be a smattering of feathers on the ground and we will know that there is one blue tit, or great tit, or goldfinch less.

When I stand in my sitting room window and look out into the front garden I quite often see a little mouse scurrying between the plants. Sometimes it is a field mouse, sometimes a shrew. They seem to go about their business so diligently and I have a soft spot for them - not least because so many childrens' books tell cute mouse stories. Sometimes when I stand there I see the farm cats - they seem to hunt as a pair. The other day the farmer saw them cross the field together, then split up and go one either side of the hedge along a rabbit warren - sure enough a short time later they returned with baby rabbits in their mouths. And, yes, I do occasionally find a tail and a pair of mouse kidneys by the back door - the cats gift of the bits they don't fancy, I suppose.

But now we come to a more contentious issue. The hens. We are now down to six hens - two black rocks, three or so years old; one brown hen of indeterminate age and breed; two crested bantams which I bred at least fifteen years ago and who are always more interested in rearing chicks than laying eggs (we have no cockerel so they get frustrated on that score); and Goldie. I bred her myself many years ago and she is beautiful. If I can manage to get a photograph of her I will. But, much to the farmer's annoyance, she is almost always broody and spends much of her life in the sin bin (a small hut with a run).

Now I would like some new hens. The farmer keeps reminding me that he is paying for the food and that we are getting - at most - two eggs a day from these six. I would like to buy half a dozen fancy birds - frizzles, wyandots, sebrights - something like that (I buy the hens, he pays for the food) but he quotes stastics and tells me just how unproductive a lot of these old breeds are. He wants me to get six nondescript brown hens bred for their laying prowess.

But worst of all, dear blog friends, he thinks the six left (I am whispering here) are non-productive and would be better in the pot than scratching in the yard!!! I have made him swear to not carry out this threat - they have given me years of loyal service, they are my friends and they deserve to live our their lives in what the farmer chooses to call luxury. So I have won on that one - but as for the variety of hens I buy - well I think the price I pay in this delicate negotiation is that the replacement egg layers will be ordinary brown ones - still the cresties and Goldie will add a bit of colour. Watch this space for developments.

Monday 19 July 2010

Cyber friends.

I have been thinking about blogs - surely it is rather like the cyber equivalent of Pen pals. Does anyone have penpals these days - or is letter-writing old hat?

I had a penpal for ten years - between being ten and twenty years old, when our school was in contact with a school down South and we all chose a 'friend'. My friend was called Diana Wickens and she lived in Broadstairs in Kent (in the unlikely event that you read this, Diana, do get in touch and let's be penpals again.)
Now, instead of penpals we have cyberpals - many of them, all over the world and from all walks of life. Yet we still have a lot in common because as we trawl through blogland we tend to alight on the blogs of those with similar interests.
I have met several of my cyber pals - in April 2009 the farmer and I met Elizabeth (The World Examining Works - see my blog list) in New York and spent an interesting morning with her - trying out New York Taxis and New York buses - and having coffee in a lovely coffee house which we would never have found - and seeing a super exhibition of German Expressionist painters.
Then in the Autumn of 2009 Rachel (More about the Song see my blog list) with her partner and their daughter (and their Border terrier) called in for a cup of tea and a walk round our fields.
Fiona (Marmalade Rose - see my blog list) lives only a short distance away and once we realised this we met - they came here for strawberries and cream last Summer when we had a glut of strawberries and I went over later in the year for a cup of tea and a chat.
The interesting thing is that in each case I felt I knew the person very well - months of sharing ideas in blogland meant that when we met we were already well-acquainted.
And today has been exactly the same. Because this morning Derrick (Melrose Musings - see my blog list) and his partner called in on their way home from Harrogate. It wasn't like meeting new people - I would have recognised him from his blog photograph - and we had a couple of hours drinking coffee, eating scones and raspberry jam and really getting to know one another.

What a marvellous thing blogland is - I now have a new circle of like-minded friends around the world and I thank Google for it!

Sunday 18 July 2010


I see in Saturday's Times that this new government is quite likely to repeal the hunting ban - for readers overseas who don't know about this - Fox hunting has gone on in this country for hundreds of years. Groups meet under their Master and hunt foxes with a pack of fox hounds. When a fox is sighted, a horn is blown, everyone joins in the chase, the dogs get there first and most likely the fox is torn to pieces by a pack of dogs. A hunting ban was brought in where hunts could still meet and hunt the fox but it became illegal for the hunt to allow the fox to be torn to shreds by dogs - it was up to the Chief Huntsman to kill it cleanly with a shotgun. Yes - in lots of parts of the country the fox is a menace to hens - but he also cleans up a lot of the rabbit population. Opinions are strong and they are divided. The farmer is on one side and I am on the other, so we agree to differ.
The above is a simplification of the issues but basically that is what it comes down to. Here is my contribution to the debate - for debate there will surely be all over again.


A fox came round the farm one day,
although what time I could not say.
He picked his way across the yard
and there he left his calling card.

He sniffed around the chicken coop,
no doubt imagined chicken soup.
He stood upright and looked between
the window bars - took in the scene.

I wonder if the hens took fright
or, if asleep, they missed the sight.

He sniffed around the barn of hay
(I guess the farm cats were away).
He came right up to the farm back door
and left his footprints on the floor.

I hope he calls again some day
(when the hens are safely shut away).
Maybe he often comes and goes -
we can only track him when it snows.

He's a handsome chap, still fears the chase
but now at last he's found his place.
His only enemy is man.
Please don't repeal the hunting ban.

For I would miss the splendid sight,
the glimpse of a fox at the end of night
when he slinks along the hedgerow back
to his earth at the end of the farmyard track.

Have a nice Sunday.

Saturday 17 July 2010

What's the date today?

If you were to go in Leyburn, our little market town, today you could almost be forgiven for thinking that we have gone back in time. This weekend is a nineteen-forties weekend. Everyone dresses up in forties gear, there is a steam train running on our local scenic railway, the hotels are serving forties meals, the shop windows are dressed forties style - everyone enters into the spirit of the thing and people come by the bus load from miles away.

Half of me thinks that those days are best forgotten not gloried in, and I know that several of my friends feel strongly about that. But then I see all these folk dressed up and really enjoying themselves and I am torn between that view and the view that as everyone is enjoying it does it really matter (almost without exception the people taking part are not old enough to have been alive during the war!). There is a Holocaust Museum tent this year I see - some people are very scathing about that - but I saw a huge number of people queueing to get into it. So you can see I have very mixed feelings. But you, dear readers, can make up your own minds.

I could have taken loads more pictures but I was late for my coffee date - so here is just a taster. The hotel where we have coffee on a Saturday morning, The Golden Lion, has sandbags around the door and sticky tape on all the windows. In the doorway Glen Miller is bashing away, not too loudly, into the market square, and the menu for the day includes - 'fish and chips in newspaper', 'G I Toad-in-the-hole' and 'Spam Fritters.There are a lot of 'Captain Mainwaring type figures' strutting around in their officer's uniforms and a scattering of GI's, airforce officers and the like - but it is the women who really come into their own.

There are Mrs Mops with their aprons and turbans, wartime nurses (all the female staff in The Golden Lion are dressed as nurses and the men as airforce officers) but best of all there are couples - men in trilby hats, black suits and two-toned shoes and women in fantastic hats, very high heels and really beautiful 'frocks'.

I just hope the weather stays fine for all the shennanikins. Tonight there is a dance to forties music - three quarters of me would like to go (the feet are the bit that cries off!)

Friday 16 July 2010

Early for the Poetry Bus!

Thought I would get on early this week and choose the best seat! I found the subject pretty hard but then we do want to keep stretching our brains don't we? So here is my version on Unrequited love:-

Apologia to In Memoriam.

Are we tempted, when love's unrequited
and our advances slighted,
to temper love,
to make it more exciting, fanciful
because we think that it'a not to be?

And if it were at last to be returned,
and if, within both hearts, the fever burned,
when passion turned to comfort and content
(as it most surely would as time was spent);

Would we look back to earlier, heady days
and wish we'd seen the error of our ways?
Or would the looking back excite the mind
to memories of passionate recall?

As Tennyson said,
''Tis better to have loved and lost
than never to have loved at all''.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Happy Birthday!

The Times is 225 years old today - so happy birthday dear old Times - what would I do without you on my breakfast table each morning; how would I keep my mind active without your 'Mind Games'; how would I keep up to date with the news; how would I find interesting stories for my blog? Today's Times is the 70,000th edition and it is now, officially, the longest running English-speaking newspaper in the world. So well done for that!
On the rain front - well, as usual in this country, once it starts it doesn't know when to stop. We had more heavy downpours yesterday and another this morning during the farmer's walk round the fields with Tess and Tip. The garden is delighted but not sure about the climbing roses, which look decidedly dejected. Still, it will make the hay grass grow and the beck is now full, so neighbouring farmers will be pleased.
But note - today is Saint Swithin's Day - whatever the weather does today it will do for the next 40 days according to legend. This morning I read the origin of the legend: apparently Swithin was Bishop of Winchester in the 9th century. He was a very humble man and insisted that when he was to die he was to be buried outside the cathedral, where his grave was exposed to the weather. A century later his remains were transferred inside the cathedral and it rained and rained for weeks afterwards. And so the curse arose.
Well, we shall see. Every year people say in dolorous voices 'it's St Swithin's Day' but I think we all forget about it a week later.
Walking round the fields yesterday I was pleased to see the next batch of wildflowers in full bloom. Meadow sweet is everywhere, rosebay willow herb is just coming out here and its cousin, great hairy willowherb (not such a nice name, is it?)
is joining it. The purple and yellow vetches are everywhere - I have never seen them so prolific round here. The other wild flower which is in bloom is the meadow cranesbill - I wasn't able to get a photograph of that so I shall post it later when I have been for another walk.
The sun streams through the hall window as I write - maybe it will be sunny for Saint Swithin after all.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

The Weather.

Rain at last - half an inch overnight, which is a great relief (albeit temporary unless there is more) to the farmers around here. Yesterday morning my farmer and our neighbouring farmer spent the morning digging out the beck and removing layers of water crowfoot in an effort to get the water flowing faster. Our neighbour's stretch of the beck had completely run dry and he has a suckler herd and bull in the field - they were desperate for water. Nobody around here can remember the beck being so low.
Now at 9am the fog and low cloud have lifted and the sun is shining - such are the vagiaries of the English weather - 'three hot days and a thunderstorm' as they say.
Although this time the hot spell has disappeared gradually without great dramatic crashings and flashings.
In 1955 on this day (says Paul Simons in today's Times) there was the most horrendous thunderstorm at the Royal Ascot Race Meeting. Crowds rushed for cover when it started and racegoers were trampled underfoot. Some were lifted off their feet by a surge of electrical current and a bolt of lightning soared over the top of the grandstand and hit a fence. There were 48 hospitalised casualties of which two died and on that same day a total of seven people were killed across England by lightning.
So, thinking about that I am pleased to report a gentle lessening of hot weather here, but I do hope that the hot weather returns as the farmer still has plenty of haymaking to complete - luckily he has no grass down at present.
Our neighbouring dairy farmer, who has a Holstein herd, has taken his best stock to The Great Yorkshire Show, which opened in Harrogate yesterday and has so far won several first prizes - so well done to him! When he returns I will try to take a photograph of one of his prize winners. As a breed the Holstein is a bony creature and not very beautiful I am afraid - but boy do they give a good milk yield. So watch this space for a photo call.

Tuesday 13 July 2010


The photograph above shows this morning's mail. It consists of two advertising pamphlets for our M E P; two advertising pamphlets from our local grocery shop; two 'letters' from a double-glazing firm; two letters from a Health Food outlet; three brochures for clothing. That was the sum total of the mail and it weighed thirteen ounces. And it all went, unopened and unread, into the waste paper bin from where it will untimately go into the re-cycling bag - presumably to be recycled into pamphlets, brochures,........need I go on? Nobody I know reads any of this stuff; nobody I know has ever ordered as a result of receiving any of this stuff; everyone I know puts it straight into the bin. I ask you - is it necessary? Is there any way of stopping it?
At lunch time today we had three 'cold' calls - two were completely silent when I lifted the phone - the third was a recorded message of which I heard the first three words - 'Congratulations you have........' at which point I put the phone down. We subscribe to the Telephone Preference Service but it makes little difference. So I ask you again - are these calls necessary? (some will claim that they keep the callers in work); is there any realistic way of stopping them - particularly as they always call at mealtimes?
And a third, much happier and more amusing comment on Communications - this will I am sure make you give a small, gentle, quirky smile.

Beijing is encouraging its inhabitants to learn English phrases in an effort to make Beijing an 'international city'. Last time this happened was at the time of the Beijing Olympics when taxi drivers regularly learned the Chinese words - san ke yu fei li ma chu. These words were meaningless in Chinese but when said quickly (try it) slightly resembled 'thank you very much.'

In The Times there is a list of English translations from the Chinese which have been seen around China and the one I want to share with you is the 'Keep off the grass' sign translated into English on Hainan Island. It reads: 'Do not disturb - tiny grass is dreaming.' Don't you think that is lovely. It sure got rid of my irritations about the first two episodes.

Monday 12 July 2010


After several days of life not following its usual pattern I feel totally disorientated today. I have not switched the computer on for two whole days as we have had visitors staying. Farming friends from Essex came up to see us, so we have been eating, walking, chatting farming and generally having a relaxed time of it.
In addition, the central heating boiler was delivered and this morning, just as our friends were planning to leave, the engineers came to fit the new boiler. This meant emptying the box room so that they could get into the false roof - so the contents of the box room are now in our bedroom. After tea the farmer and I will sort all the things out and put them back - then hopefully we shall be back to 'normal' whatever that is.
So, dear blog friends, it is a short blog today (but a happy one) but to end on a newsy note - I took a photograph of the engineers working on the boiler and told them I did a blog every day - they were quite chuffed at the idea of their photograph going round the world - so here they are trying not to pose for the camera. And another shot of our friends at the breakfast table.
Back to blogging tomorrow.

Saturday 10 July 2010

Early for this week's Poetry Bus.

Here I am, standing at the bus stop two days early. Sorry about that, Dominic, but I have friends for the weekend and shall not be able to blog again until around Tuesday; so rather than miss it altogether, here is my entry very early. Just in case the print is too small to read on the photograph - here it is:-

Ode to a Mirror.

Oh would that I
could see in you
the ME
that others see.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Subtle changes.

I have taken Tess for her grooming today - hair cut, washing and brush up - that kind of thing. I had to collect her three hours later - what a transformation. This means two journeys of the fourteen miles to the Dog Parlour. It is a fairly quiet road and I had plenty of time (and yes, Derrick, if you are reading this, I did keep an eye on the road too).
How the verges have changed in a month. At the beginning of June the grass was fresh and new, the trees were brightest green and full of energy, dandelions bordered every road, ox eye daisies burst forth in great clumps and everywhere there were great swathes of brilliant white cow parsley - it all seemed alive and bursting with energy.
Now, I must say the trees are beginning to look a bit weather-worn. There have been one or two days of strong winds that have created havoc with leaves; in the horse chestnut trees the conkers with their green prickly shells have already begun to form and on the hawthorn the May blossom has died and the berries are beginning to turn a brownish-red.
But it is on the grass verges that there is the most change. All those bright yellows and startling whites have gone. Where there was cow parsley there are now dry brown umbels; where there were dandelions even the seed clocks have gone, for there is nothing more efficient at seed distribution than the dandelion. And - overall - the colour has changed because around here the most common wild flower at this time of the year is the deep blue wild cranesbill and it is out everywhere. And often as a backdrop there is a bank of rosebay willowherb.
Hogweed stands taller than the cowparsley and is altogether more sturdy. Its umbels are cream so there is no sparkling white any more and the meadow-sweet, which is also cream, is coming into flower.
I have just taken a cup of tea out into the garden to where the farmer is weeding a particularly troublesome patch, and as we sat there a very young blackbird hopped close - he was so young that his bill was still soft and yellow - Tess went to investigate but when we chided her she left him alone and he sat there totally still, eyes closed - I thought he must be ill. I brought the mugs in and put them in the dishwasher and then went out again - he had disappeared. I must say his Mum and Dad have done a good job at training him to sit still when there is perceived danger about.
In one place on the verge somebody has obviously shaken a packet of deepest cyclamen-pink poppy seed and hundreds have come up - the effect is stunning. Unfortunatly it was on a dangerous corner otherwise I would have taken a photograph.
Well, as the Bible says, 'to everything there is a season' - and I fear that here, in the North of the country Autumn is approaching fast. Sorry about that but we always feel that by the time we get to August plants here have decided to shut down.
Shortly I shall walk with Tess and the farmer. If I find any interesting plants to photograph I shall add them to this blog later. In the meantime - have a pleasant day.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Moving for the weather.....

We don't live in the North of England for the weather - that's for sure. Those who live in Scotland - likewise. Was it Billy Connolly who said ' Scotland has two seasons - June and winter'? No we live in the North for the beauty of the countryside, for the warmth of the people and - let's face it for many of us - because we were born there.
Of course there are those hardy pioneering souls who venture further afield than their birthplace. We know quite a few farmers around here who have sold up and gone to farm in Canada. And I have to say that the farmer and I have been to many parts of Canada and we absolutely love it. And we tell ourselves that if we were younger we would do the same. Nothing prepares you for the beauty, the wide open spaces, the lovely people.....I could go on - but I digress from today's topic.
We also know people who have moved to the continent of Europe - South of France, the Dordogne, Spain, Tuscany - searching for a new life in the sun. (we also know people who have done this and are now desperate to come back).
But it seems it is not just people on the move, but animals too - or rather birds and insects. They are moving in the opposite direction - could it be that they sense something that we don't?

It is common now to see egrets - there was a time when the stark white of an egret standing by a pool in the South of England caused a quick step on the brakes. Now they are quite common-place. And look at the collared dove - they are a recent immigrant too and now we often see a dozen sitting together on the electricity wires.

Now this morning I read in The Times (Paul Simons) that crickets and grasshoppers are migrating here too. Paul says that they seem to be ' barometers of the changing climate'.
Take the long-winged conehead cricket (conehead sounds a bit derogatory) - it popped up in the 1940's on the South Coast but is now moving North at the rate of 7.5 miles each year - it'll be quite a while before it gets up here and I certainly won't still be here to welcome it. Similarly Roesel's bush cricket spent fifty years around the London area but then decided to look for pastures new and is now in the Potteries area.
And as for the yellowy-green cickle-bearing bush cricket - well it hopped over the channel (as you do), set up home in Hastings and has now decided it likes Dungeness in Kent better. As Paul says ' they are on the hop'.

So - if you see any strange crickets in your area of the UK please let the Orthoptera Survey people know - go to to find out more.

Have a pleasant, hoppy day!

Monday 5 July 2010

Poetry Bus Day.

At last - with Dominic's help, I have learned to do links (well, for the time being!)
As the clock stands at 9.02am we have eleven people on the bus - so plenty of spare seats if you still wish to have a go (if you don't know this week's subject then scroll down here to 'Getting to the bus stop for the Poetry Bus (Tuesday of last week).)Remember, the bus will hang around until midnight tonight, so plenty of time to jump on. Plenty of refreshments on board. Then at midnight the bus changes into a pumpkin and makes the very short journey over to Dominic Rivron's site ready for next Monday (just hope he can find it amongst all the pumpkins he has growing in his garden). Jolly good poems this week - some funny, some sad, some that really need thinking about. Just as it should be.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Forty Years On

Isn't it amazing when you stop and think that it is only forty years since it was a crime to be openly homosexual? The church condemned homosexuality as immoral, the medical profession spoke of it as a disorder - in fact it was a criminal offence. What a long way we have come in those forty years, when now there are practising homosexuals in the church, in government, in every day life - and nobody bats an eyelid. Or do they?

There is an interesting article in this weekend's Guardian about yesterday's Gay Pride march in London to celebrate those forty years. In it Peter Tatchell writes
of the terrible injustices of the past - he speaks of how Malcolm Muggeridge (remember him?) spoke at the Festival of Light and when asked about homosexuals, answered, 'I just don't like them.' And how Eyesenck advised shock-aversion therapy. In these enlightened times it all seems bizarre.

But I have always thought there is still one 'stumbling block' and Thatchell ends his piece with this. The real battle has only been won when we no longer need to us the word 'gay'. If we have a dinner party we may very well tell people that our gay friends are coming - but would we say our heterosexual friends were coming? No we would not and as Thatchell rightly says - and here I quote:-

"In a completely #queer-friendly society the differences between homo and hetero lose their significance. When no-one cares who is gay and who is straight there will be no point in maintaining the distinction." I wonder how long that will be. Sadly I don't think it will be in my life time. What do you think?

# 'queer' is not a word I would ever use - I think of it as a derogatary word - but I have quoted Tatchell - maybe if one is gay it is alright to use it - but it is a word I hate.

Saturday 3 July 2010

The Poetry Bus revs up.

Monday is Poetry Bus day but a lot of you have jumped on early this week.
I am trying to fill my head with two types of creativity at once - making an embroidered cover for my holiday book and writing a poem for the bus. I am afraid it does not work.
So, I make no apologies for posting a poem I wrote a couple of years ago, which fits the criteria of this week's challenge (scroll down to Poetry Bus if you don't know what the challenge is). I am enlisting the aid of Dominic in the making of the link list because try as I might last night I just could not get linking to work.

So here is my poem. I first met Bertie Webb long after he had retired as Headmaster of a Public School. He was a delightful and very cultured man and full of boundless energy. He had retired to a small village in Cornwall but came up to Lincolnshire to stay with friends each Summer. He was fanatical about Old Time Dancing, hence this poem. He died well into his nineties.

Death of a Dancing Man.

His the light step, good for the gallop,
or The Dashing White Sergeant,
as the Village Hall throbbed to the music
and the bare boards rattled.

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

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

Have a lovely, poetic weekend.

Friday 2 July 2010

A Sumptuous Feast.

, I have found the most wonderful book. The author is a friend of a friend and I was given a sneak look yesterday morning. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the book that I came home and ordered it straight away 'express delivery' - and it has arrived.

The book - published by Search Press - is The Art and Embroidery of Jan Messent.
For those who have not heard of Jan Messent, Jan has been a name in Embroidery and Textile Art since the early sixties and has written several books before this one.

This book is about Celtic, Viking and Anglo Saxon Embroidery and is full of information about the period - and more importantly for embroiderers maybe - examples of work which Jan herself has completed - both in sketch book form and in finished pieces. I have photographed one of the finished pieces above.###

Every page is a veritable feast of ideas, techniques, materials used, stitch patterns and finished pieces. In other words - every page is an inspiration to embroiderers and textile artists. I can't write any more because I want to take the book and a cup of tea out to the garden seat to sit in the sun and read it.

##After reading the foreword of the book, I see that no part of it may be reproduced for use on the internet, so I have deleted the pictures. Sorry about that - I would have thought a little sneak preview would have sold books - but I really had no alternative than to do a review without the pictures. You will have to imagine them.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Should it be all over when the fat man sings?

Have you read the reviews today in the papers about Placido Domingo's role as The Doge in Verdi's opera 'Simon Boccanegar'? The performance is given five stars, as is the whole opera because the rest of the company - with a star in their midst - rise to the occasion.
Domingo has been a 'star' for forty years but now as he reaches seventy (and has an operation to prevent colon cancer)people are wondering whether or not he should retire. His response is to say 'if I rest I rust' and he has bookings well into next year. But as with all ageing 'stars' or, for that matter, all ageing TV programmes, it is difficult to know when to stop.
Pavarotti carried on well after his voice had begun to deteriorate and well after his weight had become almost unmanageable; Maria Callas became a shadow of her former self during her last few years. And yet of course we have wonderful actors like Timothy West, Judi Dench,Vanessa Redgrave and the like who carry on regardless.
So - what do you think about this? What brought on this train of thought was seeing Federer lose his match yesterday afternoon at Wimbledon.
How are the mighty fallen? The Times says, and I had already thought the same, that he was rather ungracious in defeat - blaming his back injury rather than having the good grace to praise his opponent Berdych.
Then reading about Domingo in the Times this morning it brought the issue of retirment into my thoughts.
Some television programmes have gone on far too long - Last of the Summer Wine springs to mind - and should have been dropped while they were fresh and funny rather than struggling on until they are dull and predictable. Dawn French had the good sense with 'The Vicar of Dibley' to pull out after a couple of series while everyone was clamouring for more.

So dear bloggers, what is the answer here? I suppose we can relate it to ourselves because this idea of when to stop does not just apply to stars, does it? After all, stopping does not necessarily mean rusting as Domingo suggests. It really means taking stock of oneself, realising one's limitations and adjusting one's life accordingly. I am not suggesting Domingo sit back and take up tapestry work, or Federer taking up violin lessons. There is usually a role for such people on TV - witness Pat Cash (with his fabulous earring) and Boris Becker (I never see him without being reminded of the incident in the broom cupboard)giving fantastic commentary on yesterday' tennis.

Is there a firm answer? I would love to hear your views on the subject - the wider the viewpoint the better. And while we are on the subject only somebody as masculine and as sexy as Pat Cash could get away with a ruby and diamond cross hanging from his left ear!