Monday 28 February 2011

Is feminism still an issue?

We have come a long way since the days of Germaine Greer and Susie Orbach - or have we? I am sure in some areas there have been great strides forward in the equality of the sexes (in the Western world) but there have also been some stumbling blocks, which no doubt will take generations to overcome.

Yesterday I read an article by Anne Robinson's daughter saying that her mother was absolutely obsessed with her body and had every kind of beauty treatment going. I must say that I had watched her on the new book programme earlier in the week and noticed that her face was so stiff with Botox that she had a job to smile. Of course this is her choice and she should be free to make it, but I do think that this kind of thing also sets the feminist issue back a bit.

But - here to some extent I hang my head in shame - there is nothing makes a girl feel so good as a hair do. A restyle or just a cut and blow dry and I feel a new woman. Today I have been down to Ripon (twenty five miles away) thanks to the generosity of my daughter-in-law (thanks K) as I can no longer drive, to get my hair well cut (by a man!). Do men feel this good after a hair cut I ask? Is the fact that I like a good cut going down the wrong road in the cause of feminism? I would be interested to hear your views.

And while we are on the subject of Ripon - it is a lovely old city if you are ever in the vicinity. It has a beautiful cathedral, parts of which are twelfth century and some lovely old buildings. It also has a hornblower, who since medieval times has come out into the market square at 9 o'clock to blow the horn - he is called The Wakeman. Crossing the market place on my way to the hairdressers this morning I took a photograph of the town hall for you to see.

I don't think there has ever been a female hornblower. If there had been then I could have tied these two diverse subjects up nicely. As it is, put it down to my butterfly mind again.

Sunday 27 February 2011

A nice surprise.

We bloggers are a strange commmunity. Through cyberland we can become quite close as we gradually build up friendships with our chosen group of like-minded people; we don't really know each other at all apart from what we choose to put on our blogs or in the comments columns - and others have no proof that what we write is true anyway.

But as we wander through Blogland somehow some people become friends and others fall by the wayside; we recognise kindred spirits and a real sense of connection builds up. For example, meeting Elizabeth in New York a couple of years ago was one of the highlights of that holiday.

Since then I have met one or two 'local' bloggers and we have found that we have a lot in common. So it was a pleasant surprise this morning to get a call from Denise (Mrs Nesbitt's space) to say that she and her husband were about a mile down the lane and heading our way. Over a coffee we all found that we had indeed got a lot in common and could have talked all afternoon.

So thank you Denise for taking the trouble to call in. I hope it will be the first of many such visits - for friendship is what makes the world go round.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Further news about our 5000 year old axe head.

Regular readers of my blog may remember that some time ago I showed a photograph of this axe head which my father in law dug up in one of our fields in the 1980's. I can tell you that just to hold it, feel its smoothness and marvel at the workmanship is exciting in itself. I also like to think that probably my father in law's was the first hand to touch it since it was dropped all that time ago.

Over the past few weeks there has been a really good programme on television called The History of Ancient Britain and this week's episode centred around the Langdale Pikes in The Lake District and was about the Neolithic axe factory which had been found there. We had already been told by archaeologists that our axe was probably from that area so we watched the programme with interest.

Afterwards I sent an e mail to the archaeologist from York University, Mark Edmonds, who had appeared on the programme. I also sent him a photograph of the axe head. He replied almost immediately, which was very good of him. I thought you would be interested to hear about the additional information we now have.

Apparently he feels that the original axe head would have been considerably bigger than this one; he felt it had a long history of use and had been regularly resharpened and repaired. He said people were often keen to hang on to a good axe. This makes sense doesn't it, as we are still like that today.

He goes on to say, and I quote" Most blades in most areas show signs of use but there are also examples that would have been impractical for many tasks which suggests that such axes possessed importance as tokens of identity. Their exchange would be an important way of making and maintaining ties between people who lived in scattered groups. Some may well have been precious and there are hints that they had an almost mystical quality and were even thrown into rivers, probably as sacrifices to the gods."

It is good to hear this from an authority on the subject and it does go to show the absolutely marvellous efficacy of the computer that within twenty four hours of the programme I could get in touch with the expert, e mail him a photograph and get such a comprehensive reply. And how great to be in contact with such an enthusiast who, although he is working in Orkney at present, was willing to send me all this information.

Friday 25 February 2011

Sad and mad poets.

Putting a little footnote on poetry on my blog yesterday made me look up the histories of various poets. It really was most interesting.
The poet I mentioned was William Cowper who lived from 1731 to 1800 and who seems to be largely forgotten today.

Cowper came from quite a privileged background; his father was a vicar. He was educated at private school and then at Westminster but his school days appear to have been very unhappy. He was called to the Bar but suffered a severe mental breakdown. From then on his life seems to have been peppered with mental instability and depression.

John Clare was more or less a contemporary (1793-1864) and although he came from a very poor background, there were similarities in that his mental instability was so strong that he finally ended up permanently in what was then called an asylum, although within that environment apparently he had a lot of freedom.

The trouble was that by this time the fashion for rural/ploughman poets was dying out and the era of the romantic poet was being ushered in. Yet this time is also the time of Wordsworth (1770 - 1850) and Wordsworth was known to be a great admirer of the work of both Clare and Cowper. (Isn't words-worth a great name for a poet by the way?)

Reading up on the lives of these men does make me wonder - does a great poet need to be subject to mood swings and depressions and to be inward-looking? What do you think? I tried to think of a dead poet who did not fit into this category. Certainly Ted Hughes, and both Dyland and RS Thomas certainly fit the mould. Maybe TS Eliot is the exception - he always seems to be a cerebral poet to me. But then one wonders to what extent biographers try to 'dig the dirt' to make a poet fit the bill. What would our biographers make of us, I wonder? I suppose we all have some skeletons in our cupboards.

Anyway - I hope I am not breaking copyright when I write for you this lovely little Cowper poem which started off my rant. It comes from The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer and Illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund (pub: Collins)

The Nightingale and the Glowworm.

A nightingale that all day long
Had cheer'd the village with his song,
Nor yet at eve his note suspended,
Nor yet when eventide was ended,
Began to feel, as well he might,
The keen demands of appetite;
When looking eagerly around,
He spied far off, upon the ground,
A something shining in the dark,
And knew the glowworm by his spark;
So, stooping down from hawthorn top,
He thought to put him to his crop.
The worm, aware of his intent,
Harangued him thus, right eloquent
"Did you admire my lamp?" quoth he,
"As much as I your minstrelsy,
You would abhor to do me wrong,
As much as I to spoil your song:
For 'twas the self-same Power Divine
Taught you to sing and me to shine;
That you with music, I with light,
Might beautify and cheer the night."
The songster heard this short oration,
And warbling out his approbation,
Released him, as my story tells,
And found a supper somewhere else.

###There have been a number of gas leaks down our lane this winter and the sides have been dug up time and time again. I feared for a little secret patch of purple crocus growing in the hedge bottom, thinking they may well have suffered. Today Tess and I found them, flowering merrily and even spreading. The snowdrops may well be beginning to lose their lustre but the hardy crocus is taking its place and gives me great joy.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Fruits of our labours.

Being brought up during the Second World War meant that oranges and bananas were virtually non-existent - a distant memory. The convoys which regularly braved the terrors of the German submarines had far more important cargoes of food to bring in.

After the war these fruits began to appear again and I remember eating tangerines, clementines, bananas, coconut and maybe even the occasional pineapple. And of course we could always buy them in tins.

We had fruit in our garden always - damsons, apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, plums, gooseberries, red and black currants - but we did not have a freezer so when the crop was finished it was made into jam or into bottled fruit and that was always a bit of a nightmare with the old Kilner jars and getting them to seal properly.

This week I just happened to notice the variety of fruits on offer in my local supermarket. I am not speaking here of the big Tesco store but my small supermarket in our little market town. There were coconuts, pineapple, fresh dates, kumquats, lemons, limes, four kinds of oranges, six types of apple, two kinds of pear, two kinds of plum, peaches, bananas, black and green grapes, red currants, raspberries, strawberries, blue berries, blackberries - all of them imported, and I have to say that most of them pretty tasteless at this time of the year. Then, of course, there was forced rhubarb from our Yorkshire triangle. Children are now growing up with this huge variety of fruit to choose from; growing up familiar with all these fruits.

But what has happened to the good old English apple? Where are James Grieve, Laxton Superb, Beauty of Bath, Beauty of Kent, Cox's Orange pippin and the like?
Don't compare the Cox's in the shops with the good old English variety. Why does no apple really taste of apple when you sink your teeth into it?

I talked to the greengrocer on our market stall about this and he says that most of the fruit in our supermarkets is put into cold storage until it is needed and is then brought out. Once it hits normal shop temperatures it begins to wilt and the taste is largely destroyed.

My Uncle Albert used to store his Bramley and James Grieve apples on the attic floor in wooden crates. As you went up the attic stairs the smell of Summer greeted you - I can smell it still if I close my eyes.

Maybe in apple-growing areas like the Vale of Evesham you can still get the old-fashioned varieties in the shops at the right time of the year. If so, then I wish, come next October, then would send a few boxes up here.

##Various people asked what poems I read yesterday at our Poetry afternoon. I chose to read Poetry for children - and I was pleased I had done so as one member of our group had brought her teenage grand-daughter. This is the list of what I read:-

Ogden Nash - The Tale of Custard the Dragon.
TS Eliot - the AD-dressing of Cats.
William Cowper - The Nightingale and the Gloworm.

Cowper is a poet who has been largely forgotten. He had such a sad life - as did John Clare. I might do a post on both of them tomorrow if nothing more exciting comes up.

Speaking of excitement - the farmer saw a pure white stoat running along the wall yesterday - he couldn't wait to tell me when I returned.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Still plenty of work to do.

Since Saturday, when we had snow, the temperature has risen and is eleven degrees Celsius this morning. For the first time for quite a few days the sun is shining, albeit hazily. On the lane the first few flowers are out on the gorse bush and that is often a sign that Winter is saying good-bye (according to the farmer's folklore). Tess and I walked down the lane to look at the gorse, to see if it was out. We met a lady on a very frisky horse. The horse was dancing all over the lane and she seemed to have little or no control over it, so Tess and I retreated into a field until she had gone out of sight. At one point I saw she was leaning forward and presumably giving it a good talking-to in its left ear. I am scared of horses at the best of times and this one was quite a big chap.

Although the Winter is drawing to a close, cattle still have the prospect of another two months inside. The grass has to begin to grow and the fields have to dry out so that they are not all churned up when the cattle are let out (they go mad with delight the first time they are let out into the field again.)

So silage for feed and straw for bedding are still needed in huge quantities. You saw on my blog the other day that we had fifteen tons of straw delivered. Already the farmer is putting it into the loose housing each morning. He puts it in in a pile here and there and the cows spread it around to their liking. In addition they have salt licks, to which they appear to become addicted (rather like me and the biscuit tin), so I managed to take a photo for you to see.

They are inquisitive creatures. You only have to stand by the housing for a couple of minutes and they will come to see what you are up to.

Today is our Poetry day - one of my favourite days in the month, when we all take our favourite poems and read them aloud. I am concentrating on Childrens' Poetry today. My view has always been that if you get children interested in rhyme and rhythm while they are small then they end up with a lifelong love of poetry.

Monday 21 February 2011

Sorry I have been away from blogland.

I have had friends staying so have been unable to get on to the computer to blog - sorry about that but here I am again Last night we had a little supper party and I took a photograph before we began to eat so that you could see what we had! I intended to take another photograph so that I could post 'before' and 'after' but I forgot all about it. Sufficient to say that we had a lovely evening with lots of nice chat amongst friends - isn't that what life is all about? (the empty plate in the foreground is waiting for the hot garlic bread to come out of the oven.)

You may remember that the other day I asked for your opinion on the subject of bus passes for the over sixties. The buses are subsidised and most of the passengers in our area are over sixty so that without these passengers there would be no bus service - should it be part of government cuts - and what about the closures of our libraries? I asked these questions and also asked readers of my blog who were not bloggers themselves to send me an e mail if they felt strongly about it. We also discussed the subject after supper last night.

I intended to post a blog today showing opinions. My goodness, is that difficult. Thank you so much for your response. In all, with e mails I have had almost fifty replies. Very heartening = that is the good news. The bad news is that every opinion is different, no two people really agree!

Opinions range from - nobody should feel entitled to a bus pass; in these days of cuts everybody should play their part; means testing should be brought back so that those who can really afford to pay do so; people should be asked to pay what they can afford; our generation have worked hard and paid our taxes and are now entitled to reap some of the rewards; everyone over sixty should be allowed to travel free on all public transport, including trains; I could go on.

On the subject of library closures - some people said they never used the library anyway as the books were never changed; others said libraries were a valuable social asset and should not be cut.

It is all so complicated. We do have a massive debt as a country - I feel (and I am sure most people over sixty would agree) that this debt/credit culture that has permeated society for the last twenty years or so is a lot to blame. Young people are somehow seduced into thinking that they have to have everything NOW and that the way to get it is to borrow the money - and pay it back bit by bit with appallingly high interest rates (do I sound like a grumpy old woman - I do hope so). And who has reaped the benefit? I suppose most people would say "the banks" - for banks do come in for a huge amount of criticism - rightly so, although I suspect most of us don't really understand any of it. Interestingly I saw that a new collective noun has been coined - "a cabinet of millionaires." And in the light of that I am tempted to ask what such rich people could possibly know about trying to live on the kind of incomes on which most people live?

But having seen the absolutely terrible images on the news this evening of events in the Middle East I can't help thinking we are so lucky to live in such a stable country - huge debt or no huge debt. (And any day now I expect petrol to rocket up again in price with trouble in the Middle East being given as the cause.)

What a complicated world we live in. At least we can moan about things, say publicly what we think, sign petitions with our real names - and all with absolutely no fear of retribution. And that is surely worth a lot.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Oh dear.

Need I say more. This photograph was taken at 9am this morning standing on my front doorstep. It is now 3pm and although the snow is now going it is wet, foggy and horrible. I am off to sit by stove and get warm.

Friday 18 February 2011

The cold weather continues.

It is two degrees celsius here today with a strong South East wind blowing and a faint mist everywhere. Tonight it is forecast that we may get the best Aurora Borealis for many years (because of all the sun's activity over the past few weeks). We shall have little or no chance of seeing it as there is dense cloud cover.

It is so cold and all the wild life (and the tame life too!) is feeling the effects of this long winter. The sparrow hawk comes through daily in his/her search for food. I usually see him swoop through at around three in the afternoon - that is obviously his calling time on his round. I see him almost every day, possibly because with not driving I am around more and now I begin to look for him at about a quarter to three.

He swoops low over the hawthorne hedge, steers round the bird table and swoops back over the hedge again - all at great speed. When he has gone there is not a bird to be seen. As far as I can see he rarely catches one - just sometimes a flurry of little feathers gives the game away, but mostly he misses. And I suspect that is the story of his life. The little birds have to keep a permanent look out - but then, he needs to eat too.

As I write a huge lorry is delivering straw for the cattle in the loose housing. They too need to keep warm as the sides of the housing are open to the elements. Every morning the farmer goes among the cattle and shakes two or three bales of straw amongst them. This gets deeper and deeper as the winter progresses. It is cleaned out once (about a fortnight ago) but then left so that eventually it is quite deep. When the cattle go out to grass it is the favourite haunt of the farm cats because a) it is heating up nicely and is warm to lie in and b) it becomes home to lots of field mice and the like and they are easy pickings.

So, all in all, everything has to take care of itself over the winter - it is a case of dog eat dog. We are the top of the chain I suppose, sitting by our wood-burning stove; we provide and bedding and feed for the cattle; the cattle's bedding provides bedding and (indirectly) food for the cats - and so it goes on. We are all looking and waiting for the same thing - sunshine.

Thursday 17 February 2011

What do you think?

I thought it was time we exercised our brains again.As usual the Times has given me a lead in to today's subject matter and I would very much like to have your opinion.

In the UK at present every person over sixty is eligible for a bus pass, which means he or she can travel free on the bus. I don't have one because I live too far from a bus route, but many of my friends have them and use them regularly. One friend, now sadly moved away, (miss you B), used to travel up to see us coming the twenty five miles or so by bus for free. Another friend went with three of her friends for a few days in B and B at our Yorkshire coast, travelling all the way by bus and changing - they had fun planning the route and had a lovely little break at the sea.

Now with the advent of David Cameron's 'Big Society' and the round of huge government cuts it looks likely that many places will lose this bus service. If you stand in our local market square and watch people getting off the bus to visit our Friday market you will see that most of them are over sixty, which means that most of them have travelled free. How does the bus company keep going, you may ask.The answer is that it is heavily subsidised by the County Council - and this of course is why it may be cut because County Councils are having to make drastic cuts in their services.

Now - here is my dilemma. Were I to be on a bus route then I could well afford the bus fare and would willingly pay it if I wished to travel anywhere. Most of my friends would be in the same position because most of us are in that lucky group who retired when pensions were good enough to live on and although interest rates have often drastically cut our incomes, we are still by no means on the breadline.

But there are many who use the service who could not afford to pay. So what do we do?

My mother was born in 1890 and all her life she spoke with terror about ending up in The Workhouse - a very real threat when her parents were alive - and both she and my father were also very afraid of means testing as a way of deciding who gets what in the way of financial help. To my mother falling below the means test level was such a disgrace. Luckily they never did - they prospered, brought up three children and we all did well too, thanks to the start in life which they gave us.

So - what is the answer as far as the free bus pass is concerned? If it is scrapped then the buses could not afford to run the service. Often there are only half a dozen people on the bus. If bus passes are means tested does this mean we are going back to the bad old days when society was divided into 'us' and 'them' (or indeed is it like that already?), does the same situation apply to our libraries, also in threat of closure (only the richer can afford to BUY their books).

Marie Antoinette's 'Let them eat cake' is a phrase which springs to mind when thinking about the way some of the coming cuts are going to bite into incomes of some people, yet I know cuts of some kind have to be made. It is a dilemma on which I hope you can express an opinion.

##On an entirely different subject (you know now that I have a butterfly brain) - while typing this I have watched a blackbird landing on my clothes line, watched it land, wobble, spread out its tail and its wings to get its balance, wobble a bit less, steady itself and eventually be still enough to break into song. And it struck me how frustrating it must have been over the centuries for inventive minds to watch this bird behaviour and not be able to figure out how to build something which could get into the air.

Fog rules again today after yesterday's sunshine.

To my readers who are not bloggers (you know who you are) please send me your opinion by e mail(if you have an opinion) so that I can get an overall view of what people think - then I will do another blog on it.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Which is the cruelest month?

The poet accused April of being the cruelest month, but I must say that judging by the last week I would give that accolade to February. We have had alternate days of either pouring rain or freezing fog and bright warm sunshine. Yesterday was disgusting. Today is a lovely sunny day.

The fields are totally waterlogged and walking in them is nigh on impossible. However, Tess has to be on the lead if we go down the lane and I do like to see her have her freedom, so the farmer came round the fields with me after lunch so that Tess could follow her nose, and I had an arm to hang on to where necessary.

And I have to say what a difference a day makes. As you will see from the photograph, the hazel catkins are now showing their pollen. The beck is very full and really looks quite pretty.

A couple of weeks ago a friend surprised a sparrow hawk with a newly caught wild duck. We passed the remains in the field today and as you can see, the hawk has left very little behind.

In the vegetable garden yet again a windy day has blown a lot of glass out of our greenhouse and scattered it about the lawn. That will need picking up before the farmer does his first mow. But on the veggie garden wall, in the full sunshine, the mosses and lichens are really growing and the winter jasmine adds its little touches of yellow to the scene.

The length of day is gradually stretching out and something very odd has happened regarding our rook colony. Readers of this blog will know that there is a huge rook colony in Forty Acre Wood, about a mile below our farm. Every year since I have been here (eighteen years) the rooks have made their way up the dale each morning, flapping their way past my bedroom window at this time of year, when dawn is just breaking as I get up. Suddenly they must be taking a different route because I rarely see a rook in the morning and yet when the farmer drives into our little town for our newspaper the rooks are already there. And in the evening they stop off in the field opposite our farm for a chat and a poke about in the grass.
So it seems they are going one way and coming back another. I miss them.

Quite a few cock pheasant seem to have escaped the guns and as the shooting season is now over they are safe for another year. Two of them visit my bird table each morning and they are more than welcome. A yellow hammer is also paying regular visits - as is the dapper little tree creeper. He does not come on the table but he scurries up and down the tree trunks and then drops on to the grass to pick up the niger seed. Robins are singing as I write and the cock chaffinches have begun to get their breeding plumage. On yes it is still happening out there if only every other day!

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Tempting fate.

I knew it was tempting fate to do a post about Spring bursting out all over yesterday. It was minus four Celsius overnight and this morning we awoke to freezing fog and a heavy snow shower. Although it cleared later and a watery sun came through, the temperature has never risen above one Celsius all day and now it seems to be getting dark early. I shall not mention Spring again for another fortnight (well, not unless it turns really warm).

Also I have to confess to failing miserably in my attempt to read Colin Thubron's "To a Mountain in Tibet" one chapter per day. All was going well; I was reading each chapter twice over and really enjoying it, until I had two very poor night's sleep and got up at 4am to have a cup of tea. Well, dear blog friends, who could resist reading an extra chapter under those circumstances?

The consequence is that I have finished the book and have to report that it is absolutely excellent stuff. The travel, the spiritual angle, the philosophical angle - it all comes together to make such food for thought. In the end I so enthralled the farmer (who is not a reader on the whole, unless it is about farming) that we got out the World Atlas and looked at the places on the map - and marvelled that Tibet - this roof of the World - was once an ocean.

Atlases are magic to me once I begin to look at them. In 1984 I spent three weeks in Alma Ata (now called Almaty I think) in Kazhakstan and then some time in Samarkand and Bukhara. This part of the world fascinates me. But Tibet - now that is something different and Thubron brings it to life. There is this ambivalence - it applies to so many wild places - about whether one should leave these communities alone or whether one should bring them education, health care etc.
With the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the fifties that debate is very relevant to Thubron's book. I do urge you to read it.

The bad news is that I have finished the book - and finishing a really good book is always a bit of a let-down because you miss it. The good news is that I have started another absolute smasher. Thanks to several people who recommended it in the comments on my earlier blog and thanks to N and S, where we had lunch on Sunday and where they had a copy ready for me to borrow, I am now reading Edmund de Waal's "The Hare with Amber Eyes" - couldn't be more different from Thubron and yet just as enthralling.

de Waal traces the history of a group of netsuke which he inherits, tracing them back to a distant ancestor and the life and times and the circumstances in which they were purchased and passed on. Brilliant writing. I have just reached the part where the netsuke have been passed on from their original purchaser and given as a wedding gift. The scene has moved from Paris to Vienna - and I admit I was reluctant to leave the first owner and to leave Paris. I want to know what happens next to the original owner. Now surely that is a sign of a really good book.

So there you have it - two good books to put on your "Want to read" list. Don't say I don't help you out sometimes and do let me know what you think of them both.

Monday 14 February 2011

Can't you feel it?.......

......the ground, stirring beneath your feet? Snowdrops in flower, crocus in flower, florists with trays of flowering primulas outside, winter jasmine in full bloom and tiny shoots of nettles, cow parsley, late tulips and the like - all pushing through, all eager to get going on growing.

Today I have heard the mistle thrush singing, the blackbird singing, the robin singing and all manner of little birds cheeping and calling to one another. A pair of blue tits have rented the box down the field and are busy doing repairs and a pair of blackbirds are definitely house-hunting in the clematis in the front garden.

Alexander Girault, my lovely pink climbing rose, is just beginning to show shoots. As he has been quite drastically cut back (he was stopping the weather vane from working) I can now see that last year there was a blackbird's nest there too. What a lovely place to build - surrounded by a froth of pink roses and lulled to sleep by the humming of bees. What could be better?

Our television gave up the ghost yesterday and this afternoon we drove to the little town of Bedale (in the photograph) and bought a new one. Coming back we saw that almost all the hedges are now cut. Farmers are asked to cut their hedges well before the end of February to give nesting birds a chance. Ours were cut about a month ago - we like to be early, particularly in one field, where we have nesting yellow hammers every year.

Oh isn't it exciting? Every year the coming of Spring makes me feel good. No wonder country people in the old days celebrated its arrival. Five weeks today will be the Spring Equinox - let the countdown begin.

Saturday 12 February 2011

There's nothing in the world worth winning......... laughter and the love of friends.

Oh yes - I am sure you will agree, friends are THE most important thing in life. At least it is so for a woman - but I wonder whether the same is true for a man? Perhaps some of my male readers can give me a view on this.

A group of friends can give one another moral support, share secrets, laugh and cry together. This list of benefits is endless.

This morning we three friends went into town together, went into The Golden Lion for coffee, where we were joined by Dominic for an hour, and then stayed and had a delicious fish pie lunch - all sitting in a bay window in glorious late winter sunshine. We mulled over various topics, laughed, commiserated, gave and took advice - what a splendid support group.

Yesterday I had another marvellous "friend" experience when a friend from Kent, who is up here visiting her son (unbeknown to me), suddenly appeared on my doorstep early in the afternoon. What a lovely surprise and what a lovely hour of cups of tea and chatting. Hugs all round and we both parted feeling so much better for having met.

I could not manage without my friends. They all mean a lot to me, mainly because we have shared all manner of experiences together. As George Washington famously said, "Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."

I have one friend who has been a friend for all but four years of my entire life. We have never lost touch although we live many miles apart and have met only maybe a dozen times over the years. I have several friends of fifty years standing. Then I have friends I have made since I moved up here twenty odd years ago. All of them mean a great deal to me - and i thank them for their support and love.

Well, you male readers, what do you think? Do men have support groups of friends as women do or not?

Friday 11 February 2011

A Tenth Anniversary.

Ten years ago this week marked the start of the most traumatic happening farming had seen for a long time - the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. I thought it might be an opportune moment to remind you about it. We had an outbreak here on our farm in April of the same year - an outbreak which changed our way of life for ever. So here is an account of the day we found out that we had the dreaded disease.

It was a lovely early Spring Sunday. The farmer got up as usual at 6.30am and milked the dairy herd. By 8.30am he was in for his breakfast.

I had decided to try a new recipe for lunch, an Elizabeth David pork recipe and I was eager to get on with the preparation. Breakfast over the farmer went out to walk round his sheep and I prepared the pork and put it into the oven.

An hour later he came in, pulled a chair out from under the kitchen table, sat down and announced that he thought we had foot and mouth - in the sheep. He had seen one sheep on its own in the corner of the field and had gone over to investigate. Opening its mouth he had seen the tell-tale blisters and knew immediately what it was.

We had all been given a plan and we put ours into action immediately. I rang a telephone number in Leeds and reported our fear. We were told to shut the farm gate, allow no-one on to the premises and wait for arrival of the vet.

That was the longest two hours of our lives. The meat came out of the oven but neither of us could eat. We stood in the window looking out on to the road, watching for the vets arrival. He arrived at around 1pm, looked at the sheep, confirmed it was Foot and Mouth and then put the whole farm under an order.

The lane was blocked off; large signs were put up; slaughter men were summoned; valuers arrived to value the sheep and the cattle; everything was out of our hands.We had had five new calves during the previous week and I had been feeding them all. Now I had to face the fact that they were all about to die.

The dairy herd of about seventy cows had almost all been bred by the farmer and he knew each one intimately - number 55 was a real character - if a new calf was born out in the field 55 would steal it and make off with it as she so loved being a mother. Each cow had its own personality and he loved them all.

We were advised to stay indoors, which we did. By 4pm every animal on the farm was dead. The cows and the sheep were laid out in rows in one of the meadows.

Then it was time to build the bonfire. A giant pit was dug and layers of wood, coal etc. were put down and the animals piled on top and by Tuesday night it was time to light the giant funeral pyre. We had no desire whatsoever to go out and watch but the vet persuaded us to do so. And he was right. We stood in a circle round the pyre - everyone who had been involved in building it, in slaughtering the animals, in valuing them - we were all in it together and we got a kind of solidarity and comfort from it. The vet gave each of us a plastic cup and came round with a bottle of whisky and insisted that each of us had a drink. That loosened the farmer's tongue somewhat and at last he was able to talk about it (he is always best at bottling things up).

Both of us were stunned by the whole thing but our sanity was saved by the fact that once the vet had come on to our farm and identified the disease he had to stay put, so for a week or so he lived with us and he really kept our spirits up. I had to cook meals because he needed to eat and we ate in order to be sociable.

It was a bereavement from which we recovered only slowly. We then had to endure weeks of being disinfected - all the sheds and buildings, all the yards, every inch had to be cleaned and sprayed with disinfectant. And again the two men who worked here doing the work kept us going. I would bake them scones for afternoon break, or we would sit and chat over a cup of tea - and it all kept our spirits up.

Eventually we were back to normal. In the September we had a holiday in Dumfries and Galloway, an area which had suffered as much as our area - we felt an affinity with them somehow.

Of course we recovered. We never went back into milk and after ten years the whole thing is a distant but painful memory. But then nobody ever said farming was easy. There will always be setbacks - always be swings and roundabouts - but I sincerely hope that nobody will ever have to live through a time like that again.

Thursday 10 February 2011


Well no, maybe not; but there are a lot of spring-like signs today.

This morning, when the farmer went to feed up the heifers in the loose housing, there was an extra one - born overnight. Sadly a bull calf - these are pedigree Holstein cattle and of course heifers are what is needed to boost the herd. But doesn't mum look proud and what a smart little calf he is.

It is a glorious day with warm sunshine. The sky is the most beautiful shade of blue with white puffy clouds so Tess and I walk over to see a friend in the village. The fields are still very wet so wellies are the order of the day and they are not easy to walk in, but off we go. We sit in the garden and drink our fruit juice and marvel at the lovely mauve crocus which are all over the garden and which have opened their faces to the sun.

Along the wall a witch hazel (hammamelis mollis) is in full bloom and looks so lovely against the background of the stone wall. We get the distinct feeling that Spring is not so far away.

Coming back across the fields I spot a pair of white wild ducks but before I can get my camera out they have also spotted me and have flown. But luckily, just a little bit further downstream are another pair and although they watch us carefully, I am able to get quite close to them and photograph them.

Back at the farm the farmer is digging a drainage channel in a particularly wet gateway - the fields are the muddiest he can ever remember them. We watch him for a while and then - on our way up the yard - look over into the vegetable garden. Without saying a word, the farmer has dug it all over. There are still three rows of leeks to be eaten, but the rest of the garden is all ready to receive the Spring planting.

Back indoors a pineapple, coconut and banana smoothie revives me and a drink from her water bowl revives Tess - she to her bed for a rest and me to put on this blog.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

The advantage of a butterfly mind.

One advantage of a mind which flits from one subject to another (see yesterday's blog) is that the smallest things sets the mind into action; the cogs whirr, bits spin off here and there and before you know it a subject for a blog becomes fixed in one's head.

And so it was this morning. A friend and I have been on a lovely shopping expedition. Readers of my blog will know that I HATE shopping, particularly for clothes (which entails getting undressed, trying things on and then getting dressed again.) But when a dear friend offered to drive me to our nearest large shopping complex at Teesside Park I made a list of possible purchases and off we went. (Thank you for a lovey morning W).

My friend spent all her working life in the retail industry and she has made me very aware of the importance of pleasant and helpful staff. I must say that the staff at Marks and Spencer were 100% well-trained. They were smiling and helpful.

As any woman reading this will agree, I got a tremendous lift when the skirt I wished to buy (yes, I am sick of wearing trousers and wish to give my legs a bit of an airing), was a size too large! The assistant changed it for me, I made my purchases - including two sweaters for the farmer (more of that another day) and we began our journey home.

First stop the diesel pump. While sitting in the vehicle I noticed this isolated bird's nest in the tree and away went my mind into several tangents. First of all, a quote from one of Ronald Blythe's books, where he hears a child say, "Just think, the birds don't even know it's Thursday."

I smiled as I thought of this - I thought of all the lovely trees there are in such beautiful surroundings and yet this bird had chosen to build its nest in a shopping park, in pecking distance of a petrol pump (I took the photo from inside the car, through the window). My very down-to-earth friend made the observation that at least there wouldn't be any cats about. And then I thought there would probably be plenty of bits of food dropped - crisp crumbs and the like.

And driving home I began to think about the idea of consciousness, which the bird does not have in the same sense that we do. The bird no doubt chose the tree with no thought at all for surroundings. Amd that brought me to a fairly new publication -
"Soul Dust - the magic of consciousness" by Nicholas Humphrey, in which he argues that we take consciousness very much forgranted and yet consciousness has developed in man down the ages and has evolved purely for our own pleasure. I heard him speaking about his book on the radio the other morning and saying that the very new baby does not have this consciousness and that it develops slowly, first with eye contact and then with language. I understand that this is quite a controversial book but it is one which may well be worth reading.

So there you have it - from shopping to birds' nests to human consciousness and beyond. You can't say you don't get around on this blog.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Looking closely

I have never been any good at drawing. In fact I have a real complex about it and if I am asked to draw anything at all I get into a 'state' and refuse. It has always been like this even in my days at school; in fact I do remember being ridiculed in art classes for my bad drawing so perhaps this is at the root of it all.

But I know there is another reason and it is not altogether unrelated to my post of yesterday, when I talked of slowing down my reading to one chapter a day. I do not have a lot of patience and I tend to want things finished yesterday, which means that I rarely look carefully. I have what my first husband used to call a 'butterfly mind' in that I am interested in everything but my mind tends to dart from one thing to another. If you relate this to drawing, which an artist once told me is ninety-eight percent looking and two percent putting pencil to paper, you can see why I am bad at it.

Today a petal fell off one of my cyclamen plants and as it lay on the window sill I saw just how beautiful the individual petal was - how it was an integral part of the whole plant and yet a thing of beauty in its own right. So I looked at a single petal on another cyclamen plant and then at a snowdrop, looking into the bowl where there is as much green as there is white.

Sadly I think it is a bit late to try and acquire this skill but at least I can appreciate what I have been missing.

Monday 7 February 2011

The Joy of a New Book.

It is all too easy to order a book from Amazon once you have an account - a couple of clicks and you're away. Yes - I have a new book.

On Saturday morning I take two newspapers - The Times and The Guardian and both had an account of a book by Colin Thubron (one of my favourite travel writers). In a trice I had it ordered from Amazon and at ten o'clock this morning it popped through my letter box.

Now, once I have a new book I take it out of its wrapper, feel it, smell it, rejoice in the cover and in its newness. I can't wait to read it, and usually start straight away.

Today I am trying a completely new tactic. I have read one chapter. It is spellbinding. Did I start chapter two, you ask? No I did not. I re-read chapter one and enjoyed the re-reading just as much. Now I shall not read chapter two until tomorrow. I am going to read each chapter twice and as there are fifteen chapters this gorgeous book is going to last me a whole fortnight.

Do you think I can manage to control myself like that? Only time will tell but I am going to try, going to try and prolong the enjoyment. How do you read a book? Do you read it at one sitting (a 'can't put it down' kind of reading) or do you read it slowly and thoroughly and enjoy it all the more?

My little experiment is just a test for me. Time will tell how well it works.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Best laid plans...

Today we were intending to meet friends in Ravenstonedale at the Black Swan Hotel for Sunday lunch. It is one of our favourite eating places, not least because it is such a beautiful journey there. The road goes straight over the top of the high Pennines, turns right at the Moorcock Inn and left at Pendragon castle - over the high moorland and into the dale. Even if you don't know the area, doesn't the journey sound lovely?

We set off at a quarter past eleven this morning along the high road through Wensleydale as we guessed the River Ure might be high. The weather here has been atrocious for the last three days - very high winds and horizontal rain. It was evident as we went along that the river, down in the valley to our left, was very high. In places it had burst its banks and was flooding the meadows; the sheep were all moving up onto the higher ground.

Then, as we approached the village of Hardraw, we saw a road closed sign to our left - which meant that Brown Moor road was closed - an ominous sign. We went on into the village of Hardraw and then down on to the bottom road and here we met a wall of water. We were able to drive through it, but only just. The road was under quite deep water and it was pouring over the top of the dry stone wall on to the road.

Sadly we turned round and came back. Thank goodness for mobile phones - at least we were able to phone our apologies. And as we ddrove back home we thought we should be grateful that at least it was not snow that was falling - unlike many places in the US at present. There is always another day to meet for lunch and the freezer yielded enough to keep the wolf from the door.

As I write this a few hours later, the wind has dropped a little and the rain has eased but in the field opposite the beck is full and fast-flowing and it is only a matter of time before that field is also deep under water too. But the water companies say we are short of water in the reservoirs, so they will be jumping for joy.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Oscar Wilde had a good turn of phrase!

"The English country gentleman galloping after a fox - the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." Oh how right he was. And did you know that Oscar Wilde's full name was Oscar O'Flahertie Wilde? What a perfectly splendid moniker - sounds so dashing. I expect the men in their red coats, riding importantly up and down our lane today feel dashing too!

The huntsman had been round to tell us that the hunt were hunting our land today. As I have said before, the farmer just adores hunting and does see the fox as vermin. I, on the other hand, hate the idea of fox hunting and love the wonderful sight of the fox in the landscape (not that I see him very often - he keeps a low profile); maybe I would change my view if he got my hens but that hasn't happened yet. In any case, I came to the land late in my life and don't feel it is right to interfere.

We have had two days of roaring winds and pouring rain, so that the land is really waterlogged and the farmer was really hoping that the hunt gave us a miss today, but as Tess and I set out on our walk, all the horseboxes and all the followers in their fancy "country gentleman" coats and driving their Land Rovers, pulled up outside the farm, parked on my laneside lawn churning up the grass, and got out their binoculars.

Then came the hounds, closely followed by the huntsman, the masters (in their red coats) the gentlemen in their black coats and the so-called hoi polloi in their ordinary riding gear (it costs about £10,000 a year to keep a hunter, so not so much hoi polloi). Tess and I retreated behind a gate (I didn't trust those hounds, lovely as they are, to not mistake Tess for a tasty treat).

Camera at the ready, I waited - and at the last minute they turned down our furthest field, across the beck and up into our topland. I dashed upstairs in time to see them streaking across our top meadow in full flight.

Stay safe Mr Fox. We know you are there, for we saw you last week. Don't be tempted to come out of your earth. Lay low and let the hounds go and you will live to fight another day.

Poor quality photographs, mainly of people getting ready to join in as the hunt came past - but the best I could get and it does give you the general idea of what a churned up mess they have made, if nothing else.

Thursday 3 February 2011


Once a month we get a free magazine with the Times and it usually gives me at least one topic for a blog. Today's topic is journeys. I am not talking about journeys one makes on holidays but journeys that everyone makes throughout their lives.

For example - the farmer has lived in this house since the day he was born. For a couple of years after we married we moved into the farm cottage next door, so really that is the extent of his journey.

I, on the other hand, have moved around quite a lot. I began in Lincolnshire, moved at eighteen into Lincoln itself, then to the Lincolnshire countryside, then to Lichfield in Staffordshire, then to Wolverhampton, finally to North Yorkshire and to two separate homes there.

In these days of 'social mobility' people move all over the world for their jobs, or they emigrate, or they retire to a different area. But all these journeys are as nothing compared with the journeys some animals make.

I don't know about you but I really am rather tired of seeing the Wildebeest migration - yes it is very spectacular when 1.5 million animals go to the Serengeti plains to give birth and then all gather together for their mammoth journey across the Mara river, running the gauntlet of crocodiles, lions etc., to the Masai Mara in Kenya, where they eat the grass until November and then return. Sadly I read that 'progress' intends to put a major road across the Serengeti, so that will be another hazard.

But in today's Eureka magazine I read of how short that migration of a thousand miles or so (done every year, not once in a lifetime)is, compared with other members of the animal kingdom.

Caribou travel 3,700 miles each year; Humpback whales travel 6,200 miles each year;
the Leather back turtle travels 12,800 miles and the tiny Arctic tern (only 36 centimetres long) travels a mighty 45,000 miles.

That puts us severely in our place, doesn't it - particularly as our journeys are not done on foot searching for food all the way. But spare a thought for the tiny (15cm)Neritidae snail, who travels 2.5 miles each year.

Journeys feature in blogland too as many of the people I blog with have moved to a different country - that variety makes life so interesting. What kind of a journey have you made?

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Today is Candlemas Day.

Hardly anyone knows or recognises this day in the calendar any more, but I do remember it being an important day in our village when I was a child. It was the day when all the candles were renewed in the church and there are various rhymes about the state of the weather for the rest of the Winter being judged by what the weather is like on Candlemas day.

In Celtic and Roman times the second of February was known as the Festival of Lights and - like so many other festivals - the Christians adopted it as their own and used it to celebrate the purification of Mary after giving birth to Jesus.

Now there's an interesting thing. How may of you remember the "churching of women" after giving birth? I wonder when it died out. Certainly it was still practised when I had my son fifty two years ago. As a non-Christian I did not go through the practice, but I remember people who did and I remember elderly villagers who would not allow mothers and their babies into the house until the mother had been 'churched'. Anybody able to enlighten us about this?

The real fact about Candlemas of course is that it is the day which is exactly half way between the shortest day and the Spring equinox. It was the day on which farmers assessed just how much fodder for the animals they had left - the chances were they would need it at least until the equinox so it was an important assessing day.

Do any of my UK readers watch 'Lark Rise to Candleford'? The farmer loves it and so do I. I really enjoyed the books many years ago - they are a real social history of the period and although the TV series tends to romanticise the whole thing there are still elements of it which make me think how lucky we are. Last week the farmer spotted an error when the villagers sat on hay bales to celebrate a pig feast. Not many weeks previously we had watched them harvest the hay crop with scythes, put it into stooks and make a haystack - bales were not invented in those days.

That leads me to another error spotted by a Times reader in 'The King's Speech', when the royal couple were travelling by taxi and eating marshmallows. According to the Times letter marshmallows were not invented and in any case the Queen's favourite sweets were violet and rose creams and she never travelled anywhere without them. (How did she keep so slim I wonder.)

I suppose these little errors make life interesting - as does the fact that festivals like Lady Day (April - when hiring and firing was done), Candlemas and the like have disappeared. Has anything taken their place, I wonder?

Tuesday 1 February 2011

The Big Day (for pheasants)

February 1st - the last day of the shooting season. Any pheasant still alive at dusk tonight is safe for another year providing he or she doesn't run across the lane at an inappropriate time.

The farmer and I have been down to the feed merchants in Masham for food for the hens, the dogs, the farm cats and the wild birds. We went by one route and returned by another - a round trip, as they say - because the weather is so lovely. Our new car tells us the temperature and it was eight degrees.

We passed by the vehicles of the last shoot of the season and when we returned they were just packing up to go. In the corner of the field a dozen or so cock pheasants were skulking - good for them - they have lived to fight another day.

There is just a faint feeling (probably in my imagination) that the earth is beginning to wake up. There is a bit of a green smell in the air (again maybe my imagination) and everywhere is looking lovely apart from the mud - every road and every verge is thick with mud. So I have put one or two pictures of our journey on for you to look at. They are not very brilliant, after all the car was moving at the time. (I managed to persuade him to come back a different way so I couldn't ask him to stop as well - after all he had a new door bell to fix when we got home and the instructions were in six different languages and nigh on impossible to follow even in English.

But the new bell (which goes da-dada-la-da-da-da-dah) is all ready for the recorded delivery we are expecting in the morning and the pheasants would be doing a fandango around the field if only they knew it was February 1st!

### The local hunt have just been to tell the farmer that they are hunting our land for foxes on Saturday - ah well, if it's not one poor wild thing it's another.