Friday 31 December 2010

New Year and New Project

Dinner Party tonight, New Year's Eve, so not much time for blogging today. However, time to mention that I am participating in a new project for the month of January - and I am looking forward to it greatly. You will see the little logo on my side bar. If you want more information then go to - the idea is to spend a few minutes a day really observing some small thing and then writing about it. There are some lovely examples on the site.
In the meantime - enjoy yourself on New Year's Eve whatever you plan to do - and go forward into the New Year hoping for Good Health and Happiness.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Fitting our families into history.

When the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, had to have some poplar trees felled he wrote -"after-comers cannot guess the beauty been." As the farmer and I drove past the ancient ruin of Bolton Castle here in Wensleydale - a castle at the height of its powers during the time of Mary Queen of Scots - I thought of that quote and of the fact that the castle still belongs to the Lords Bolton. It is still a magnificent building but what must it have looked like in its heyday?

Then, in one of Santas's most welcome gifts, I read a comment by Owen Sheers to the effect that the shared experiences of the generations ultimately helps us with knowledge of ourselves. And it seemed to me that these were all very good reasons to be interested in Family History.

The Family History bug only seems to bite as one gets older; that certainly appears to be true for my family at any rate. Maybe it is only when we reach - and pass - that point where more of our life lies behind us than in front of us that we feel the urge to establish our place in the giant scheme of things. Does this make sense for you too?

The chap in the photograph above is my maternal grandfather, William Everton, always known as Darkie. He has appeared on here before because he was quite an important influence on my very early life - I simply adored him and the feeling was mutual. Born in 1862 he was seventy when I was born but I remember him so well. He was a tall, stately figure, full of humour and always sucking mint imperials because in retirement he lived with his youngest son and his wife, who were Total Abstainer Methodists and Darkie liked a drink.

He would only have attended school until the age of twelve at the most and then would often have been absent during busy farming times. Reading and writing were always hard work for him and when he finally rose to the position of Station Master on the Railways, my grandmother did most of his book work for him.

The previous generation, Darkie's parents, are of course only names on a family tree to me, but I know a little about them - when and where they were born, how many children they had, how many of those children survived, what jobs they did, when they married - and where (this was often governed by where the woman was in service). There was also some anecdote from my mother over the years before she died.

And isn't this how so much is handed down? It might not be absolutely accurate (apart from the fact that it is a wise child that knows its own father) but it is all part of that rich patchwork of knowledge that leads us to establish just where we fit into things.

This has surely been even more true for the previous generations to ours, when social mobility was so much less. Up to my generation all my family were born and lived their entire lives in Lincolnshire.

The farmer's family originated in Dent, which is twenty five miles away from here, where the churchyard is full of Thistlethwaites. The farmer himself was born in the house where we now live and has never lived anywhere else.

Two years ago our village was contacted by some very distant relations who now lived in Australia - and you can't get further away than that - to see if there were still family in our village. Well here we are - and we are in contact now - and in fact they are reading my blog - so if you read this J, then a happy new year to you all - the family is alive and well here in the Yorkshire Dales as it always has been. And knowing that some of that family now live on the other side of the world has added a new rich strand to their history.

Wednesday 29 December 2010


Even after the computer doctor's visit I am still having some problems with my computer. Again this afternoon it seized up and the only way I could switch it off was to remove the battery and start again. So here I am, early evening, and no blog put on today.

I was intending to write about Family History, so it will now have to wait until tomorrow as I really enjoy the six o'clock news bulletin - it is the only one during the day that I watch and i don't like to miss it.

Here the snow has gone slowly throughout the day and the mist and fog has moved around so that one moment the sky would be blue and the next moment you could barely see in front of you. Maybe it is good that the snow is going slowly; a fast thaw would probably mean flooding in some places because the ground is so thoroughly frozen that the water cannot soak in. The poor wading birds, who rely on pushing their beaks into the soil to search for food, must be having a really hard time.
I was watching a curlew the other day with the farmer and we wondered what would happen if the curlew pushed too hard into the icy soil. Would it break its beak - and if so would it surely die? Not a nice thought.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

"I don't get it"

This is the response of some of my friends to the idea of poetry. I can't imagine life without poetry; so many of life's 'little situations' bring a poetry quote to mind. I think this probably dates back to my childhood days when my father had a quote for almost any situation. He was a great poetry reader and at the slightest excuse would read whole poems aloud. And, as a poetry lover, I am not altogether sure what is not to get.

We all know that if we write poetry ourselves it has to live up to the maxim that 'less is more', otherwise a) it doesn't work and b) what is the point of it? One might as well write prose.

Robert Frost, who wrote so many wise words, talks of poetry as 'the rhythm of dramatic speech on a grid of meter'- and this calls to my mind its affinity with music in the way in which it can move the emotions.

Santa has brought me a lovely little book called, "A Poet's Guide to Britain" in which the compiler, Owen Sheers, has brought together poems about various aspects of the countryside, poems which paint pictures of cities, villages, islands, mountains, forests etc. These poems all have one thing in common - they paint a word picture of a place. Even if that place disappears then the picture remains in perpetuity and we can conjure up our own image.

One of the poets featured in the book is U A Fanthorpe. Do you know her poetry? If not I do urge you to go on the internet and read some of it. I had never heard of her until I was introduced to her work by W at our Poetry Group (thanks W!).

Ursula Askham Fanthorpe did her English degree at Oxford and then taught for a time at Cheltenham Ladies' College before doing secretarial work and finally going freelance. In 1994 she was appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford and so had come full circle, so to speak. Her partner of 44 years, Rosie Bailey and Ursula wrote some poetry together. She died aged 79 in a hospice in Gloucestershire and has left behind her a wonderfull legacy of poetry and some wise words.

Because that is the other thing that poetry does. Because it has to be brief, concise and to the point, a good poet can convey a wealth of meaning in two or three words (the emperor's new clothes springs to mind, or damned with faint praise)

In this lovely little book from Santa there is a poem by Fanthorpe in the Section on Coast and Sea. The poem is called 'Sunderland Point and Ribchester' and tells the story of two graves - one in each of the places - both old graves, and both - she suggests - places for children to visit. Well-worth reading and containing a few lines which really made me think and which say so much in so few words. I leave you today with this little bit of the poem:-

Children are the most authentic
Pilgrims, having farthest to go, and knowing
Least the way.

Monday 27 December 2010

A Little learning.....

well - the celebrations are over for a little while - until New Year's Eve anyway. Yesterday nine family and friends had a pleasant day eating and sitting by the fire. Luckily this year the celebrations were just right for the lady who cleans for me and she came this morning, so everything is all ready for New Year's Eve. The farmer has gone off shooting (well, beating as he doesn't care for killing things) with the synidicate, taking with him turkey and stuffing sandwiches and a flask of coffee and rum. So I have a quiet day to myself.

It is snowing. Heavily. It has been snowing since before we got up this morning and the sky looks heavy with more snow. Depending upon whom you speak to the snow was forecast, or it was meant to precede rain coming in on a warm front from the West, it would turn to rain later, the isobars were getting closer together so we might have wind later in the week. And so it goes on. Which leads me to the Alexander Pope quotation which I start as a title for this piece. Here is the first little bit of it:-

A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers up again.

I have encountered this 'little learning' in my recent illness, where well-meaning friends have 'counselled' me, told me of people they have know with the same condition, discussed possible outcomes - my head has been filled with these little learnings. Now I am going to see a Neurologist - bit more learning there methinks - so I intend to listen to what he has to say.

But over the last twenty years or so, nowhere has this little learning come more into play than with the weather. We see a forecast every few hours on television, where they talk about fronts, jet streams, isobars, blocks of cold air, blocks of warm air. We all become mini-forecasters in our own right.

But I do sometimes wonder whether the farmer, with his lifetime of being outdoors and seeing the signs, is more accurate. If the sky is black over Zebra Hill, which lies North West out of our kitchen window, then sure as eggs are eggs, it is going to rain - and soon. And if he comes in and says he can smell rain on the wind - then it is going to rain. If the sky is red in the morning then that is a shepherd's warning and there is bad weather about. Similarly, if the sky is red at night then it is the shepherd's delight and the weather is settled for a few days to come. I could go on. But sufficient to say that my New Year resolutions will include one along the lines of leaving things to the experts.

On the subject of snow, Paul Simons in The Times (an expert on weather if ever there was one) says today that the reason we are so overcome by cold here is because we do not take precautions early enough. Apparently in Siberia, where temperatures in Yakutsk regularly reach minus 71 he says they take the cold far more seriously than we do and begin to wrap up well when the temperature is 10. Extra layers, thicker gloves and hats, heating 24 hours a day, triple glazing on the windows. Actually, thinking about minus 71 has made me feel considerably warmer and cosier here in North Yorkshire!

Keep warm and cosy as you prepare for the old year to depart and a new one to come in.

Friday 24 December 2010


I am sitting here in my red fleecy dressing-gown like a gender-challenging Mother Christmas. All the shopping is done; the presents are wrapped; the food is in the fridge and at last (and it has not been easy) I have got into the spirit of Christmas and everywhere feels right. The sun has begun its slow creep back up the yard arm and - as I write - is pouring through the staircase window. The snow lingers and here and there crystals glint in the sunlight.

In the paddock by the house the sheep, those hardy Swaledales, would rather scrape at the snow with their feet to find a bit of old grass than lower themselves to eat hay and sheep nuts.

At the bird table this morning there were twenty three cock blackbirds and all were expending their energy fighting over the food rather than cooperating and sharing. One was on the table itself, shovelling up beakfulls of suet and sultanas and not allowing anything else on the table. Nearby in a bush a robin waited for its opportunity. We have five robins and they are all fighting for food too. And further away a blue tit hung about watching for its turn. There is nothing so true as the pecking order. When the woodpecker arrives everything stands back.

The farmer surprised me yesterday with a lovely pre-Christmas present of a new microwave oven. It is a state-of-the-art job with lots of knobs and buttons, so if I suddenly stop blogging it will probably mean that I have pressed the wrong button and gone up into space.

Dominic has just been round to rescue me as my computer suddenly decided to stop working altogether, so thanks for that Dominic. Here's wishing all of you a happy and peaceful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. I will probably find time to blog over the holiday period, but if I don't then I'll see you all next week.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Never too late.

In reply to a query from NanU - it is never too late for the poetry bus. The old bus trundles round cyber space, stopping here and there to pick up and put down passengers, maybe stopping to look at the odd lovely view, or for everyone to hop off and enjoy and mince pie and a mug of hot chocolate. The only time it stops completely is when it has a change of driver - so if you have a poem on last week's theme then feel free - or indeed a poem on anything - there is no one in this world more free and easy that TFE - and he organises the whole thing, so I think I can say foe him - "Anything Goes"!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Are you old fashioned or.....

have you moved with the times? Oh how I hate that expression. Why do we necessarily have to 'move with the times'?

This morning I have spent a couple of hours with an old friend in her late eighties. Tomorrow her son is driving up from London to collect her and take her over to her daughters on the other side of the country, where they will all spend Christmas together. Although she is going away she has still put up twinkling lights in the window and strung her Christmas cards around the room.

Apparently the sales and the sending of cards is falling gently. Three years ago eighty-four percent of people sent Christmas cards, last year it was only seventy-three percent. And Oxfam, always hot on the sale of cards at Christmas, calculates that we will send 141 million less cards this year than we did five years ago. Now one in five people think cards are no longer necessary and thirteen percent of those people send on-line cards instead.

Well here am I standing up to be counted and to say 'humbug' to on line cards and 'double humbug' to no cards at all. The only excuse I can think of to justify an online card is in blogland where mostly we don't know each other's addresses and where we do want to say 'Happy Christmas' - that kind of greeting is very welcome. But otherwise, what is wrong with a good old fashioned card put in an envelope and posted?

Yes - I do realise how expensive it has all become - taking into account the cost of the card and the cost of the stamp then it adds up to quite a tidy sum. But you can start early buying both cards and stamps and certainly in my case - and in my friends too - there is no substitute.

I have received cards from friends I have not seen for well over fifty years. The only time I hear from them is at Christmas. Sometimes one or the other has died during the year - it happened last year and it has happened again this year - and that is sad but at least I know about it. And there is usually a line to say they are well, or what the children or grandchildren are doing, or a little reminder of something we did together in the past.

Watching my old friend this morning pointing to cards and telling me about the people who had sent them, then coming home and fastening up my cards and being reminded of people I worked with long ago, people I lived near long ago - such lovely reminders and such warm feelings of friendship at Christmas.

Long live the Christmas card and the greetings it conveys. Nothing in this world is more important than friendship and the love it brings.

Monday 20 December 2010


Switch on the news tonight and I'll bet you a pound to a penny that the headlines will be about the disruption caused by snowfalls in various parts of the UK. Pick up tomorrow's paper at the newsagents and the same will be true unless some really earth-shattering event takes place overnight. Yes, I am afraid folks that snow here is always headline news and the news broadcasts are full of people putting on a brave face and sleeping on the floor at Gatwick or some such place before jetting off into the sunshine. And then of course there are the complainers - those who say "the government" should be spending much more on snow clearers, snow sweepers, grit, rock salt, etc., etc.
The truth is that sitting as we do in a direct line of the jet stream and surrounded by water which has warmed up to a degree over the Summer, we are never going to be sure certain of a mild winter or a harsh winter.
When I was small all winters seemed harsh - I doubt that they were but I remember them as such. I remember the inside of my bedroom window being patterned with frost. The two photographs above show our shed door this morning - isn't it pretty?
We didn't have water laid to our house in the village where I grew up, so my jug on the wash stand was filled with water at night. Sometimes, if it was very cold, the water would be frozen - in which case I would wash in the water from my stone hot water bottle, which had been down the bottom of my bed all night and stayed luke warm.
Hardly anyone had a car in our village apart from the doctor, the vicar and our next ddoor neighbour. Everyone used Gelsthorpe's bus to get into Lincoln, our nearest town. If there was snow, Johnny Gelsthorpe would have a few shovels on board and the men on the bus would dig their way out.
Now we seem to expect it all "on a plate." If our government were to spend millions on various machinery for shifting snow you can bet that the next ten winters would be super-mild and the machinery would become obsolete before it became used.
No folks, afraid we have to bite the bullet and make a huge effort to stop this fall of snow becoming the main topic of conversation. Here we have had all of one inch and yet people are still treating it as a catastrophe. The reindeer photograph above was taken on mid-summer's day at the North Cape - way above the Arctic Circle, where they get about a month each year without snow. I wonder if their main topic of conversation during that month is the weather.

POETRY BUS Thank you so much to everyone who responded to this week's poetry bus challenge - there has been a marvellous response and Dominic has kindly made a link list for me. Sad to say that my computer is on go slow and every operation is taking such a long time. The computer doctor is coming in the morning, so later tomorrow I shall publish the link list and also go round and read them all. You are all stars in your own right (write?) so take a gold star each from me.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Peter Goulding
The Bug
Rachel Fox
Dick Jones
Revolutionary Revelry
Poet in Residence
Some Things I Think About
Poetikat's Invisible Keepsakes
120 socks
Ragged Old Blogger
Enchanted Oak
Pics and Poems
A Circle is Cast...
Poetry Matters
...made out of words
Keeping Secrets

Thank you to Dominic for doing these links for the Poetry Bus. Thank you also to all those who participated. If your name is not on this list I do apologise but my computer has been on a go-slow-strike. The doctor has been this morning and as I type my computer has a lot of pzazz. Long may it last. I am now going to begin the trip round blog land reading all those entries. Keep warm - still minus ten here.

Friday 17 December 2010

The North Wind doth Blow.

and we shall have snow. Well that's as may be but so far we just have bitter cold and a lot of ice about. At mid day it was minus five outside our back door and even Tess - the most outdoor of dogs = is reluctant to go out.

I had such a pile of woollens needing washing that I did a machine full this morning. They were pegged out on the outside line and blew merrily in the breeze. When the farmer fetched them in for me he took the pegs out and the garments remained happily on the line - frozen there.

We have a permanent rat trap set under our hen house because the rats tend to go there in Winter. This morning the farmer had caught a stoat in the trap. It was dead of course and part of me felt quite sad but the farmer assured me it had been under the hen house for one purpose only - to attack the hens. So, I have hardened my heart. At least he died quickly and cleanly rather than starve to death in this cold weather, which much of our wildlife will undoubtedly do.

I envy Tess her thick coat of coarse hair. The farmer and I were talking about this at lunch time and speculating how our ancient ancestors kept warm - I think maybe we have got soft over the generations.

Well, the poetry bus has its first passenger - well done Peter for being on the bus first - I hope you have a thick travelling rug to keep you warm until Monday. If you want to read Peter's poem go to

I am just off over there to have a read myself. Sorry I can't do links but on Monday I will publish a full list as you let me know. Keep warm

###Have just managed to get Peter Goulding on to my blog list - so to read his excellent poem you can click on the stammering poet and scroll down one and you'll get to it.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Get the bad weather tyres on the POETRY BUS

We went past Lady Hill in Wensleydale again today on our way to meet friends for lunch in Hawes (more about that tomorrow) and my goodness me, what a difference a day makes. Now there is a covering of snow all around as we drive through. More snow is forecast and the roads are very dangerous.

But, nothing ventured, nothing gained, the Poetry Bus must drive on Monday come what may. I am the driver this week. Now, as most of you know by now my recent illness has meant that I can no longer drive. Still I shall metaphorically drive the old bus round England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and across the Atlantic - rather like Santa Claus's sleigh the bus can be in many places at once. So here is this week's subject. It is just one word: STAR

Here are just a few suggestions: a star can be a twinkling celestial body; a sphere of gaseous material held together entirely by its own gravitational field; a planet; a comet; a meteor; a gold star on a good piece of work; any five pointed figure; THE Christmas star; Haley's comet; the star on the nose of a horse; Marilyn Monroe type star; the star in a school nativity play; an asterisk. Any of these or any other interpretation you wish to put on it.

All I ask is that if you grab a seat on the bus and post a poem, please let me know. I am useless at links but I will publish a list of all those who participate.
There are a lot of stars out there - so let them shine on Monday please.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Closing in again.

After two or three days when the temperature has been above freezing and the snow has almost all gone, apart from in the shelter of walls and in the deep gullies, more snow is forecast. Arctic winds are set to sweep down from the North, gathering moisture as they come over the sea and dropping it as snow in the North of the UK, gradually coming down until it covers the whole country.

We have plenty of oil for our central heating and the Aga, we have plenty of logs for our wood-burning stove and the freezer is well-stocked, so we have little to worry about.

Not so the wild life. Do they know severe weather is on the way again? We shall never know but the farmer often forecasts the weather from the behaviour of the sheep and various old country lores suggest the animals and birds have more sense than we credit them with.

Last week in the severe weather they suffered. A neighbouring farmer found a barn owl dead in his barn, dead and almost skeletal, suggesting it had starved to death - such a tragedy as barn owls have just begun to recover around here. Our resident little owl survived mainly because of a road-kill rabbit near to where it lives in a hollow tree and many of the wild birds survived because we feed them every day.

This morning there was a dead sheep in the pasture, dead and - again - skeletal. Each day the farmer puts out silage, hay and sheep nuts - but not all the sheep will eat this - they prefer grass, and short of stuffing the hay into its mouth than what can we do to help a sheep survive?

Our resident rabbits have made their warrens in the hedge bottoms. They know a thing or two; the hedge bottom is usually the last place to get deep snow and if the warren is built on the "sunny side" then any watery sun that comes out will warm their warren a little.

Today the sky has taken on a cold look, almost navy blue in places, and the sun has never really mamaged to shine. All our old hawthorn trees, gnarled with age, have been stripped bare of their berries; most of the berries have gone from the cotoneaster and the pyracantha and the remaining crab apples are going bad on the trees.

So we have another wild life crisis looming for tomorrow and we must put out all we can in order to keep as many animals and birds alive as we can. Last week we bought a bag of dried meal worms - they are disappearing like magic!

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The serious side of this weather.

The farmer has been with me to Tesco again this morning - now that I am not allowed to drive he is marvellous at coming along with me - and I do sincerely thank him for that.

According to the weather forecast we are in for another blast of Arctic weather beginning on Thursday and probably lasting until after Christmas. Yesterday I went with my daughter-in-law to our local nurseries. I have a tradition at Christmas that we fill the house with plants and flowers - cyclamen, hyacinths in bloom, poinsettias and daffodils. The first three I usually buy at our local nurseries.
Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera, because the sight which greeted us at the nurseries was a wonder to behold. Thousands (and I mean thousands) of poinsettias in full bloom and in all colours from very deep red through to cream and even some which were red flecked with cream. I bought a large deep pink one and then moved on to the hundreds of cyclamen.
I dithered over which colours to buy until I realised that they were so very cheap - only £1.60 each plant - so I had one of each colour. Hyacinth bulbs now sit on the freezer in the utility room and in addition this morning I put a lovely holly wreath on my previous husband's grave in our local churchyard. These customs are all part of our Christmas and I can mentally tick them off when I have done them.
But really, because of this very bad weather things are getting very serious here (and probably account for the low price of the cyclamen too). The snow has been so bad that people have not been shopping.
Our little local town had a late night opening last week with wine tastings, food tastings, Christmas carols, the local brass band, all the shops open for Christmas shopping. Unfortunately there was deep snow and nobody turned up. They have rescheduled it for this Thursday evening, and again bad weather is forecast. ^This lack of custom for our small shops, which struggle anyway, can mean the difference between making it through the winter and going under.
What happens of course is that shoppers go where they can get everything under one roof, protected from the weather - in our case the local Tesco. I am as guilty as the next in doing this, particularly now that I no longer drive. But in our little town we have two grocers, several butchers, several bakers, two electrical shops, several shops selling fancy goods, two dress shops and countless bistros/cafes. I can't imagine that they are all going to survive this winter and if they don't it will be a sad day for our area.

I have taken a few photographs of the plants I bought - not the same as seeing them en masse but better than nothing. Enjoy.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Genuine enjoyment

Often when we have been in the States we have been taken to "homespun" events where locals have been enjoying a get together. We have always felt that these events have been put on for our benefit.
But today the farmer and I were invited to a genuine homespun Christmas dinner, where everyone was a genuine Dalesman (well, almost - after all I am one by marriage).
The lunch was superb and I did mean to take a photograph of it before I started eating, but I forget, so here is the menu:-

Roast turkey with sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, apple sauce, cranberry sauce,roast potatoes, creamed potatoes, glazed carrots, braised red cabbage, brussels sprouts, gravy: Christmas pudding wit btandy sauce: Mince pies: Chocolates and coffee: All washed down with a nice, spicy punch.

There were about a hundred of us - crackers were being pulled, fancy hats worn, jokes being exchanged (Christmas cracker jokes are about the worst on record) and a lovely time was had by all.

Next door the sweet shop had a window full of pretty Christmas sweets so I took a photograph of that to show you too.

At this time of year the sun is so low in the sky that much of the Dales never sees the sunlight. However, on our way back, the sun was just catching Lady Hill and illuminating the few pine trees on it, so I thought you would like to see those too.

Now I am off to lie on the settee by the wood burner and sleep off my dinner!

Friday 10 December 2010

Hot soup and aching joints.

Drawing back the bedroom curtains this morning it was a joy to see that the field opposite has green and white stripes - what is the green? - I do believe it is grass. We have almost forgotten what it looks like.

Isn't it odd - we love the snow when it first comes; when, like in my header, it cloaks the trees in a frosted beauty and everywhere is pristine white. But then it begins to get dirty and 'used'- looking and we want it to go away. In our little market town the powers that be have decreed that the roads are cleared of snow and the snow piled into a huge alp on the cobbles. Over the days it gets decorated with empty beer cans, bits of this and that and dirty splashes from passing cars. When the snow finally goes, the alp lasts about another fortnight!

Another mystery is why - when the temperature on the thermometer is a good ten degrees higher than it was yesterday - does it feel colder this morning? It is sunny and there is a West wind blowing, whereas before the air was still. So maybe it is a combination of that and a dampness in the air, which there has not been for some days.

My immediate answer to cold is SOUP. I make it nearly every day in cold weather and it makes me feel warmer even before I start eating (drinking?) it. Yesterday's was parsnip and apple with a garnish of snipped dry-cure bacon and jolly good it was too.

Yesterday both the farmer and I paid our monthly visit to our physiotherapist. This morning coming down the staircase is not painless - but then, as they say, no gain without pain.

If you really want to get into the Christmas spirit I recommend that you look down my bloglist and find FLAMBLOGGER, go to her blog and click on the film clip. I watched it yesterday and was absolutely blown away. I have to say that I cried from beginning to end but my physio said it probably did me a power of good after my recent illness. I found it so wonderful. If you do get the chance and watch it, please let me know what you think to it.

Have a nice, warm day.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Tiny streams to mighty rivers grow.

Can you sit in a chair, look into space and think of nothing? If you have never tried it, then try it now, so that you can report back to me.
When I was a little girl (and that wasn't yesterday, or the day before) I would often call out to my father, after I had gone to bed, to say that I couldn't get off to sleep. He would call upstairs and say I should try thinking of nothing. I never could. Within the space of a couple of minutes, something would creep into the corner of my brain.

William James, the American philosopher (and brother of Henry James the author), conjured up the perfect image for this - calling it the 'stream of consciousness' My goodness, they had a real stream to river to sea stream of consciousness going there in that family, didn't they? Dad a philosopher, two sons - one an author and another a philosopher - what a lot of thinking must have gone on in that household! And, of course, the author we all think of when we hear the phrase 'stream of consciousness' is Virginia Woolf, who used it to perfection in her novels.

This morning our paper delivery van has got stuck in a snowdrift and the papers are late. Thus it was that I read dear old Ronald Blythe over my porridge and banana and thus it was that my stream of consciousness began to trickle, then run faster on - well - stream of consciousness.

A very dear friend (yes, M I do mean you) suggested to me at the week-end that my seizure was probably due to my very over-active mind, which seems always to dwell on complicated thoughts. Well, I am not sure how to avoid such thinking - and I am not sure I would wish to, even if there were a way to do so.

James also spoke of this stream being irregular - rather like a bird's life with its flights and perchings. I have always thought of it like a butterfly, which I suppose is a similar idea. All I know for sure is that unless one has a notebook and pen with one constantly, many "brilliant ideas" disappear down the plug hole of life. And even with a notebook the stream often gets dammed up, or dried up. How does one make sense of one's scribblings about some brilliant idea a month after one has written it down - particularly if you've scribbled it down in the dark, in the middle of the night, or going along in the car!

Oh yes, the mind is a wonderful thing; in some people those tiny streams of thought grow and grow into huge ideas, brilliant paintings, amazing pieces of music, glorious novels. But just think how many equally incredible ideas have gone down the drain and disappeared for ever into the wide sargasso sea.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

A Lovely Afternoon.

Simple pleasures can be so enjoyable. This afternoon seven of us met at the farm for our monthly Poetry afternoon. It has been a lovely sunny still day here but the cold has been intense.

J was expecting to be without electricity intermittently all day, so was pleased to come out; W kindly fetched J and brought her, plus two other friends, round here.
At about ten minutes to two D rang up to say that she was so disappointed as her lift, I, was stuck in a snow drift and her windscreen wipers had frozen on! After another ten minutes she rang again - "Yippee! I has been pulled out of her snowdrift by a passing farmer and we are on our way!!!" So after a lot of small crises we all managed to arrive.

I had spent the morning baking mince pies and fruit biscuits for a special Christmas celebration. Yesterday I bought some star fairy lights and this morning the farmer put them up around the stove in the sitting room. I wanted them up for today - I wanted it to be a celebration - after all, I am still here aren't I, and I could so easily not have been after my sudden illness a couple of weeks ago - so lets light the fairy lights early, I say!

We had such lovely poetry as everyone had trawled through for Christmas themes and wintry themes: T'was the night before Christmas; When Icicles hang by the wall; The Journey of the Maji; we heard Betjeman, Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost, and then we ended up with some real old favourites which reminded us all of our parents who all seemed to have learned poems off by heart at school. We had the green eye of the little yellow god - which my father could recite by heart (and often did - he needed nmo encouragement!).

We finished off with a cup of tea, a hot mince pie and a fruity biscuit - and everyone went off home just as it was getting dark. The farmer saw them all off the farm and made sure they got away safely.

Tonight it is destined to fall to minus twelve before rising just above freezing for a while tomorrow and for several days to come.

I think we all parted feeling better for such a lovely enjoyable afternoon, lovely company, lots of laughs, and for once pretty decent mince pies (although I say it myself).

Tuesday 7 December 2010

By their gaffes shall ye know them.

Poor James Naughtie. For those who live outside the UK and have not heard - he fronts a radio programme early in the day and yesterday when speaking about Jeremy Hunt, the Culture secretary, he accidentally mispronounced the surname and came out witha four letter word (which I will leave to your imagination)instead of Hunt. Of course, he is all over the papers this morning - a front page photograph in the Times. How people do like to dwell on our misfortunes. Poor Mr Naughtie - whatever he does in the future it is this gaffe for which he will be remembered.

This morning, walking around Tesco with the farmer (yes, I know, I hate going with him but now I can no longer drive I have little option and, I must say, he is very good about it and assures me he doesn;t mind), we met a friend of mine. We haven't seen each other for a while and it was lovely to have a chat. I introduced the farmer and they agreed that they had met once before. She is a delightful lady, so accomplished, friendly, charming. After we moved on I asked the farmer if he remembered her. "Oh yes," he said, "she's the one who spilt the curry on the carpet!" (Some years ago a group of us went for a meal and she served up the most delightful authentic curry with all the trimmings. Just as she brought it to the table she tripped and threw the whole lot over her lovely cream wool carpet.) So rather like King Alfred, remembered for burning the cakes, M is remembered for throwing curry over the carpet.

This afternoon I was relating this to a friend who had called. He laughed and told me a story about his wedding day almost forty years ago. Whenever the wedding is mentioned the same story is mentioned - never about the bride, or the groom, or the ceremony, or the dress - oh no - the highlight of B's wedding was that his mother set fire to her hat. On her way to see her son married and in a bit of a nervous
state she decided to have a cigarette (well, you did in those days, didn't you).
Unfortunately while smoking the cigarette she set fire to the front of her blue feathered wedding hat and burnt a hole through it. B's Auntie Mary, seeing her distress, snipped a pink rose bud off a bush in a garden they happened to be passing and quickly pinned it in the hole. The hat was admired by all and became the talking point of the wedding!

So it does seem that we do not have a lot of control over what people remember about us. Apparently the kind of mistake Naughtie made is often called "corpsing" - this is something which actors on the stage do - they make a mistake, or a Spoonerism, to an actor who is supposed to be dead on the stage - the idea being that they are trying to make the corpse laugh. This is not to suggest that James Naughtie did it on purpose - it was obviously a slip of the tongue and I am sure he is very embarrassed about it. Forget about it Mr Naughtie - everyone else will - until that is, somebody mentions your name - then it'll all come flooding back.

To those of you who have asked about my health over the last week this is just to say thank you for being concerned. I am recovered and carrying on with life - there is nothing else I can do. I feel almost back to normal and am getting used to a large cocktail of drugs every day. As for not driving - that is not the end of the world - no-one in their right mind would wish to be on the road on this grey, wintry day. Keep warm.

Sunday 5 December 2010


I often wonder which of our senses is the most important. Also - which of our senses has the most power to recreate the past? I know that I never smell Dettol without being transported back to the delivery room of the maternity hospital; also various pieces of music transport me back to occasions in the past. Perhaps the answer to these questions is that it is an individual thing. To some of us a sense of smell is the most significant, to others taste, or hearing, or touch. And, of course, it goes with out saying that if we lose - or partially lose - one of our senses then the others become more pronounced.

Yesterday, reading the cookery page in one of the Saturday magazines, there was a photograph of a Carraway seed cake. That photograph immediately invoked the smell of carraway seeds, the taste of Sunday school anniversary tea, I think every single sense was involved in one way or another.

Our Sunday school anniversary occurred in early June in the village where I lived as a child - a village in the Lincolnshire Fens. For weeks before hand each one of us children learned a poem off by heart so that on Anniversary Sunday we could stand up and recite our poem to a packed congregation in the chapel. But on the Saturday before that Sunday we had the Anniversary party - we rode round the village in a big cart pulled by a couple of cart horses and we sang our anniversary songs. And while we were doing this our Mums got the anniversary tea ready. The tea was always the same every year:- white bread and potted beef sandwiches, Lincolnshire plum bread, fairy cakes and carraway seed cake. I can taste that carraway seed cake still, although I don't think I have had a slice in the last fifty years.

Yesterday morning we went into The Golden Lion - our favourite pub - for our morning coffee. There was a blazing fire, the Christmas tree was lit and there was a smell of baking mince pies. Even blindfolded I would have know it was coming up to Christmas from the lovely smell!

And while we are on the subject of food - there was a queue down the road from our local pet shop yesterday - everyone was buying food for the wild birds. We have doubled the amount we are putting out - suet, sultanas, oats, sunflower hearts, niger seed, peanuts, mixed bird seed, fat balls, kitchen scraps - and it is disappearing like magic.

Just up the lane our local little owl spends most of the day sitting on a post at the side of the lane, close to where there is (or rather was) a road-kill rabbit. For the past few days he seems to have dined well on that. I did try to persuade the farmer to shoot a couple of rabbits and bring them up and put them by the owl's gate post so that he had an instant larder, but am not sure about the ethics of that really. Should the life of a little owl be more important than the life of a rabbit?

Keep warm in this bitter weather - eat well - sit by the fire - and if there is anything cooking enjoy the smell.

Friday 3 December 2010

There is beauty....

This photograph should have gone on my blog yesterday - but somehow I never caught up all day. I took this out of my front door at seven o'clock yesterday morning and the temperature was minus nine. It shows the crescent moon and the morning star and if I had taken it one second later it would have shown two rooks making their way up the dale. I suppose that is the story of every bird-photographer's life! Hope to see you later on today - this is a very early post.

Thursday 2 December 2010

What to do on a cold winter;s night!

There has been a little lightening of the sky today and for about three hours around mid-day the sun came out and a slight thaw set in. The farmer and I took the opportunity to go down to our feed merchants in the little town of Masham, about ten miles away; we went mainly for feed for the wild birds - we have fed them all summer and must keep feeding now that the winter has set in early. The pictures show the road to Masham and also the very pretty East Witton church, which we pass.

As readers of this blog will know only too well (I do keep going on about our holiday destinations) the farmer and I spend a lot of winter evenings looking at photographs of past holidays abroad, poring over maps and brochures and deciding where to go next, booking our next holiday and then reading up about the place. This process starts around now, with the long, cold nights.

This year, of course, everything has changed after my recent collapse. No longer is there any possibility of getting insurance cover for the trip we intended to make through the Rockies by train and then up the coast of Alaska. From now on we are stuck well and truly in The British Isles.

Of course we are a little bit sad, but we knew it would come eventually and speculated each year that it might be our last long haul holiday. So now a different kind of planning is taking place. Where shall we go in the British Isles, how shall we get there, where shall we stay, how shall we plan our itinerary?
The questions go on - and as the farmer quite rightly says, we can plan a holiday where we can stop off exactly where the mood takes us. I have already got out the map, marked possible areas for touring, put out a few feelers. The other thing I have done is got out my favourite book. I quote you a passage here:-

"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years describe me as mature the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty eight
perhaps senility will do the job.
Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts on a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on a pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth
the vacant eye. Once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable."

I quote of course from "Travels with Charley" by that wonderful author, John Steinbeck.

So this is what we plan to do. We plan to set off some time in late April, early May and follow our noses, staying in nice little bed and breakfast pubs, or nice country hotels, looking at villages, at churches, at gardens, chatting to the locals, walking along the beach, dipping our toes in the water and all the time reminding ourselves that there are so many places we have not seen near to home.

Where would you fancy doing this in the British Isles - or if you live in another country, in the country where you are. And how would you go about planning it - or would you indeed plan anything or go where the mood took you? I am a fanatical planner and list maker - perhaps it would be time to leave the lists at home. What do you think?

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Thirty centimetres and falling.

It has snowed since dawn and up here in North Yorkshire the world is more or less at a standstill. The farmer has done the essential work of feeding the animals and has now come inside to sit by the stove and do a jig-saw. Each time there is a burst of strong wind the snow blows into drifts several feet high.

We are warm and comfortable and well-fed - we can ask for no more. Compared with many people and many places in the world we have 'never had it so good', or so they say. "They" - usually the Lord Young's of this world, who themselves are not short of a bob or two - seem intent upon telling us all how lucky we all are. One thing is for sure - I would not wish to be a young person starting out on my career today.

Students are leaving University with a huge debt round their necks before they even begin saving for real life. And those who didn't go to University but went straight into work have fared no better.

I have an instance of this at present when a close relative, a lovely hard-working lad who has never had a day out of work since he left school, who has studied for a career and become well-qualified in his field, has suddenly decided that he and his partner would like to set up home together.

When I was at this stage we saved up £400 and spent the lot on an old building, trusting to get a grant to convert it into a cottage. Everything went according to plan and we started life together with our baby son in a cottage in the country which we rapidly paid for, giving us a foot firmly on the housing ladder. And we never looked back, as they say.

But now you can't do that. However hard you have saved it is virtually impossible for ordinary working people to save up enough for a deposit for a house - mortgage lenders demand so much more as a start these days. So my young relatives are having to rent a house and it needs to be up here - in a tourist area - to be near their work. The rent is going to be over £500 per month - upon which they have to add their utility bills before they even begin to save. For them the future looks bleak.

And then Ann Widdecombe, not content with her "dancing" routine each Saturday night (if you are a US reader, lucky you to not have to endure her display in order to see other, well-rehearsed characters) reverts to being a politician and complains that employers are to be asked to provide places for mothers to feed their babies at work. She speaks of young women who have decided "on their responsibility, presumably, to have a child." She seems to me to speak with contempt about young women who, these days, are trying to keep a home, bring up children, and create a life for themselves. I am sure a lot of those young women she speaks of so scathingly would willingly stay at home and bring up their children, providing they had enough money coming into the household to pay the bills.

All this becomes all the more in the headlines in a week when the snow is so bad and the cold so intense (mninus twenty something in Scotland tonight) that household bills for heating are set to go through the roof.

Keep warm. I took the picture above out of the front door just a minute ago - it is still snowing.