Tuesday 31 August 2010

Miracles - they are all around us if only we can take the time to see them.

To see the World in a Grain of Sand,
and a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
and Eternity in an hour.

So wrote William Blake in 'Auguries of Innocence'. Now there was a man who could see the miracles all around him if ever I saw one.

George (Transit Notes - see my Blog List) did a lovely post a couple of days ago about life's little miracles, which are all around us - the pattern on a butterflies wing, the cobweb..........

I posted a photograph of the gall on a wild rose stem, saying we called them 'pincushions' when we were children. Well, we were not so far wrong as Stuart Dunlop has kindly pointed out (Donegal Wildlife - see my Blog List) - quote:
'Your gall is the Robin's Pincushion' gall caused by a tiny (3mm) wasp 'Diplolepis Rosae'. The wasp larva alters the bud growth to form a series of chambers that it lives and feeds inside.' Stuart goes on to say that it is not harmful to the rose and that it increases biodiversity. If you want to read the full account go onto my comments for the day when I posted the pincushion.

Well, with these two small miracles in mind I put my camera into digital mode and took it with me when Tess and I had our walk this afternoon. On the way round I snapped anything small and miraculous that caught my eye. I have posted the photographs here. I think maybe we tend to see the larger things - the beauty of the tree rather than the individual leaf, so to speak. So here are a few tiny miracles on which to feast your eyes.

Left to right from the top:

Lichen on a stone.
Rose hips in ivy on a wall.
Remains of a stalk of cow parsley.
Stones under water in the beck.
An old pine cone.
Bark on a dead tree stump.

Monday 30 August 2010

Bank Holiday Sunshine???

It is quite rare here in the UK for the words 'Bank Holiday' and 'sunshine' to appear in the same sentence. Bank holiday weather has become a bit of a joke. In 1992 winds reached 77mph - one of the windies days on record for a bank holiday. And in 1986 parts of North Wales had five inches of rain and widespread flooding.

So everyone here is cock-a-hoop that the weather forecasters tell us we are under a strong ridge of high pressure and the weather will be set fair all week. But does that mean we can bask out in the sunshine and enjoy it? On a farm? I think not.

Already the farmer - and our neighbour Geoffrey - are out cutting grass for second-crop silage. By tonight all seven fields earmarked for silage will have the grass down. Geoffrey and the farmer work in conjunction with each other when it comes to silage - the farmer cuts his grass, Geoffrey cuts his grass, Geoffrey bales both lots up into bales and then we get an outside contractor to wrap the lot. It is good to have a few days of high pressure; it does take some of the worry away as there is no need to keep scanning the skies for a coming shower.

Later this morning, when my cleaner has gone, I shall take a flask of coffee out to the farmer. I'll take my camera as well. I am sure you have seen enough photographs of silaging but you never know what turns up.

One of my new hens has gone missing. Rumour has it that there is a fox about. I hope the two are not connected - I'll keep you informed on that score too. Have a lovely day if it is sunny where you live.

Later: Well, here he is,cutting the bottom field - four down three to go. Tess and I had a walk round the hedgerows, me looking for anything unusual, Tess looking for rabbit holes, of which there are plenty. The farmer had seen a bunch of young pheasant with their mother - these will be wild ones reared in one of our fields - always a joy to see after seeing so many reared for shooting parties. All I found was this growth on a wild rose branch; we used to call these 'pincushions' when we were children. I have a feeling they are the homes of gall wasps, but I shall now go over to Stuart Dunlop (Donegal Wildlife) so that he can tell me. Incidentally, Stuart's site always has something interesting on it and he is a mine of information on anything to do with Natural History - pop over and have a read sometime.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Unwillingly to school - the Poetry Bus.

I think the farmer probably came out of the womb already farming. According to his mother there was never anything else for him but farming. He learned to read so that he could read farming books and magazines; he learned mathematics so that he could calculate acres and hectares, milk yields and feed prices; any drawing that he did was related to farm buildings, sizes and layout of barns - and so I could go on.
One thing was for sure - school was never important on his list of priorities. So this is the kind of litany of excuses I imagine he would churn out, given the opportunity. Luckily his mother was one strong lady and none of these excuses would ever work.
So here is tomorrow's Poetry Bus entry - which has to be anything arising from the photograph of a big yellow school bus.

Do I have to go to school?

The grass wants raking and
the hay wants making.
The yard wants sweeping
and those thistles are creeping
through the big barn field, so
the weeds want spraying
and my dad keeps saying that
we must sow early to
increase the yield, so
I can't be spared.
If a cow starts calving or
and ewe starts lambing then
I'll be missed here.
The sun is shining and
fresh air is free,
if I don't go to school they'll
not miss me.
Do I have to go to school?

Saturday 28 August 2010

Wensleydale Agricultural Show.

Phew! I am just home after spending three hours on the Showground - it is only a short distance from our farm, but luckily the farmer had taken the car - I do not think I could have walked home after walking round for so long.

There were crowds there (usually the attendance is around twenty thousand) and the weather was reasonably kind although there was a stiff breeze blowing and as the showground is on top of a rise this meant that it was quite hard walking when one was facing into the wind.

We went round the cattle first - it is always my favourite place. Our friend and neighbour won the Supremem Championship with one of his Holstein cows and also won quite a few more rosettes, so that was pleasing.

There was a lovely parade of old vehicles in the main show ring - tractors, lorries, cars, fire engines - all trundling in stately manner round and round before disappearing out of the entrance where they had come in. One car broke down spectacularly on the circling round and remained there with the bonnet up when we left!

There were sheep - very handsome pair of Suffolk sheep in the photograph I am sure you will agree. There were heavy horses - they always look so even tempered and placid. There was poultry for the first time - my goodness the sound of about fifty crowing cockerels against each other is quite some sound. A very large black cock had the most basso profundo voice I have ever heard in a bird.

And then of course there was the Produce tent - here all the local ladies compete for the prizes for cakes, jams, curds, flowers, bread; children make crowns and necklaces from kitchen products; amateur photographers enter pictures and gardeners enter gigantic onions which would feed an army and cabbages that are quite out of the realms of possible eating.

One of the highlights is lunch at our feed merchants! Believe me after walking round for two hours a half hour sit down with a plate of food is heaven. Each year they provide sandwiches, home made with their own ham and beef, pork pie and - this year - lemon drizzle cake. A sit down at a table, under cover, a chat with others, a cup of tea or coffee and a plate of food - you can't beat it.

Refreshed we walked round one last time, accompanied sound-wise by the Leyburn Band - we met farmers we knew and had little chats, we stroked quite a few dogs we met (we didn't take Tess) and we came home after three hours ready for a cup of tea and a sit by the Aga with the crossword.

Enjoy the photographs. More tomorrow probably.

From the top: Big boy.
Heavy horse.
Lunch at the feed merchant.
The cockerel basso profundo.
Winning vase of sweet peas.
The garden produce table.
Prize-winning dahlia bloom.
2 delightful Suffolk sheep.
A Jacob Ram.
A Dairy Shorthorn.
Richard with the Supreme Champion.

Friday 27 August 2010

Plan ahead!

I love the expression. I once saw a cartoon in 'Punch' magazine (so you know it wasn't yesterday!) where a sign-writer was painting 'PLAN AHEAD' on a sign only to find he had run out of space before he had put the 'D' on!

If there is one thing farmers have to do it is always to plan ahead and already the farmer is thinking of Winter, making hay, making silage, cleaning and preparing the buildings for cattle and - this morning - getting in straw. Straw now comes in what they call 'big bales' (unless the farmer does it himself using his baler, in which case they are smart little liftable bales).

At seven of the clock this morning the transporter lorry arrived with a huge load of big bales. The farmer and his neighbour, Alan, began to unload it with tractor and bob-cat, only to find that three or four of the big bales had no string round them. So the yard and the drive were littered with heaps of unbaled straw. Luckily it is a fairly calm day, so it was not blowing everywhere.

Now the farmer has his baler in the yard and is sweeping the straw into heaps and baling it up himself - hence the photographs. By tea time it will all be under cover and stacked - the cats will love it as it gets them nearer to the swallows' nests (but not near enough, luckily). And - come November - the cattle will have lovely clean, sweet-smelling straw to nestle in when they come in off the fields.

Tomorrow is Wensleydale Show day - just at the top of our lane, so within walking distance. We shall be going and I shall be taking photographs for the blog. Domestic fowl are being shown there for the first time, so hopefully we should have some magnificent cockerel photographs!

Thursday 26 August 2010

Town mouse/country mouse?

Once upon a time a little mouse was born in the depths of the country. She spent her entire childhood tootling along the lanes, smelling the wild flowers, watching the tadpoles turn into frogs in the little streams, listening to the birds singing and generally getting used to the peace and quiet and the slow pace of life.

Then country mouse grew up and met town mouse. He was a macho guy, used to living in some of the most populated cities in the world having spent his formative years in the city of Shanghai. Of course country mouse fell in love and they were married.

For some years town mouse took quite happily to the country living but then was posted to city life and country mouse followed him there. For much of their lives together they lived in a city, albeit in a bungalow with a big garden, at the end of a cul-d-sac and well away from the traffic noise.

Then, when they were getting quite old they tired of town life and moved together back into the country, where country/town mouse herself now lives. Oh how lovely were the sights, sounds and smells of the wide open country. She didn't miss city life one little bit!

Are you a country mouse or a town mouse? I can see the attractions of city living - if you want to see them at their best go to Elizabeth's site (The World Examining Works) where she charts living in Manhattan in photographs - making it look really
exciting. So, what makes city life unbearable for me (for I, of course, am that country mouse in my story)?

Apart from the noise, the crowds, the smells? It is probably the traffic.

Years ago when I travelled across China by train I had a taste of both. Beijing was certainly crowded with people but the wide open spaces were huge - The Forbidden City, Tien en Men square - and there was so little traffic - just millions (and I mean millions) of bicycles. Well that was in 1984. How things have changed.

As China has embraced capitalism, as car sales in China outstrip those in the U S, things have changed! Now - would you believe this - there is a sixty mile long traffic jam on the Beijing - Tibet highway. The Chinese are nothing if not enterprising and the fact that it will probably take three weeks to clear it has made them set up their own traffic jam community - organising card-playing sessions at the side of the road, buying their food etc. from various stalls set up by villagers along the way, and generally making the best of it.

When I think of those tiny villages I passed through on the train all those years ago - an abiding memory is of seeing a donkey working a mill grinding stone while the villagers stood around watching, and the tiny black piglets running in the gardens, playing with the children.

That entrepreneurial spirit will have stood them in good stead for setting up hasty food stalls cooking all mannner of foods for the 'jammers'. And as the Times says this morning, China is rapidly overtaking Japan as the home of traffic jams.

So - what kind of life style do you like? Are you willing to risk the odd traffic jam in order to live the fast life? Do you prefer to vegetate in the depths of the country? Do you like a mixture of both? Answers on a comments postcard please.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Sing a song of sixpence,
a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds
baked in a pie!

If anyone fancies baking a blackbird pie then I can supply enough blackbirds! I am not feeling charitable towards them this morning - although by lunch time the feeling will have gone off and I shall love them again - for their chirpiness and for their wonderful song. But at the moment they are not top of my list. Why?

Well - Autumn is really here in the Yorkshire Dales - of that there is no doubt. In the morning the fields are silver with dew and the goassamer of the spiders; in the evening there is a sharp chill in the air; the berries are all ripening and hanging red on the trees? Pardon? Did I just say that? Well correction......

...yesterday our Mountain Ash (rowan) tree was absolutely festooned with orange berries, the best it has ever been. At about two o'clock a small flock of blackbirds descended and as I drove out of the yard to drive to Hawes up the dale they were swinging about in the tree and popping orange berries into their beaks as thought there was no tomorrow. When I came back two hours later there was not one single berry left! How come that the wild rowan tree about one hundred yards up the lane is still festooned with berries and will be until the fieldfares come? Is there no justice - and the farmer spends a fortune on bird food for our wild birds.

I have just posted a few shots of Autumn happenings. As far as the plum tree is concerned - it is so laden with fruit that some of the branches are touching the ground. My two freezers are full of raspberries, strawberries, peas, runner beans, broad beans, gooseberries and courgettes out of the garden - so now I must pop into Leyburn and buy the ingredients for plum chutney and sugar for plum jam. Guess what I am going to be doing for the rest of the day?

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Palgrave? Who he?

Yesterday I wrote about my father's poetry book, 'Palgrave'. As several people have asked who he was I thought I would give you a bit more information today.

Francis Palgrave was educated at Balliol and after working in education he eventually became Professor of Poetry at Oxford, from 1885 - 1895. We have to remember that to the masses Education was a relatively new phenomenon - compulsory education, that is.
My father was born in 1888, near enough to the 1870 Education Act to have parents who really valued education - it was seen as a way out of poverty and the work house.
My mother was terrified of the work house mainly because as a child she could remember the horrors of it. At the age of eleven my father won a scholarship to Grammar School but his parents were too poor to allow him to go (he was one of seven children), but there were books in the house, both his parents could read and did read widely and so he grew up surrounded by reading matter.

Palgrave brought out his 'Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics' in 1861. It was well-received by the generation who were thirsty for knowledge and was quite frequently updated and reprinted - Palgrave got valuable information as to what he should include from his close friend Tennyson.

By the time I came along, our house was also full of books. My mother was an avid reader of novels - the one she read over and over again was 'Red Wagon' by Lady Eleanor Smith - I think she almost knew it off by heart. But my father was made of sterner stuff - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, Gilbert White's History of Selborne - but above all Palgrave's Golden Treasury. He had a book shelf and a small table by the side of his armchair by the fire and Palgrave lived, not on the shelf, but on the table - and if it was missing father sould say,'Who's been reading my Palgrave?'

He never lost his interest in poetry throughout his life. He never lost his interest in education and encouraged us (I am one of three) to do our best in everything. I was the first person of my generation in our family to go on to further education and to get a degree. He was very proud of that.

Maybe Palgrave is a bit old hat now but for me it has very treasured memories and it is the first place I look for a poem I want to read.

Monday 23 August 2010

The Old Poetry Bus comes round again.

It doesn't half make mondays come round quickly!! This week, with the celebrations and various social activities, I am late and have had little time to prepare anything. So please don't read this as a definitive poem - just an idea that crossed my mind. At least I have got to the bus stop before it is too late.

My Father's Book.

Palgrave on the breakfast table,
left there from the night before.
The spine cracked and worn away;
the pages tissue-thin and
edged with gold.

The pencilled notes you wrote
against your favourite poems -
The Battle of Blenheim,
Grey's Elegy and
Ode to Autumn -
Keats was ever a favourite.

I can hear your frail voice
reading them aloud
although thirty-eight years have passed
since I heard it.

I put the book away
on the shelf, but keep
your voice in my head.

Sunday 22 August 2010

To the North Pennines.

Our celebratory outing today was, as usual, to The North Pennines. For a time we were going to go through the moors to the North Sea, but in the end we felt there would be less traffic in the Pennines. How right we were - there was little or no traffic for the whole day; even the notorious A66 trans-Pennine route was clear.

We set off into Swaledale, then over the tops through Arkengarthdale and into Teesdale, through the wild and wonderful big scenery of Teesdale and over into Weardale. All of this was lead mining country a couple of centuries ago and the villages reflect that in their huddles of old stone dwellings - and also in their names, which all seem to have a bit of a bleak sound to them. St. John's Chapel, Nenthead, Ireshopeburn, Crowhill, Burnhope, Garrigill.

We stopped for Sunday lunch in Ireshopeburn at the same pub on the banks of the River Wear where we always stop. We paused and had a walk near the little station in Alston, where a tiny steam train chugs across to Haltwhistle. We had a smile because the crossing gates closed and several people stood with cameras poised to photograph the little train crossing - but the gates had closed for a man with a trolley on wheels, who was pushing a load of stone across!

We stood on the banks of the Rivers Swale, Arkle, Tees, Wear and South Tyne - all of them so picturesque. On our return we stopped in Reeth in Swaledale for an ice cream and sat in the square and ate it. The sun shone, the skies were magnificent, a lovely day was had by the three of us (farmer, Tess and me). Enjoy the photographs.

##The two butter crosses that you see are at Barnard Castle (where there is also a street shot of the town) and at Alston, which I believe is about the highest town in England.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Better the day...better the deed,

Seventeen years ago today, at 11am, between morning and evening milking times, the farmer and I were married in our village church. Dominic 'gave me away' (with hindsight he could probably have charged the farmer rather than giving me away for free!) and my eldest grand-daughter, who was then seven years old, was my bridesmaid.

At the time I was President of our local W.I. and the ladies of the W.I. formed a guard of honour of saucepans at the church door. There was wall-to-wall sunshine (and there has been metaphorically ever since).

The tradition in our village is that during the service the village children tie up the churchyard gates. The 'best man' (in this case the farmer's brother) has to throw handfuls of small change over the gate for the children to scramble for before the gate is opened. Once this had been done the farmer and I walked the hundred yards or so to the village hall, where village ladies had prepared a lunch for family members.

Then we went home, changed into more suitable gear, and got on with farming. Such was the life of the farmer seventeen years ago. On the next Saturday evening we held a big 'knees-up' for all our friends, in celebration.

Honeymoon, I hear you ask??? I went alone to Marrakech for a week walking in the High Atlas Mountains, but it was another year before the farmer found a manager who could look after things, so - a year late - we went off to Canada. The first of many visits to our favourite country.

Today the farmer is judging the vegetables, eggs and hay at a local village show, so we are leaving celebrations until tomorrow. On our travels around I will take photographs so that you can join in the celebrations of seventeen happy years together.

Friday 20 August 2010

R I P Edwin Morgan.....

.....who died yesterday at the grand old age of 90.

He had a life-long association with the University of Glasgow, where he finally became professor emeritus and where there is now an Edwin Morgan centre for Creative Writing.

I always think of him as the Scottish Poet Laureate - although maybe he would not have liked to be that anyway. One thing is for sure - I shall treasure my copy of his complete works more than ever now that I know his output of wonderful stuff is stilled for ever.

If you don't know his work (and nobody in my writing group had heard of him when I mentioned him (and I don't suppose he would have minded that either), then please - if you read nothing else read 'Strawberries' - one of the greatest love poems of the twentieth century in my view. And for one of the best nature poems ever written try 'Heron' - where in words and shape and crispness he has captured the heron to perfection.

Rest in peace Edwin Morgan - you have left behind a legacy that will give pleasure to many for as long as books exist.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Good fences make.........

........good neighbours, as Robert Frost so rightly said in 'Mending Wall'.

Whenever there is a slight lull in work on the farm, that is the time for a spot of fence or wall mending - a never ending job as you can imagine. There are so many ways in which fences and/or walls can be damaged. Cattle, sheep, winds, rabbits, water, show, humans to name but a few which spring to mind.

So today, when Tess and I went for our constitutional, I took a few photographs to show aspects of wall and fence mending - either places where repairs are needed of possible things which will damage fences any day now. So just enjoy the pictures and thank goodness that you don't have to do the mending!

Incidentally - I met our neighbouring farmer on the lane (it is his quad bike in the photo and - yes - he was off to mend a fence too). He told me that the barn owlets have flown and that last night he saw the three of them (mother and two babes) hunting the hedgeback at dusk. Wonderful.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

The past is another country....

Who was it who said that before me? Anybody know?

Well it was certainly true of today! A dear friend and I went shopping to a shopping complex called Teesside Park at Stockton on Tees. As I stood in front of a large Marks and Spencer superstore, poised to enter, I thought, "I don't really want to go in here!"

When we got inside we had a quick coffee then parted to do our shopping, arranging to meet three quarters of an hour hence by the escalator. I wandered around, pushing my trolley, looking at all the ladies rifling through the racks of clothes and all the men sitting on chairs looking bored stiff and it was as though my mind was an absolute blank. I had asked to come here to shop for a few winter clothes; now I was here I barely knew what I was doing.

I wandered around and finally bought some slippers, some pyjamas (satin and very slippery, my friend remarked I would jump into one side of the bed and slide out of the other!) and a few jumpers for the cold weather. I was back at the escalator ten minutes before time and was delighted to find my friend there early too. Before long we were out in the fresh air both saying we had really gone off shopping.

In my teaching days my previous husband and I would go into the town on a Saturday morning specifically to shop. We would look at furniture, fittings, clothes, household goods - and buy anything we fancied - comparing prices, wandering back and forth and really enjoying the "Shopping experience."

So what has changed? Well, I am older and less agile. But it is not just that. Maybe it is living out in the countryside as we do, well away from any shops, out in the beautiful scenery and what is more - in the quiet. But there is something else too. As I have got older I find I am less acquisitive - there is little I want and even that I can barely be bothered to shop for.

So - are you a shopaholic? Do you like wandering round shops for the sake of it?
Or do you, like me, just want to have a purchase in mind, go in, buy it, come out and go home? I shall be interested to know.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

An afternoon walk.

Come along, get your walking shoes on, bring a brolly as it is a bit cloudy, and let's step out on our afternoon walk. When the sun is out it is a hot day, but as Summer is gradually drawing to a close there is a lot of heavy cloud about, so often the sun disappears - then we shall have to walk a bit more quickly to keep warm.

A lot of the farmers round here have just finished their second-cut silage - easy to see which fields have been cut as the grass is short and yellow. Let's go up one of those fields, it is much easier to walk in the short grass. We pop into the barn to see if anything is visible at the owl box - no sign of life, although we know there are two owlets in there.

Late Summer flowers abound along the sides of the beck - monkey musk, ragwort, rosebay. But mostly they are already going to seed and all the foliage looks decidedly tired. There are butterflies everywhere - have you noticed how they have all come out in the last week or two?

The lane is quite dry for walking and we don't see a soul on our walk into the village. We stop on the corner to photograph a magnificent rooster with his small flock of hens and a group of white ducks. They eye Tess and me carefully but sit still for the photograph.

We call on M - joy of joys, she is in. This is the fourth time I have called and the first time I have found her at home. Lovely chat for an hour and a half - thanks M,S and E for the welcome break.

We return over the fields. The dairy herd has cleverly found its way back for milking. When we saw them on our way through earlier they were all getting restless and beginning to wander towards the farm. Now they have all reached the farm gate and they stand or lie around waiting to be let in for milking. The farmer will have no need to fetch them in tonight.

Tess and I see not a single rabbit on our walk. Tess smells dozens of the critters and pushes into the hedge bottom all the way - but luckily she is on the long lead and has to keep up whether she likes it or not.

We arrive back home foot-weary but happy after our walk - hope you enjoyed it too.