Saturday 30 April 2011

Come with me on a walk.....

We haven't had a walk together lately, so why not come with me on our walk this afternoon - the farmer, Tess and me - round our fields and down our lane in perfect Spring sunshine.

Some of the fields are absolutely golden over with dandelions; how pretty they look in the afternoon sun. The field on the horizon belongs to a farmer friend. The depth of soil is shallow and it is on a slope and already it is beginning to show serious signs of drought as you can see.

We strolled up our fields - well actually 'strolled' is not quite the word as the grass is getting long and it was quite hard work. These meadows are grown for silage and we needed to walk in the hedge bottoms so that we didn't tread down the grass. I watched constantly as I so wanted to find a bird's nest. My father used to be so good at finding them. But birds are clever - they always build in the most inaccesible places and when they fly out they tend to go a way down inside the hedge before they do so, so that where they fly out is nowhere near their nest. As the farmer so rightly said - if I could find a nest then what chance would the bird have against raiding magpies? But walking in the hedge back has advantages and we found the first purple orchid. And we also found May blossom (hawthorn) in bud. If you live further down the country yours is no doubt out - or even over - but here it is just neginning to show white in the hedges. I love its froth of white when it finally comes fully out.

Out onto the lane, totally dry after so much dry weather. Tess enjoying the freedom. And then back past the dairy herd - totally out in the fields both day and night and enjoying the sunshine. Don't they look happy?

We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful area. This weekend is the Dales Festival of Food and Drink in our local small town, so we are keeping away as the town is heaving. We did go in for our morning coffee at the Golden Lion - but now it is strictly stay at home and enjoy the sunshine. To go with the Festival our local Hall has a Tulip Festival, organised by a Dutch Bulb company. I just hope, with all this lovely weather, that the tulips are not over too early.

Enjoy your weekend.

Friday 29 April 2011

"Apple Blossom Time."

You have to be a certain age to realise the significance of the title to today's Royal Wedding - I think the song dates back to the Second World War!

Whether or not you are a republican or a royalist, you have to admit that as a country we do this sort of thing very well indeed. The precision was immaculate - down to the second,let alone the minute - the pump and splendour were as good as ever and the British Fashion Industry must have made millions out of it. Of course I am sure that some little things went slightly wrong, but if they did we didn't notice them. A professional musician once told me (when I was playing in an amateur group) that the difference between an amateur and a professional performer was that if an amateur went wrong the whole thing went to pieces, whereas if a professional went wrong the rest of the group would behave in such a way that nobody would notice anything amiss. I suspect the same was true of today.

I watched it all morning, kept warm by Tess on my knee. Yes, I admit, I cried in one or two places. I loved "the dress" and those of the bridesmaids; the simplicity of the wedding bouquet; the patent sincerity of the young couple. What was there to dislike about any of it, regardless of one's political views?

Speaking of apple blossom - I took this photograph in our vegetable garden yesterday. If you should have a similar tree in your garden then do keep an eye out right on the end of the leafy branches because that is where the goldfinches love to build their nests once the leaves are out. For the last couple of years we have had a nest in just such a place.

Wednesday 27 April 2011


Yesterday morning, wrapped like it was mid-Winter (the temperature is ten degrees colder today), I replanted all this winter's hyacinths. I always fill the house with bowls of pink, blue and white hyacinths because I love the smell and I love their way of never letting you down. They always flower on time and produce a lovely show. But one flowering in this forcing situation and they have done their best. But it always seems a shame to throw them on the compost heap, so I put them into the garden - into the bottom of the hedge with the primroses and the cowslips.

They flower again for a few years, but what happen is they flower like their wild brothers and sisters - they revert back to becoming little more than blue bells. Nothing wrong with that - they retain their brilliant colours and look really pretty.

When I came indoors I spent half an hour looking up hyacinths and finding out a bit about their name. This is what I found. In mythology, Hyacinthus was a handsome youth much-loved by Apollo. He was killed by a jealous Zephyrus, who diverted a discus to hit him. As he lay dying on the ground the hyacinth sprang from his blood. A three day festival was thereafter held in his honour at Sparta. And the petals of the hyacinth are marked with AI, AI - the sound of grief. The wild bluebells don't have this mark. Next year I shall look carefully at the petals!

I then found that Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote about bluebells in one of his poems - about the sound that they make when they grow in such profusion in our native woodlands. He says that they rub together in the breeze, "making a brittle rub and jostle, like the noise of a hurdle, strained by leaning against it." I now need to go to a nearby blue bell wood to listen for that too.

This morning, whilst eating my porridge, I watched a curious ritual between two house sparrows on the hedge, just outside the kitchen window. I can only assume it was a mating ritual - this being the time of year when the birds seem to think of little else. One of the pair held a feather in its beak. They did a bit of dancing about and then the other bird took the feather and repeated the whole process. This went on for some time until somebody walked into the farmyard and they flew away, leaving the feather on top of the hedge.

Someone in this morning's paper says that throughout life one is rushing from pillar to post, working, housekeeping, bringing up children and ferrying them from A to B. It is only when one retires that one has time to look into the little things. Reading the above I say "amen" to that.

Monday 25 April 2011

The blue bells are out in our little wood. My climbing fences and crossing streams days are over, so I had to take a long distance shot for you - but I can assure you they are absolutely lovely.

This afternoon, not wanting to venture far in the Easter traffic, we went to our local reservoir. This little stretch of water belongs to Yorkshire Water and some of the water comes from the beck which runs through our fields, as Yorkshire Water are able to take water from it whenever they wish to do so. It is possible to walk all the way round it so we did this. Tess enjoyed the new smells too.

The water has sailing boats (only small ones but there is no other water for miles); geese a-plenty; fishermen; gorse bushes and a nice path to walk on for most of the round journey.

Coming back I have to say that the lanes were exquisite - every shade of green in the hedgerows and here and there the pinky-orange of the new field maple leaves. In the grass - drifts of dandelions, patches of cowslips and hugs swathes of stitchwort. Coming up to Forty Acre wood it is nice to see it greening up again.

Also - there on the sides of the lane - the purple orchids are out. I should have got out to take a photograph for you, but Tess was asleep on my knee (that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.)

##Sorry you have two photographs of the fisherman, but Blogger has a mind of its own this evening.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Flowers set their own time and place.

How ever carefully we plan our gardens - a bed of tulips here, a drift of forget me nots there - the flowers do their own thing. This year, because of a warm Spring, they have all decided to flower early and to flower profusely, so that the blossom is incredible.

In our garden we have a large bed of red tulips, all the same colour and until recently I assumed they were the same variety. Then the farmer told me to look inside them and I found there are two varieties growing together. And behind the tulips, in the same bed, in a dismal, dark corner is a patch of Solomon's Seal - one of my all-time favourite plants. I keep trying to persuade it to move to other parts of the garden but - no - this is where it likes to be and here it is staying.

Lily of the valley is another example of plant that knows its own mind. My sister-in-law next door threw it out of her garden because she didn't like the way it was taking over. I love it and salvaged a little clump from the compost heap. Now - always moving to the West, as I am told it does, it is colonising a large area of the garden. Some visitors suggest I pull some of it up as it is becoming like a weed. No, I shall let it wander as it will and rejoice in its pretty flower and delicate scent for the few weeks of the year.

We have a pretty Rock Aquelegia in our rock garden. Last year there was only one flower - this year a dozen. I hope that is because it is telling us it likes its situation rather than because of the weather - next year will tell.

One of my favourite wild flowers is the cuckoo-flower - or milkmaid as the farmer calls it. Its pretty mauve flowers usually come up in the paddock in mid-May. This year it is out now and is dotted all over the field - but it doesn't choose to move anywhere else.

Oh yes, we might think we have tamed nature but really it is far too clever - it might let us think we have but then, when we least expect it, a flower, a plant, a bird, pops up where we least expect it. And isn't that what makes the outdoors so very exciting?

Friday 22 April 2011

Long Winter Evenings.

Yesterday's post about long hot summer days playing out in the countryside, led to the farmer asking me what we did on long cold winter nights when we couldn't play outside.

I asked him what he did and he replied along the lines that they were always given something to do about the farm - the cows still wanted feeding and milking and there were all kinds of jobs about the place. Then they would play board games and card games around their big kitchen table (which we still use today.)

So I started thinking about what I did on such nights. Although I was the youngest of three children, my siblings were much older than me - my sister by twenty two years and my brother by eleven years, so I was virtually an only child for much of my childhood.

Chapel played a fairly large part in our lives - I played the organ from a very young age and there were things like choir practices to go to. Every Sunday evening my mother would light the fire in our sitting room, where my piano was, and I would bring my friends back after chapel and we would chat and sing round the piano.

For the rest of the week there were BOOKS of course. Books have always played an important part in my life - I was an avid reader, never lighting the fire without reading every piece of newspaper as I laid it ready to light; reading the instructions on the HP Sauce bottle (in French as well- do you remember those days?)
getting books from the library and buying books with my birthday money.

But my favourite activity on Winter nights was Pencil and Paper Games. Nobody seems to play them any more but I thank my parents for spending hours of their evenings encouraging me to take part because it gave me such a wide range of general knowledge and also a bit of a competitive spirit, which has probably stood me in good stead throughout my life.

We would each have a pencil and paper and we would play - say - wild flowers beginning with A and so on through the alphabet. Then we would read them out and cross out the ones others had on their lists. The winner would be the one with the most original ones left. We would do this with 'birds', 'towns in the UK',
'rivers of the world', 'countries of the world','girls' names', 'boys' names', 'animals' = the list is endless and provided me with hours of fun. We even used to go through the names of the houses in our village, starting at one end and going through to the other end - I could recite all the names off by heart .Itmay seem like a pointless activity in these days of computers, mobile phones and texting, but we had hours of fun and I look back with pleasure on those days and think how good my parents were to go to all that trouble and effort. They were into middle age when I came along and probably felt much more like going out and enjoying themselves.

It was pre-television of course, but we did listen to the radio an awful lot, gathering round it to enjoy various programmes. And then there was the Vicar's 'Threepenny Hop' every Wednesday night in the village hall, where we youngsters danced away to the vicar's dance music record collection throughout the Winter. I suppose he also thought of giving the village youngsters something to do in the Winter.

I wonder, have today's youngsters missed out on something - or have the things that have taken their place provided the young with different but equally important memories to look back on? I would be interested to hear what you think.

Thursday 21 April 2011


I was a country child and during the long Summer holidays, which always seemed to be hot and sunny, we would go off on our bikes, with our sandwiches and a bottle of water and we would be gone for the day. And where would we go? Often it would be quite near where we lived where there was a river and a lovely hedge tall enough to make dens in. We would make our 'pretend' house and then we would go off exploring, looking in the hedge bottom for violets, peeping quietly into the hawthorn to find birds' nests, climbing trees (we quickly found out which ones were climable). And that was our day - one of simple pleasures out in the fresh air.

I had a close encounter with hedgerows again ten years ago, when we had foot-and-mouth disease here on the farm. One of my jobs was to go round the hedgerows removing every single piece of sheeps' wool - this meant taking secateurs and actually clipping out branches. Then I would put the wool into a bucket, bring it home and the farmer would burn it in case it held the dreaded foot and mouth virus.
But gathering the wool gave me an opportunity to look closely at the hedgerow again and I found violets, cowslips, orchids, nests, all the things I had forgotten about.

This afternoon Tess and I did our walk along the hedge side and I looked again. There is not a single hedge bottom on our farm that is not riddled with rabbit warrens. Often the entrance is wide enough for Tess to get her head and part of her body in and - by golly - her nose works overtime. I noticed that the May blossom (hawthorn) is almost out and that every so often a blackbird flew out - so plenty of nests there. The air was full of blackbird song too.

The hedge side is beginning to attract cowslips again. They do seem to be making a comeback here after disappearing for a few years. Then we came to a lovely,knobbly tree stump which made me smile - as children that would instantly have been utilised as a seat.

Finally we found an owl pellet which I brought home, photographed and dissected. Owls wrap bits of their food which they can't digest into a little ball-like pellet and then regurgitate it. The little bits inside are too small for you to see in the picture I am sorry to say, but there are tiny claws, tiny beaks and what is probably a tiny little skull. When I put the knife into the pellet it kept hitting hard material.

There were violets galore and the crab apple trees are just beginning to show pink. One further down the lane is fully out and shines pink in the distance. The ones in our hedgerow should be fully out in this glorious weather - photograph to follow.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Ducks and Dandelions.

The farmer drew back the curtains at 6.30 this morning to see a group of ducks strolling up the lane outside our house. There are plenty of semi-wild ducks around here because they are bred on our neighbouring estate for shooting parties in the Winter. The same is true of course for pheasants. Luckily (or unluckily if you happen to be the game keeper on the estate) the ducks quickly learn to walk rather than fly and to stay on the pond - in either case they can't be shot at - they have to be in the air.

Our neighbouring farmer has a grain store and the ducks regularly stroll round there for a feed when he is not looking. He has had to learn to approach the store from the opposite end, approach it slowly and making just a little bit of noise and allow the birds to stroll out - otherwise if they all fly out together in fright at his approach they scare the cattle in the next shed so that there is mayhem and panic.

It was nice to see them out for their morning walk, quacking quietly to each other as they went up the lane. Of course the pheasants also take advantage of any corn lying about. Two or three stroll up the lane and turn into our gate every morning, making for the bird table. They are semi-tame and if we go out they don't fly off, they merely retreat under the nearest bush until we have gone.

On a different note - it is the dandelion season. All along the edges of the roads here dandelions are in full bloom. There can't be another wild flower that reproduces with such energy (and has such a long tap root that it is impossible to get them out of the garden).

Several of the farmer's fields have patches of dandelion. If we don't do something about it before they start flinging their thousand seeds into the air then next year the whole field will be covered, and whilst it will look pretty it won't make good silage. So we must do something about it quickly before they seed.

Monday 18 April 2011

Carrying on with life.

I have just been reading in the Times about the terrible suffering is Misrata in Lybia. They are running out of food, there is no electricity and no fresh water. Since February at least three hundred have died and over a thousand have been injured - the hospitals are running out of supplies and there are no beds available. At least twenty children have been killed and many more injured with shrapnel. The situation is appalling and yet we can do nothing.

We go about our everyday lives, maybe giving them a thought when the situation appears on the TV screen, or when it is written in the newspaper (although have you noticed how it is not long before a news story is sidelined in favour of a new one).

This carefree attitude in spite of suffering seems to be programmed into us. On a more personal level, I remember when my first husband died I was struck by how everything went on as though nothing had happened, how people passed, laughing, in the street.

WH Auden summed it up when he said, "suffering takes place while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.

There is also, as one gets older, a feeling that, however many friends and relatives one has, in the end - the final analysis - we are all on our own. Tom Scott, the Scots Poet, who died in 1995 summed this situation up very well when he said that the 'solitudes' begin to close round one. I like the idea of that word.

The birds and the animals go about their daily business totally regardless of anything that goes on around them (unless food is involved). I feel that we should not be like that - after all, we share the world with people in Libya, Ivory Coast, Japan, countries where there is oppression, aids in Africa - I could go on but it would be pointless.

But as Ronald Blythe says about this idea of suffering being personal while we get on with our lives - the same applies to happiness.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Sunday Lunch.

Today we have had friends for lunch. What can be better than to sit and chat to friends over a meal on a Sunday - a day that can be a difficult day to get through I find.

Because there are usually only two of us for lunch I always take the opportunity when we have guests to cook a roast dinner - four people means buying a larger piece of meat and that always cooks better. Today we chose to have a piece of rare breed (Dexter) beef - not the tenderest piece I have ever cooked, but tasty nevertheless.

But as any good Yorkshireman (and probably the rest of the UK as well) knows - you can't have roast beef without Yorkshire Pudding. I intended to photograph the puddings as they came out of the oven but, of course, I forgot, so the photograph is of the sad five or so which remained after our meal. Still you get the general idea.

Yorkshire Pudding probably originated in order to save on meat which would have been more expensive. It was traditional to eat the pudding first, on its own with good gravy. That way, by the time you got to the meat course you would not be so hungry.
The same goes for savoury suet pudding - a traditional dish in Lincolnshire, where I come from.

The recipe certainly goes back a long way. Here is the recipe given in a book by Hannah Glasse - "The Art of Cookery", published in 1796.

Take a quart of milk and five eggs, beat them up well together and mix them with flour to make a good batter and very smooth. Add a little salt, nutmeg and ginger.
Butter a frying pan and put it under a piece of beef that is roasting, then pour in your batter. When the top is brown turn it over. Put it on a hot dish and send to the table.

I can remember when it was traditional to cook the pudding under the meat and when it was usually one large pudding that was made. Nowadays we usually make small puds like the ones in the photograph.

For people outside the UK who would like to have a go at this next time they have a piece of beef to roast - here is a modern recipe:-

Put four ounces of plain flour into a basin together with some salt. Break two eggs into the flour and then gradually beat in half a pint of milk. Beat it well until bubbles rise to the surface and then leave it to stand for an hour or so.
Put a small knob of fat into each small tin and put them into a very hot oven until the fat is sizzling hot then pour in the batter and cook near the top of the oven. Small puds like the ones in the photograph take about fifteen minutes - larger ones take longer of course.

Here to finish is a lovely rhyme I found in an old book:

Here's to Yorkshire, my lads,
The land of good cheer,
The home of the pudding,
Well known far and near.

Wed a lass that can make one,
Is the theme of my song,
But so long as she's Yorkshire
You cannot go wrong!

Saturday 16 April 2011

Good news and Bad news.

First the good news! The first few in-calf heifers have gone out into the fields today. They are not due to calve for a long time yet. They were separated as they stood in the loose housing and then the first lot were shepherded down the yard and out into the pasture. Unfortunately I was almost too late to photograph them and had no way of getting to the pasture to see them kicking up their heels. The rest - due to calve shortly - were left in the loose housing and they knew jolly well what had happened with the others because that is what alerted me to the whole thing - the noise of their mooing was frantic. "We want to go out too!!"

Now the bad - or rather sad - news. Friends called this morning and told the sad tale - all too familiar - of the lost duckling. They had been in the garden and had heard a tiny cheep-cheep and seen a tiny yellow fluffy duckling going up the middle of the lane, calling for its mother. They had tried to catch it to put it back on the beck but already, at only a day or two old, it is programmed to avoid humans and they couldn't catch it. Sadly I think we all know its fate. Mother ducks often have twelve or so ducklings but are lucky if two or three survive - foxes, stoats, weasels are predators, along with one or two of the raptors I suppose.
But it seems that if one gets left behind they carrying regardless - that is what they are programmed to do.

Last year a friend found a duckling caught in some water weed on the side of our beck. Together we took it to friends who rear day-old chicks under heat lamps. She put the duckling under there with a group of chicks - but still it died. These are wild birds and however sad it seems they really have to be left alone.

My son and his wife are away in Wales and yesterday he rang me - as he does every year - from the top of a Welsh mountain. This time it was one called Cnict - I can't find it on the map but it is in Snowdonia. One hears so much rubbish talked on mobile phones of the "I am on the train" variety that it is lovely for me (his mum) to hear "I am on top of a mountain." Not Everest I know, but a mountain nonetheless!

Friday 15 April 2011

Poor old Robert Browning after marrying his Elizabeth, lived in Italy until her death
in 1861, to keep away from her tyrannical father. Sounds an idyllic place to live - Florence, Venice, warm weather, warm seas, blue skies. But I think we can say with certainty that oh how he missed the coming of the English Spring.

We all know his poem "Home Thoughts from Abroad" - oh to be in England, now that April's there. But I think my favourite poem of his about Spring is Pippa's Song.

The year's at the Spring,
The day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his heaven -
All's right with the world.

It epitomised for Browning all the things he was missing about his home country.
Now Spring is really here and everything is shouting out "Look at me!" The lovely little black lambs, already eating the grass; the blackthorn - the best blossom on it that the farmer has seen for years; the delicately-scented cowslips, once in short supply but now making a fantastic come-back; Primula wanda, that most common of all the primula family, but the one guaranteed to flower whatever the weather; and - last but not least - just in time for the Royal Wedding - Spirea "Bridal Wreath". What more could anyone wish for? Have a lovely week end.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

The Grass is Greener.

Up here in the Yorkshire Dales, where most of the farms are grassland farms (on the
whole the soil is not deep enough for arable) every farmer is judged by the state of his grass at this time of the year - at least by other farmers. You may think that grass is grass, is grass but next time you pass a grass field - or several - look at them carefully.

In Winter the grass tends to die off in clumps and to look ragged and dismal. Then, when the land is dry enough it is fertilised, mucked, harrowed, rolled and - hopefully - rained upon - and then it begins to grow.

Here, as I look out of the window, or as I walk across the fields with Tess, I am struck by the greenness. Suddenly new grass is sprouting up, new, dark green, nutritious grass. It is already a couple of inches high and growing fast.

The cows, still indoors in their Winter housing, can smell it and they are restless - lots of mooing, lots of pacing up and down, lots of noses in the air. But the time is not ripe yet for letting them out. The grass needs to be quite a bit longer and the days a bit warmer. Last weekend we had a really warm spell and, boy, were those cows desperate to get out, but now there is a cold wind and the weather is not so good.

On the day the cows are let out the grass needs to be nice and long, the sun needs to be shining, the conditions need to be right. Of course, if the farmer runs out of silage for indoor feeding he may have to let them out early, but all things being equal they will go out on such a day. If you get the chance and live anywhere near a milking herd, do go out to watch the spectacle.

Tails in the air, legs hurtling through the grass, back ends up in the air, cries of joy and - finally - settling down to eat the best grass they have tasted is six months. And, best of all, that night the milk yield will have shot up as a thank-you to the farmer. For this first grass of the season is highly nutritious - it never again will reach that degree of nutrition - that is why it is so important for the farmer to get it right.

Well, the day for letting out is nearly here - I look forward to it. Hope you see it too.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Travelling the World.

Oh how sophisticated we think we are these days, hauling our designer luggage through customs, boarding elegant planes and flying off to exotic places. What would our ancestors of thought of it all - when you think that two hundred years ago cars had not even been thought of, let alone planes.

But, when you really think about it, how very far we lag behind other things on our planet. I was reminded of this today in the Times when Paul Simons told us that the dust and dirt which has been arriving to make our windows and our cars filthy over the past couple of weeks is dust from a dust storm in the Sahara desert.

The birds trek around the world all the time as a matter of course. We now have two swallows, already building a nest in the barn, having made their way here from Africa. And they haven't just made their way to the UK, but to the barn where they were born last year or the year before. And already the Osprey are building a nest at Loch Garten in Scotland - a nest site they used last year and the year before having trekked half way round the world to get here.

How cleverly things find ways to move about. I read a couple of weeks ago about a plant which grew only in the South of England but which now, thanks to motorway traffic close to one of the sites where it flourishes, has moved thirty miles or so up the country and is expected to do the same next year by seedlings hitching a lift.

On Middleham Castle, the castle of King Richard III , near to where we live, the ruined walls are covered in Summer with the tiny bright pink flowers of Erinus Alpinus - and that was reputedly brought here from Italy on the boots of the Roman soldiers.

The Saharan dust from my windows has now gone, as Andrew, the window cleaner, has just been. I suppose the dust will be in his water bucket and he will throw that water into the beck when it is too dirty to use - and the dust will float downstream - all very mind-boggling I find.

Lovely day here - bitterly cold wind though.

Monday 11 April 2011

Three dilemmas in ten days.

Usually the weeks go by out here in the countryside when I have nothing more serious to think about than where to put certain plants in the garden or what to put on my shopping list. Now, suddenly, in the last ten days or so, three things have arisen in the news about which I have really had to think deeply - and in all cases I am undecided about my view. So I present them all to you, dear readers. If you feel like commenting on any one of them (or all if you have that much time) then you may help me to make up my mind on these issues - and my goodness me I would value your opinion far more than that of the so-called celebrities, who seem called upon to give their opinion about these things.

The Wayne Rooney swear-word!

For anyone (maybe in the US) who doesn't know about this (I can't believe there is anyone in the UK who doesn't know as it has been plastered over the papers for days) - after scoring three goals in fairly rapid succession this talented but rather troubled player turned to the cameras and shouted f***!!! Shock! Horror! Outrage! The general opinion seems to be that he was presenting a bad image to young people who idolise him and encouraging them to do the same when they played football. I think I agreed until early last week, when someone wrote a letter to the Times saying something along the lines that tempers got raised, the crowd whipped everything up into a frenzy and that he should be forgiven because it was this same heightened excitement which had caused him to be such a talented player in the first place. I see that now he has avoided the three match ban which was threatened - he has apologised - and as Simon Barnes rightly points out in the Times - if every player who swears (and the f word seems to be the least offensive) is sent off there will be nobody left on the pitch by half time.
So - what do you think? Should he have received a ban? Should we condemn him?
I honestly don't know the answer.

The AV Referendum

There is a long article in the Times on this today. I have read the Government circular on it and I have read the article. There is a list of "celebrities" who support a change to AV - and again I ask - do I really need to take my view from so-called "celebrities" like Tony Robinson, Eddie Izzard and Billy Bragg? I really have no idea whether I would like the change or not. It does really seem to me that the "first past the post" idea is the better (in spite of recent prosecutions for fiddling expenses) and if we had AV then might not a really unsuitable candidate get in? In any case I suspect that the turn out for the referendum will be very low with most people not being bothered. Are you in favour of AV?

The Grand National

On Saturday the weather was so hot that the horses dehydrated and at the end the jockey jumped off Ballabriggs, the winner, and walked into the Winners' Enclosre so that the horse could be showered with buckets of cold water to rehydrate him. The jockey has been banned for excessive use of the whip in the last few furlongs as he pressed the horse to stay in front. And during the race two horses, Ornais and Dooney's Gate died as they jumped. Is this any different from getting a thrill from bull-fighting? Simon Barnes today says that this year's race will be the last one he watches as he can no longer cope with the idea of horses dying for entertainment. He says he is not making an objection - he is just walking away. So now I need to think about my view on that. Is it a race that should continue? If not then is Simon Barnes right to just walk away or should he stand up and be counted?

Tough decisions to make on a Monday morning - but they are all things that are troubling me at the moment and - as we all know - a trouble shared is a trouble halved.

Saturday 9 April 2011

An Unexpected Outing.

The weather here in the Yorkshire Dales is beautiful. Today the temperature was 20 Celsius and the sky an unbroken blue. The farmer was busy digging trenches so I was intending to garden (digging up buttercups in our front garden is a long term activity). After an hour and a half in the garden friends called and asked me to go out for a picnic. Needless to say - the gardening took an immediate back seat and I went.

Quite near to where we live in Wensleydale there is a little site of Special Scientific Interest - rare wildflowers on old spoil heaps and a pretty beck. We went there and sat in the dappled shade to eat our sandwiches. Then we crossed a newly built little bridge and walked along the edge of the hillside. The blackthorn was just coming into bloom, the ground was covered in wood sorrel, violets, primroses, wood anemones and ground ivy. The dogs (three in all) had a lovely walk with lots of new smells. The birds were singing to perfection. It was bliss.

Then we did a short recce as my friends are keen birdwatchers and a great grey shrike had been seen in the area - but sadly the bird had flown. A tootle home, stopping in the village of Muker for an ice cream, and still home in time for the Grand National at 4.25pm. I have always half enjoyed - been half terrified - watching the race although I do think it is cruel to put the horses through that and judging by the two tents erected on the course it looks as though two horses may have had to be put down. And the horse that won the race was so dehydrated in the warm sunshine that he was dowsed with buckets of cold water to cool him down.

Back home I did another half hour in the garden before lasagne and a rocket salad for our tea. All in all a lovely day.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Another visit to the Arboretum

I have often posted a blog about Thorpe Perrow Arboretum but make no excuses for posting another one because if there is one time of the year when everyone wishes to visit Thorpe Perrow it is at Daffodil Time. There are thousands of daffodils. In addition, the area is so sheltered that blossom is also out, although our local trees are nowhere near out yet.

Before you enjoy the pictures - here is a little bit of information about Thorpe Perrow. It covers 100 acres of woodland including 5 National collections- Walnuts, Limes, Ash, Cotinus and Laburnum. Although the actual estate goes back as far as the Domesday Book there have been four major planting periods - one in the 16th century, one in the 17th century (trees in both cases) and then a Pinetum in the middle of the nineteenth century.

In 1931 the 'modern' work began - first by Sir Leonard Ropner and then after 1977 by his son, Sir John Ropner who is still there now.

A friend took me today (thank you W), we had a cup of coffee in the lovely little cafe, then walked round for an hour and a half looking at the daffodils, the scilla, the magnolias and blossom trees, wonderful swathes of marsh marigolds, great blobs of frog spawn - and of course, glorious sunshine. Then it was back to the cafe for large bowls of thick, heary vegetable and pearl barley soup with brown rolls and butter.

It is not just the flowers, the trees, the cafe and the lovely walks - it is the peace and tranquility - all in all a wonderful tonic for the soul. Enjoy the photographs.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

The Farm has come to life.

Suddenly it is all happening here on the farm. First of all, the pedigree Swaledale sheep are going today. In the photograph they are waiting in the barn for the transport to arrive - notice there is always one that is King of the Castle! The grass is now growing well in the fields, which means it is beginning to be too lush for these hardy upland sheep. Without putting too fine a point on it, they are getting very messed up at the "back end" and this results in maggots, clipping out and all kinds of disgusting things. So it is time for these sheep to go back onto the hefted fells where they belong, where the grass is poor quality and where they can roam at will. In addition to the grass being too lush, they are also shedding great clumps of their wool as they scratch on various bushes - must be horrible carrying that heavy weight of wool around when the weather warms up - it is 15 Celsius today and a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds.

In the little barn in the pasture stock doves are nesting and flitting in and out of the 'window' carrying twigs. My father always used to say 'two stick across and a little bit of moss' is all that constitutes a pigeon's nest - and as this one is on a ledge in the barn, that is all that will be necessary.

The farmer is overjoyed today to report the first swallow of Summer - today, April 6th. The earliest they have arrived before is April 9th. At present there is only one and it is soaring high in the air - full of joi de vivre - if it had been sitting on the wires I would have photographed it for you.

The farmer is out spreading fertiliser on the fields and I am here watching out for the sheep men coming so that I can ring the farmer to come back home and give them a helping hand at loading up.