Sunday 31 July 2011

An early Autumn?

I can' help feeling that we are in for an early Autumn this year. The signs are all around up here in North Yorkshire and, let's face it, it has been an odd kind of year seasons-wise, with that very dry early Spring and very chilly early Summer.

The sides of the lane are full of grass seeds and dead and dying foliage. All the wild flowers are finished - only the heather still shows purple on the moor in the distance (and that is an Autumn touch).

But there were more signs yesterday evening when the farmer and I went round the fields for a walk with Tess and our sheepdog, Tip. There were harebells everywhere in the hedge bottoms - the blue bells of Scotland - those delicate purply/blue flowers which are so clear and pretty.

In the hedgerow the hawthorn berries are already turning orange and will no doubt be red in a short time. The berries on our rowan tree just outside the kitchen window are already orange and the blackbirds - and today a pair of bullfinches too - are gobbling them down like there is no tomorrow. What a pity that birds do not have the sense to leave the berries on the trees until there is nothing else to eat. I noticed it last early winter with the fieldfares, who stripped the hawthorn berries so early that later in the winter when there was nothing else, they were desperate for food. And if they drop a berry on the floor they don't fly down and eat it. Still I suppose it is left there and food for the field and harvest mice, so nothing is wasted. Also, because there has been hot sun for a week and no rain, the ground is very hard and unyielding, therefore it is hard to get at the worms.

This no doubt accounts for the fact that we saw a young hedgehog out in the field. It is rare to see them out in the daylight, but this one was eating something in the middle of the pasture. And when we arrived home and went into the shed to feed the farm cats, what should be eating the cat biscuits but another young hedgehog. He kept his beady eye on me as I took the photograph, but had no intention of moving away. I hope he gets enough meat on him before it is time to hibernate, so that he snuggles down in our hay for the winter and survives. From today we intend to put more cat food out, so that hedgehogs can help themselves any time they want. They are really the gardener's friend as their favourite food is slugs and we have plenty of those about.

The sloes on the blackthorn are already filling out and in some places beginning to turn black - at least a month early. It will be sloe gin time again before we know where we are.

Saturday 30 July 2011

A Swarm of Bees!

A swarm of bees in May
is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June
is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July
isn't worth a fly!

Well this one came in July - in fact almost in August - so too bad.

This morning - a bright sunny Summer's morning, as good as any we have had this year - saw me with a group of friends sitting in a friend's conservatory drinking coffee and having a pleasant chat. Just the most civilised sort of morning I think.

The friend's conservatory looks out up onto her fields which are part of her property. It so happens that this morning the farmer is haymaking in her fields for her so we are watching that too. Can you imagine the lovely Summer scene?

Suddenly her neighbour, Tom, appears to say that he has a swarm at one of his hives in the very field where the farmer is haymaking. We are all quite excited but have no desire to get any closer to the action. But I do persuade him, before he dons his bee-kddping gear, to take a picture for my blog. I bribe him with a mention and tell him he will be the most admired man in the village (in fact I am too scared to go and photograph it for myself), so off he goes and returns with this photograph.

So there you have it - a lovely warm Summer's day, the smell of haymaking in the air, a group of friends, a pot of coffee and some rather good honey flapjack, an airy conservastory with a good view and a swarm of bees. What could epitomise an English Summer more than that?

And, apparently, the only thing that makes the swarm not worth much in July is that there will be little time left for the bees to make honey this year. So they had better get out on that heather on the moor as quickly as they can. Oh, and by the way, thanks Tom!

Friday 29 July 2011

Plooughing and scattering.

It is the end of July this week-end and everywhere the tractors are busy in the fields; haymaking, grass cutting, baling are all going on as I walk down the lane. The one or two fields of barley in this mainly grassland area are looking ready for harvesting. Last week our neighbour was walking through his barley field pulling out the wild oats by hand while the other side neighbour was spraying his barley field with weed killer to give it a fortnight before he cut it.

In the implement sheds combine harvesters are being got out of the far corners, dusted down, oiled up, tinkered with and got ready for work. Round here farmers often share a combine between two or three farms and share the work too so that they all get it done fairly quickly. All the barley round here goes for cattle food.

I must say that one of the things I miss by living up here in the Dales is being able to walk through a stubble field. I remember them from my childhood in flat Lincolnshire - the pheasant, partridge and other birds scratching about for the gleanings, the hares loping about between the rows, the smell of the cut corn.

Of course it is not so long ago when combine harvesters were new fangled things. My uncle farmed in the Lincolnshire Wolds during the Second World War and he had a binder which was a great mammoth of a thing which went up and down the hills at a precarious angle. There would be a threshing day when all his corn was threshed. There would be a smell of smoke in the air, a lot of noise, a lot of dust and a lot of work for my Aunt Alice who had a whole lot of workmen to feed at lunch time. I went once and remember the dust and corn husks which got everywhere and made me itch like mad.

If we had to choose the harvest hymn we all know I suppose it would be 'We Plough the Fields and Scatter the Good Seed on the Ground". Almost every Harvest Festival Service begins with that hymn. I looked it up on Google and found it was originally a poem in German by Matthius Claudius (1792), set to music in 1800 and translated into English in 1861.

And that made me think of the Harvest Festivals of my childhood in a Methodist Chapel, where we spent the entire Saturday decorating the chapel. We would tie a string round the whole chapel and thread Michaelmas daisies through it. Every window sill would be piled high with produce and every available space covered. All round the pulpit apples would be precariously balanced and we would hope not to have a 'tub-thumping' preacher on the Sunday! Monday night there would be an auction of all the stuff and the highest price usually went for the wonderful sheaf of wheat bread loaf baked by the local baker. There would not be a tin in sight in those days - we hardly ever used tinned food because our veggie gardens had to provide the year's supplies.

Go back even further to my mother's generation and the women would glean the fields to collect enough corn to grind their own flour for bread making. Millet's painting "The Gleaners" is one of my favourites but before I begin to wax lyrical about that and those times I need to remind myself the times were jolly hard for the majority of the population - they really knew what hard work was about. Not like today's combine harvester drivers who sit in front of a computerised screen and let the machine do the field on its own.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Successful Move.

Well it all went well. Just as dusk began to fall we made sure that the cockerel and his hens were in the other side of the hen house and that the connecting door was shut. Then we went to the chick's house in the vegetable garden. They were all snuggled under their mum for the night. Tess thought it was great fun!

The farmer got mum out first and boy, did she make a fuss as he carried her round to the new home. After that it was easy to get the chicks and between us we carried them round. By this time the whole of the hen house was making such a noise - particularly the cockerel.

It was interesting seeing the chicks upside down and close up (the easiest way to carry them is by their feet). Their feathers are such a beautiful golden colour - exactly like their Dad. This morning they are already out in the run. Sadly the run is on concrete so they will not have the advantage of scratching in the grass now until we let them out as free range. There seem to be three cockerels and five hens, which is a good percentage. We won't let them out until they are bigger because we do have a resident buzzard and he might find them too tempting. Later in the day (I am still in my dressing gown) I'll hopefully take a photograph of them to post.

Before I go I must just tell you about the most delicious salad I made for tea last night. Salad and the farmer are never to be seen in the same sentence, so I have to try hard to tempt him to eat it. I chopped up little gem lettuce, spring onions, discovery apples, tomatoes, two hard-boiled eggs and a few herbs. Then I melted St Agur spreadable blue cheese gently in a saucepan until it melted and poured it over the salad as a dressing, tossing it in. Delicious. Do try it.

2pm. Here are the photographs I promised. One shows their much bigger living space - the other hut was getting far too cramped for them. The window lifts out and has gauze across it, so they have plenty of fresh air too. Another shows the proud father - they are so like him (well, most of them). There seem to be only three cockerels as I said so the five hens will be kept as this year's new laying hens . As to the cockerels we shall offer them to anyone who wants one - free of charge. If there are no takers then sadly they will be fattened for eating in the winter.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Hay making and gardening - high summer is here.

Because the weather seems to be set fair for a few days the farmer has started his sub-contract haymaking in earnest. Today has been cloudy but there is a slight breeze and it has been warm. These are not ideal conditions - it is better if the sun is out because then the hay does not become soft. It needs to remain sharp and rather brittle to be really good hay. This evening the sun is fully out and there is not a cloud in the sky, so it should be drying nicely (fingers crossed.)

I spent most of the morning in the vegetable garden. First of all there was a hen blackbird trapped in the raspberry netting but I managed to get her out unharmed. It is always sad if we find one too late but there would be no raspberries for us unless we covered them because blackbirds find them quite irresistible.

Then I picked the daily bunch of sweet peas. This year there is no white one and the colours tend to be pink, lilac and magenta. They need picking every day so that they don't go to seed and stop flowering. Also picked my first big bunch of marigolds (calendula) - they are one of my favourite flowers and look so pretty in my old blue jug.

Then it was time to gather in the veggies for today's lunch. The peas, runner beans and broad beans are so nearly ready - but just not quite. So instead we had courgettes and Swiss chard - plus a good early helping of field mushrooms from the pastures, and raspberries for pud. It looks as though this year is going to produce a good crop. Their taste bears no relation to the ones we buy in the supermarket.

There is something so satisfying about eating one's own produce - makes all the hard work and the weeding worth while.

After the farmer came back from doing the hay we cleaned out the hen house together because tonight is the big night. The chicks, who are now six weeks old, are being transferred into one of the 'rooms' in the hen house, to give them a bit more space. We shall transfer them after dark when they have quietly settled down, otherwise there will be such a furore. I'll post a photo of them in their new abode tomorrow.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Hatched .......and gone!

Yes - it looks as though the pheasant has hatched four chicks - there are also four unhatched eggs - and gone. I suspect she only hatched them overnight because something will fetch those unhatched eggs very quickly (rat, magpie, crow).

The pattern with pheasants - and indeed with most ground-hatching birds- is that they hatch out the chicks and then, as soon as they can, they get them into the cover of the hedgebacks, out of the way of the many predators.

So now we must keep our eye open for them around the fields. I'm glad at least some of them made it. While out looking to see if the pheasant had gone we also found our first field mushroom. Some years we have quite a lot and other years we find none at all, so keep fingers crossed for a good crop this year - there is nothing like them for taste.

Grey and cool here today - not very good for the hay, but better forecast for the rest of the week.

Monday 25 July 2011

"With black prick ears and sandy whiskers."

The farmer does some sub-contract haymaking for several people in our village and as the weather seems to be fairly hopeful for this week, according to the long-range forecast, he thought he would make a start.

During the morning he went back to the same area three times and each time he saw a fox. The first couple of times the fox just ran along the wall, jumped over into the next field and disappeared. The third time it strolled amongst the sheep who carried on eating in the field and took absolutely no notice of it at all. He said it was a beautiful young animal.

Isn't it odd how farmers and lots of countrymen have this love-hate relationship with the fox. They catch plenty of rabbits, which makes them the farmer's friend. But of course, they also catch hens and other poultry given half a chance and that makes them a sworn enemy.

When the farmer came in for his lunch he said, "You'll never guess what I have seen this morning." I asked for clue and he said it had three letters in it. Knowing it was unlikely to be a gnu or an elk I guessed immediately!

Beatrix Potter makes the fox in Jemima Puddleduck such a smart, handsome gentleman "seated on a tree stump, reading a newspaper", but even she manages to show up his wily nature as he fattens Jemima up for the pot.

Yesterday, I stood in the bathroom window looking out onto one of our nest boxes in the Scots pine trees. This particular nest box has a brood of tree sparrows in it. As I watched a greater spotted woodpecker landed by the hole and proceeded to dip in and throw out feathers and bits of nest. Finally it seemed to extract a young fledgling and flew off with it in its beak.

There's nothing kind about nature is there? It seems to be a case of dog eat dog.

Sunday 24 July 2011


A lot of farms have little or no flower gardens - or even vegetable plots. I suppose when a farmer has been working the land all day the last thing he wishes to do in the evening is work the garden .Luckily that is not true of this farmer who particularly enjoys his vegetable garden and takes great pride in picking the crops. When the peas are ready he will sit all morning podding them and then I will switch on our second freezer and freeze them for Winter; the same goes for broad beans and runner beans.

With the flower garden it is a slightly different matter. Friends who farm always say that their flower garden gets a "good do" in the Spring and then has to look after itself until the Autumn. I must say it always looks lovely when I go to see it, mainly because it is so closely planted that there is hardly room for a weed to grow.

This morning, having a couple of hours to spare and a lovely morning with it, the farmer and I both worked in our front garden all morning, I mainly cut back things which have taken over. Our clematis montana has used one of the climbing roses as a rambling post so it took me a long time to cut that back. Also the roses have almost finished their first bloom, apart from one old bush which is absolutely covered in blossom, so they needed cutting back to give them time to flower again before the Autumn. Then a good feed while the ground is a bit damp and that has given them a boost which I am sure they needed. Meanwhile the farmer did more strenuous jobs like digging up difficult weeds and trying to fight back the columbine (always a losing battle). Three barrow-loads later the garden was looking a little tidier and we were both feeling pleased with ourselves.

With silaging coming up there will be little time to work in it again for a few weeks, so it was a job well done. I have taken a few photographs so that you get some idea of what is flowering at the moment.

The plants are - the rose still flowering abundantly (don't know its name),crocosmia Lucifer, a very late forget-me-not hiding under a leaf, a Japanese anemone, a semi-wild sweet pea with a lovely scent, a poppy (self seeded), and Ligularia (much beloved of slugs and snails).

The weather here is beautiful today - just right - and I am going to try my home-made Frozen Yoghourt sweet at tea-time as a healthy alternative to ice cream.
The farmer's verdict will decide whether I make any more or not!

Saturday 23 July 2011

She is still there.

Farmers' Market Day in our little town today and the town was buzzing with holidaymakers, the sun was shining, the car parks were full and all the shops seemed to be doing good business. This has got to be good for the town.

Our little group of friends met in the Lion as usual on Farmers' Market Day - our first, rather sad gathering without our old friend Joan, who died recently. Sitting there for an hour or more, drinking coffee and putting the world to rights is always enjoyable.

Then it was home for lunch and a walk round the fields with Tess and the farmer. We crept across to look at the pheasant's nest I put on my blog a couple of weeks ago (then the pheasant was so camouflaged that she was hard to see) fully expecting that she would be gone. But no, there she was, still sitting low and quietly - I do hope the eggs are fertile and that her sitting is not in vain. (We once had a wild duck who sat for six weeks on the side of the beck on a huge number of eggs, none of which hatched out). By quietly taking up a different position I was able to get a much better photograph for you to see her. I do hope she rears a little brood.

We have a brood of about eleven partridge - the grey partridge - you have to be quick counting them as they take off as you approach. Also today we saw a young leveret in the field - the first I have seen this year. The hare being my favourite animal this young one was a joy to see.

Chilly winds but blue skies forecast for tomorrow when most of our thoughts will be on John Gray's Allotment Day in Wales (Going Gently on my side bar) I do hope it all goes well for him as he has put such a lot of hard work into it.

Have a nice week end and spare a thought for the East coast of America where Elizabeth (The World Examining Works on my side bar) tells me that the temperature is 104 degrees there. If only they could send fifteen of those degrees over here then we could all be happy.

Friday 22 July 2011

I have done it again.

I have committed an almost unforgiveable sin. I have used my mobile phone while in the queue at the supermarket to ring the farmer and say, "I am in the queue at the supermarket!" - Tantamount to one of those vacuous statements like "I am on the train."

My excuse is that the farmer is busy, I can't drive and he can't sit around while I do my shopping, so he goes back home and I ring him when I am ready to be collected. This does not apply to my weekly 'big' shop which is too far away to nip home, but when it is only a few things from the local place then it does save him some time. On the other hand, if it is raining (as it was on that day) I don't want to be standing waiting, so if I ring him from the queue he will be there by the time I step out of the door.

My mobile phone is no fancy thing. I have had it for years and only got rid of the previous one because the puppy chewed the face off it one day. I do carry it with me when I walk down the lane because if I twisted my ankle or something (you have no idea how clumsy I am) it would be handy to phone the farmer. He uses his a lot as all the local farmers have his number, so any arrangements re animals, cutting grass etc. are made by phone while he is out and about in the fields.

But I do think that maybe we use them too much. Do you agree? I often hear of young people texting while they are 'watching' a film - and annoying the people sitting next to them. And what has happened to the habit of reading a book or a newspaper when on the train, or looking out of the window at the view, rather than making long, quite personal calls which everyone in the vicinity can hear?

It is obviously grumpy old woman week (yawn) but I remember when we had one red phone box in our village. It was outside the Royal Oak Pub, which was a good mile from our house, so you only went to use the phone when it was absolutely essential. In any case most of one's contemporaries didn't have a phone either so there was nobody really to ring other than doctors, services etc. And, by the way, the phone directory always stayed on the shelf - you always put it back when you had used it, and the box was always kept spotlessly clean by the landlady of the pub.

After two days of reminiscence through rose-tinted specs I promise I will be back to reality tomorrow.

It used to cost twopence for a local call - two separate pennies put into the slot marked A. If anybody answered you pressed button A and got a line through to them. If there was no reply you pressed button B and got your two pence back. I remember my brother ring us on that phone during the war. He told us what time he would ring and we stood outside the phone box in the rain and waiting for it to ring.

Golly - things have come a long way since those days, haven't they?

Thursday 21 July 2011

Are we nearly there yet?

From tomorrow lunch time over 14 million cars are expected to take to the roads in the UK as Britain's schools are out for the Summer and more people than usual are holidaying at home because of the recession.

I suppose Southerners will be heading North for the hills and Northerners will be heading South for the sun, but wherever they are all going, one thing is certain - the roads will be clogged, there will be delays, any amount of colouring books, games and various things they stick in their ears to hear their favourite pop groups, the children will get fed up with the journey long before you arrive at your destination.

Here this week, the weather has been awful. It is very cold and there have been torrential downpours. On Tuesday a friend and I were going up a hill (there are plenty of these in the Dales) when there was what I can only describe as a cloudburst. Torrents of water came down the road - it was quite scary and we pulled off into a gateway until the worst of the storm was over. At our destination - only a couple of miles further on - there had been no rain at all.

So anyone planning to come North should bring plenty of rainwear and plenty of warm sweaters. I suspect, looking at the weather map, the advice would be the same for anyone going South too.

How much simpler it was in my day. (yes, I am obviously turning into a grumpy old woman). Then 'abroad' was something completely outside our radar; our holidays were set in stone. We had no choice as to when to go - it had to be the last week in July because that was "Trip Week", the week when all the big engineering works in Lincoln closed down, the furnaces were allowed to get cold, the big steam hammer was turned off and everyone had a week's holiday with pay.

Some families just had days out, others had a week away. That week for us was always at Skegness, our nearest seaside place. I would pack my little suitcase with my green knitted bathing costume with daisies embroidered on the front (and yes, it did stretch alarmingly when it got wet), my little plain sun hat (oh how I wanted one with flowers on it), summer frocks, cardigans and rainwear, and we would wait on the platform of the station in our village for the Skegness train.

I don't remember it ever being late. We would climb on and find a compartment. I would sit down quickly by the window so that I could watch when we passed our house across the fields. My dad would put my bucket and spade and my suitcase on the rack and we would settle down, looking out of the window at the familiar scenery as we went along the thirty or so miles to the seaside. It was always exciting when we got there because it was the end of the line and we used to go along to the front of the train to see where it was up against the buffers - it could go no further.

The sands are endless at Skegness - the sea is about a mile out and never gets anywhere near the promenade, so it is totally safe. Were there wet days? If so I don't remember them - all the days seemed to be long and sunny.

We continued this until I was well in my teens as the photograph above shows - me with my Mother and Father, snapped by one of the seaside photographers that haunted the promenades in those days. Note my father still in his collar and tie and jacket - he would never be seen in his shirt sleeves.

We always stayed at the YMCA along with two other couples from our village and I love the happy photograph of the three couples obviously enjoying themselves. It was taken in 1948 and shows Mr Applewhite (never a Christian name there), my mother, my father, Mrs Applewhite and my parent's friends Alf and Edna. Alf was really pushing the boat out here in his open-necked shirt and braces - happy days!

I must just point out that by the time that photograph was taken I was not still wearing that knitted bathing costume!!

Tuesday 19 July 2011


Today the farmer and I have been to the supermarket to do our weekly shop. He has to come with me because I still have not got a driving licence since my illness. I must say that he is very patient and uncomplaining and follows me round while I take things off the shelves and put them in the trolley. But today he got very irritated and so did I.

Outside there is a huge poster which says "We support local farmers and local produce."
When I tried to buy tomatoes, out of the twelve different sorts on offer only one was from Cheshire in the UK - the rest were all from Holland. In July? Do you mean to tell me it is impossible to buy British tomatoes in July?

Then we moved on to the meat. British pork? Oh no - plenty from Holland (where pigs are kept on slats) and plenty from Denmark and Germany. Chicken breasts - some were from France.

In fact - once you start reading the labels you become obsessed with it. I feel very strongly about this and, being a farmer's wife, will willingly pay a bit more for British products (although why this should be necessary when the farmers get such a poor return for their money and where the produce has less mileage to come I can't imagine).

When we were on holiday we sat chatting to a fruit farmer from Norfolk UK, who had just retired and sold out. When we remarked that he looked young to retire, he agreed that he was not retiring age. But he could no longer cope with the demands of the supermarket. They required British Cox's Orange Pippins to have ten percent red on them and it all had to be on one side. This meant that he had to cross pollinate with another species in order to fulfil that requirement. Then the packing regulations became so stringent and batches were rejected for the slightest error, so he got out.

Were there any British apples on the fruit counter today? Sorry, only New Zealand, South Africa, France - just good old British Bramleys for cooking. I wonder how long it will be before they begin interfering with those.

We found this very depressing - yes I know we do not have to shop at the supermarket but it is convenient, it is clean, well-set-out, the staff are pleasant. It has everything going for it. But give me our local market on a Friday for my fruit and vegetables in future because getting it from the supermarket has become too depressing.

Monday 18 July 2011

Wild flowers

This afternoon, for our lunch time walk, Tess and I set off to the bottom of the lane in a search for a patch of chicory which has grown there for a number of years. It appears about this time of the year and is the most vivid blue imagineable. When we got there there was no sign of it at all. Oh the transient nature of wild flowers.

However, there was a lovely patch of giant bellflower, which I have not seen on the lane before - so that was some consolation. And on the way back I notcied just how much purple vetch there was this year - far more than other years; it was clambering up everything.

One of our most common late wild flowers is the wild cranesbill (so called after the shape of its seed heads) or geranium. This is a mauvy-blue and rambles about in the bedge bottom everywhere in the Dales.

The barley fields - of which there are a few in this mainly grass-land area - are ripe and wait for a few fine days so that they can be harvested. The grass has grown and it will soon be time for second crop- silage, so a fine weather spell is needed for that. But most of all - there is still haymaking to be done and there sunshine is vital - so I do hope it soon stops pouring with rain and gives us a few days of unbroken sunshine. We have this will it/won't it every year and I must say there has never been a year yet when we haven't finally got all the hay in, so the farmer (who has been in this job all his life) takes it all in his stride and doesn't get all worked up about it like I do.

Sunday 17 July 2011

On the subject of dogs.

A lot of people round here have dogs - it being a country area. The vast majority are of the hunting variety - labradors, spaniels, pointers, retrievers etc. Then there are plenty of terriers - good for ratting and rabbiting.

There is also a good percentage of 'rescue' dogs - for people reading this who are not living in the UK - these are dogs nobody wants and are put up for rescuing and to be given good homes. Their stories are often very sad - and often their history is totally unknown anyway.

We are lucky with Tess. We bought her at eight weeks old from a farm where she was bred. They had her mother and father, her aunt and uncle and various cousins, brothers and sisters. They all ran about the farmyard all day and in the evening they went into the farm kitchen. Tess in particular spent most evenings asleep on the farmer's knee. She came home with us on the day we bought her and has had a similar life here, which means she has never had occasion to mistrust anyone.

This is not so with many rescue dogs who have been passed from pillar to post, had several owners, been ill-treated etc. Such a dog is Topsy, the dog my friend J and her husband decided to rescue.

Topsy is a black cocker spaniel - very beautiful and of show quality. She has been used for breeding and has had two or three litters of puppies. She has been kept outside in a shed with a run and has had little or no experience of love, affection, home comforts etc. She is seven years old which in human terms (1yr = 7 years) is almost 50.

She is now in a loving home where she is cared for indoors and given a lot of love and affection. But she is damaged and we are beginning to think that the damage is not repairable. She is afraid of everyone except her new owners and if anyone comes to the door she runs upstairs in terror. When I go to see her she retreats round the corner and will not come out. She is literally terrified of people, particularly of men.

I suppose if we were to befriend a seriously damaged human at the age of fifty it would be a long time before we would see him/her able to trust anyone and it seems the same with Topsy. Isn't is appalling that as humans we can treat an animal in such a way.

I told my friend I would put a blog on about Topsy and see if anyone reading it had any tips on ways in which she could help her to overcome this terrible fear of everyone and everything. Any ideas?

Saturday 16 July 2011


So rarely do I get a good photograph of Tess. This one was taken by Rosemary of Miss Cellany when she paid me a visit last week and shows Tess in her favourite position at the moment - looking into the hen run in the hope of seeing the chicks. The raised foot means that she is not quite sure what to do next (according to mydog book).

Friday 15 July 2011

Today's Job.

Mundane, ordinary jobs have to be done and today the farmer sharpened his scythe and set off for the hedge backs, his sharpening stone in his pocket. His object was to scythe down the nettles and thistles before they began to seed. It is a job that has to be done every year.

I know that various moths and butterflies feed on them but we do leave a large area in the wood. But in the fields they have to be cut down. Whilst he is doing this he also chops off the odd dock which is going to seed (one year's seed is seven year's weed).

He spotted a dock just about to seed right out in the middle of the field, approached it, drew back his scythe and - just in time - noticed that the clump of grass where the dock was also housed a pheasant sitting on a nest of eggs. She was sitting so low that she just oculdn't be seen until he was right on top of her

So, she has lived to fight another day. He is keeping his eye on her and I must say that the young cattle in the field seem to be avoiding her too. As she was sitting so low the chances are the young are nearly at hatching and once they hatch she leaves the nest area immediately.

I took a photograph for you from a short distance away, keeping as quiet as possible. I know where she is in the photo - she is a little way down on the left of the picture, just below a dock leaf. Can you spot her?

Shortly afterwards the farmer broke his scythe on a stone - so even some of the thistles and nettles live to seed for next year unless he buys a replacement quickly.
The old scythe doesn't owe him anything as it belonged to his father and has been around for many years. Nothing gets replaced on the farm until it breaks or wears out.

Thursday 14 July 2011


When we are out and about on the roads up here in July and August and those roads are clogged with drivers going slowly to look at the scenery (whilst we are in a hurry to get somewhere) we tend to curse the tourists.

But being realistic, these folk who come up here to see our lovely churches, our beautiful scenery, our old mills and pretty villages are really the life-blood of the area. They bring money to our little towns and markets and to our shops. They need to eat somewhere, so they bring money to our cafes and restaurants and tearooms. I doubt there would be our fantastic ice cream parlour with its splendid herd of Guernsey cows were it not for the influx of tourists.

And I have to say they do provide interesting conversations. The majority of the people who come are walkers - to walk on our footpaths and in our hills - and many of them have a dog - or two. Every time I go into our little market town at this time of the year I see all kinds of interesting dogs. A really good opener to a conversation is, "Can I stroke him/her?" I have yet to meet anyone who refused and through that opening I have had some lovely conversations.

Last week there were two Labradoodles; these dogs seem to be up and coming pets these days. A cross between a Labrador and a Poodle means the friendliness of a Labrador and the non-moult of the Poodle - can't be bad. I love Pugs and used to own one and I see that now they have crossed a Pug with a Beagle and made a Puggle. Now I am looking forward to seeing one of those amongst the tourists this year.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Agricultural Shows.

This is the week of The Great Yorkshire Show. It has a permanent showground on the outskirts of Harrogate and the farmer and I used to go every year. In fact it was one of the first occasions when we had a proper 'date'.

Now, with the demise of the Royal Show, the Great Yorkshire is the largest Agricultural Show in the country and a very prestigious place in which to win a prize in any of the many classes. I am pleased to say that our neighbour has already (it only opened yesterday) won two first prizes with his Holstein dairy cows so I am sure he is jumping for joy.

We no longer go - for a variety of reasons. There is a long queue to get into the car park, there is an awful lot of walking to be done, and - sadly - over the years there are more and more stalls selling goods which have little to do with farming. Dare I say - we are past it!

But it is a fantastic event - today Charles and Camilla are going to be there, the weather looks fairly set fair and I am sure they will all have another good day. (Fingers crossed for our neighbour to win more prizes).

On the subject of the Royal Show - in around 1948, probably the first Royal Show after the Second World War, when there was no permanent showground and the Royal moved from county town to county town, it came to Lincoln. I was still at school at the time and I remember lining the route and holding my little Union Jack as the King and Queen (GeorgeVI) and the two Princesses went past in an open carriage. I'll be telling you I saw Queen Victoria next!!

Tuesday 12 July 2011

"Set in."

In spite of the barometer being very high and the weather forecaster saying there would only be showers here and there today, here in our part of the Dale it has what the farmer calls "set in."

We live in the lee of the Pennines and that makes all the difference to our weather. What has been falling out of the sky since mid-morning is hardly what you would call rain, it is just a thick, fine mist. The fine drops are so close together that you are wet through in a minute. If I was up here on holiday then this is the kind of day I would call a "horrible day."

As it is, the farmers who happen to have grass down for first or second crop silage must be really cursing it, as the whole lot will be wet and soggy. The run to the supermarket this morning and the walk round the fields this afternoon produced nothing worthy of a photograph, so I am sorry to say that my blog today is just a moan about the rain!

N>B> When I say "run" to the supermarket I do not mean on my two legs!!!

Monday 11 July 2011

Out of his comfort zone.

(For the last time.)

I found this little chap on the side of the lane, feet up. Moles usually spend most of their lives under the ground, searching for beetles, worms and grubs of any kind, which they chomp up voraciously. Their feet are definitely made for burrowing, their snouts are made for sniffing out food and their eyesight - because they live mostly in the dark - is very poor indeed.

I read that they cannot go more than two or three hours without food and also that their 'fur' is not slanted in either direction, so that they can go forwards or backwards with similar ease.

They are the bane of the farmer's life as they push up mole hills in the fields so that they get a breath of fresh air. If these soil hills get into the silage they do it no good whatsoever and of course they also destroy the grass. In the old days gamekeepers used to trap and kill them and string them up on wire - such a barbaric practice I thought.

I stroked its skin and it really is the most velvety soft skin. I wonder whether it was ever used for making anything - does anyone know? You would certainly need an awful lot of moleskins to make a moleskin waistcoat.

I couldn't help but feel sad that he had died in such an undignified way - probably knocked by a vehicle as he crossed the lane I suppose.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Nature wild in tooth and claw (and wing).

6.30am on a cool July Sunday morning. Watery blue sky with quite a lot of cloud. Promise of heavy showers. The farmer is out in the fields, walking the dogs on his early morning route.

As he comes back under the Scots pines he notices what he thinks is a butterfly(!!), he nips into the house and picks up my camera (I am still in bed, drinking my morning cup of coffee) and takes this photograph.

I am certain it is a moth. In fact, on closer inspection it is two moths, one on top of the other and - I presume - probably mating. Aren't they beautiful and aren't they also very well camouflaged on the trunk of the pine? At present our garden is full of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers (as I write this there are three at the bird feeding station) and I wonder whether or not they would eat moths or whether they stick to grubs. They spend a lot of their time flinging bits of bark off our trees to get at eatables underneath.

My friend G has eyes like a peregrine falcon - I mean this in the nicest possible way - she never misses a single thing on our walks. Every bird, every owl pellet, nothing escapes her notice. I'm afraid I walk with my head on other things usually and this means that I miss a lot of what is going on around me.

So here is a photograph to start your day - two beautifully marked moths. They will probably be gone by now as the sun is out on the trunk of that tree. Enjoy!

# Must just mention in passing the death of one of my favourite artists, Cy Twombly.
I have always loved his work and if I was nearer to London I would be going to see the exhibition on at the moment where his work is interspersed with that of Nicholas Poussin (Dulwich Picture Gallery) and which sounds fascinating.

##Robert (Solitary Walker) tells me that these are Magpie Moths and that they fly in the day time throughout July and August. Thank you for the info Robert.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Our Past Dies with us.

Yesterday, talking to the blogging friends who called in, we got to talking about possessions and what happens to them after we are gone. It was brought about by the two sea shells on my bedroom shelf - one a shell off Vancouver Beach and the other a razor clam shell off the beach at Hunstanton in Norfolk. I look at these shells often, I pick them up, I marvel that they sit here side by side and yet come literally from opposite sides of the world. I said yesterday that when I die somebody will throw them in the bin as they will have no use and nobody will want them.

We have a prestigious Auction house close to where we live and several times a year they have a Catalogue Sale with viewing days. The farmer and I often go to one of the viewing days and I always feel there is a certain sadness in the air. Dealers in fine arts and antiques, people on the lookout for special items of furniture, glass or pottery - all are going through the exhibits with a fine tooth comb and jotting down in their catalogues exactly how high they are prepared to bid for each item. And I always think that those things belonged to somebody, were loved and looked after by somebody and that many of the pieces had a long history now gone for ever. For example there are often photograph frames with old sepia posed prints in them. Who are these people? Why do their children/grandchildren/great grandchildren not want them on the sideboard?

This brought the TV Programme and the subsequent book - The History of the World in 100 Objects - into the discussion and then we said maybe there should be a blog about one's own life - recording things for posterity.

Thinking about this last evening I thought it would be interesting to take one thing from each decade of one's life and photograph and catalogue that. I might well do that in the future, but in the meantime I have photographed a few possessions which mean a lot to me.

If you came to my house I am sure you would be overwhelmed by the number of things I have on every available table and shelf. I can assure you that each one of these things means something, reminds me of something or somewhere - but when I am gone their history will be gone too.

There is the wooden arm chair which belonged to my Grandfather and which I think he inherited from his father - not worth anything financially but I love it, even though it is not a comfortable chair to sit in.

There is the small statuette of the bull's head which the farmer and I bought in one of our first trips abroad to Salamanca and which sits on the mantelshelf to remind us.

There is the tiny watercoloured box which surprises when it is opened by having two lines from a W H Davies poem painted inside the lid and two grazing cows in the bottom of the box. This box was bought for me one Christmas about ten years ago by a dear friend long dead and I treasure it greatly.

The little china boy sitting with a top hat on his knee belonged to my maternal grandmother and my mother loved it dearly. I have it on my bookshelves where it is a constant reminder of my mother.

The Hummel figurine of the little boy sitting on the fence was bought for me by the man I worked for. I typed up the report of his visit to the Hummel factory and he gave me this as a thank you. It was all many years ago - I was in my early twenties - but it does record an early stage in my life.

Finally, the two long-tailed tits sitting on a branch was bought for me a short while ago by my grandchildren, because they knew I loved birds in general and long-tailed tits in particular. I treasure it because they had given such thought to the present and it sits in a prominent place where I can always see it. My grandchildren are grown up now and all over the place so I rarely see all three together - but this is a good reminder.

I would hate to think these things would end up in a catalogue sale somewhere - but does it really matter? They are only possessions after all and once we are gone does their history matter at all? Maybe not.

Friday 8 July 2011

Wandering in Cyberland.

What a strange world it is out there. Our words and pictures bounce about in the ether, landing in some places, bypassing others, to be read by goodness knows who, when and where.

Every single one of us could have invented a whole false persona. How do you know I am a woman, a mother, an ex-teacher, a dog owner, a gardener, a farmer's wife, an embroiderer? You know because I tell you so on my blog.

For all you know I could be a man, a murderer, a dustman, owner of a dozen llamas, living in a first floor flat in the inner city and never touching any form of art. Maybe that is what makes it all so interesting. You have to trust that what you read is at least one person's version of the truth.

Of course, it is mostly revealed if you actually meet a fellow-blogger. Two years ago I met Elizabeth on a visit to New York and we recognised one another across the foyer of a large New York hotel with no difficulty at all.

Today I met another blogger (Share My Garden) who is up here on holiday. She and her husband came over for a cup of tea and there was an instant rapport - we had a lovely couple of hours and I am sure we all look forward to meeting again.

So on the whole, cyberland is a very great asset. It opens up a whole new world of interesting and like-minded people - and long may it continue to flourish. And thank you to R and P for making the effort to come over and see me - I really enjoyed the experience and I hope you did too.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Wash and brush up all round.

It was not just Tess who had her beauty treatment this week. First of all the sheep had a massive one. Their fleeces have become increasingly tatty with great swags of wool hanging off on the hedges, where they have scratched. It must have been so irritating. Well now they have been shorn. They are no longer nice, woolly sheep - they are ungainly, lumpy things on four legs - only attractive, I would think, to a male of the species.

In addition they have all had a pedicure (note to self: keep Tess out of the yard for a day or two because pared horn is one of her favourite foods!) Their feet have been scrubbed and sprayed in an effort to keep foot problems as low as possible (eradication is impossible). They have all been drenched - a spout has been unceremoniously poked into their mouths with a dose of something horrible and finally their bottoms have been dealt with - and their teats. These both get unbelievably dirty, sticky and messy - a perfect breeding ground for flies and then maggots. It has not been a pleasant job but it is done and they are back in their field and decidedly frisky with it.

Then the heifers were brought in and drenched. They did not like it and, being larger and more boisterous than the sheep, made their feelings felt in no uncertain way. So each one had to be placed in a crush to be dealt with. Their feet were pared down and washed and I am sure they felt all the better for it, although one was in such a hurry to get back to the field that it knocked its leg and is now limping - so we must keep an eye on that one.

The last thing to have a treatment was the yard. You can imagine the mess - poo of both kinds, wool, parings, wool-clippings etc. So after waiting 24 hours, hoping for a real downpour to start the process and none being forthcoming, yesterday the farmer spent most of his day cleaning up.

Still it is all done and dusted and everything is back in the fields behaving as though nothing has happened. This morning the farmer has been picking gooseberries, of which we have stones. I have made ten pounds of gooseberry and elderflower jam (good recipe for this on the internet) and as I still have gooseberries in the freezer from last year I really don't want any more. Luckily various people want some and it is lovely to give away produce.

On the subject of jam I always make a lot of raspberry jam as it is the best to fill sandwich cakes. This year we have had a lot of strawberries too, most of which we have eaten for tea. Any that have been left over I have put in with the raspberries in the jam and I must say the strawberries give the jam a nice flavour. If you are a jam-maker do try it.

Very changeable and stormy weather here with plenty of downpours. Did I once post a blog saying we were desperate for rain???

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Ooop North.

I read in the paper yesterday how a Northern couple were refused permission to foster two children who had belonged to a relation down South because 'the powers that be' said that the children would be moving to a 'different culture' and it was not good for them. Thankfully, in this case, reason prevailed and it was allowed to go ahead.

But is it a different culture in the North? I have never lived further South than the Midlands so it is hard for me to say. But in what way is it different?

Money - Is there more money down South? Well the houses cost more, there are more big cars on the road, there are jobs with much higher salaries, there are people with more 'spare' money (or so we are told), there are more up-market shops.

Yes, the houses cost more, but my goodness me we have some lovely houses up here and at least if you pay less for your house you have more disposable income; nobody wishes to be badly off through some enormous mortgage unless they have to be.

There are more big cars on the road - in fact the traffic is horrendous. A friend who went to London last weekend was horrified by the traffic and also horrified when, as she tried to cross the road, she was elbowed out of the way by someone who couldn't wait that extra second.

There are jobs with higher salaries - in fact there are more jobs per se, and unemployment is higher up here - but does that make for less love in a family?
People with 'spare money'? Believe me, I know some people up here who have a lot of money - they just don't choose to splash it about. Some of the richest farmers I know go around as though they haven't two half-pennies to rub together.

As for up-market shops, we have an excellent one in our nearby market town for anyone who wishes to use it. There are shops for ordinary goods and the up-market shop which keeps absolutely everything and is of high quality.

As for Culture. There are plenty of cinemas and theatres - they may be a little further away but that does not make them inaccesible. 'Culture' with a small c - i.e. the way we think, the way we behave, the way we live - up here now there is such a mix of people. In our village there are people from North, South. East and West of the country - they all join in together - they belong our local history group, they help at coffee mornings, they volunteer in the charity shops and they mix with the locals.

Anyone who doesn't know this should spend time up here learning about the real world.
I suspect this same attitude applies to many different countries (I know it does to some parts of the U S) but in these days of such social mobility - forget it. We are all one nation and differences are in the mind.

Do you agree or do you have a different view? I would love to hear.

# Some time ago I had as my header a lovely picture of trees along the bank of a canal. Jeannette (mysteries on my side bar) has done the most beautiful painting of it. Do pop over if you have time and have a look at it.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

A Girl feels a lot better after a visit to the hairdresser.

Isn't it wonderful what a visit to the hairdresser can do? I really think that Tess is as upboeat as I am when I go. At least she is cooler in this 'muggy' weather.

A thought about yesterday's post.

I was thinking in the middle of the night, when I couldn't sleep because it was too hot, about the crisis in the Horn of Africa. And I wondered - there do not seem to be any old people amongst the refugees. As some of those women and children have travelled for days to get there, I presume it is too far for the village's old people.
So, presumably, they stay behind - to die? It is a terrible thought, but I can't see why else almost all the refugees appear to be youngish.

These people have had hard lives from the day they were born, and I suspect they have lived their lives either hoping that things would improve or (more likely) expecting to live out their lives without an improvement.

I hope to blog again later in the day but wanted to add this thought on to yesterday's thoughts.

Monday 4 July 2011

Mad dogs and Englishmen.

Today it is hot here. Very hot. The temperature outside our back door, which faces due North and is always in the shade, is twenty four degrees. And although there is a breeze, it is a hot breeze which seems to make matters worse.

I think my body's temperature control has probably stopped working - in Winter, when it is cold, I am very cold and in Summer, when it is hot, I am very hot. Today I can't cope with the heat. Putting the washing out on the line to dry meant a ten minute sit down afterwards to recover. Now the lunch is over, the most I can do is to lift a pencil to do the Times crossword. Ironing has been done with gritted teeth.

Then I watched the lunch time News with tens of thousands of women in places like Ethiopia and Somalia, tramping across the arid desert - day after day after day - with small, hungry children in tow - some of them dying on the way. Women who were born to servitude, born to become the possession of some man who right now is fighting some stupid war which can never be won and leaving his wife to trek to the nearest refugee camp; women who endured all manner of female circumcision because over there in Africa it is a man's world and women are seen as little better than beasts of burden; women with the most beautiful,serene faces, dressed in robes of the most exquisite desert colours - the whole picture is obscene.

And when the farmer came back after taking Tess for her walk because it was too hot for me to go, he got a big hug from me. It might be hot here today (not, of course, by Somalian standards) but at least we have men who love us and treat us like equals, enough to eat and a place to lie in the cool if we can't stand the heat any longer.

Let's just pause a minute and be grateful for what we have.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Two weeks old and growing.

No post yesterday as I was out at a coffee morning with a friend in the morning and all afternoon busy getting ready to host last night's dinner party. So no post but a pleasant dinner party with good friends, a nice chat and the knowledge that the farmer is brilliant at stacking the dishwasher and washing up surplus dishes afterwards!

Yesterday the chicks were two weeks old and they have doubled in size and also gained such confidence that they charge about in the run and go in and out of the chick house with or without their mother. Another couple of weeks and we should be able to tell which are hens and which cocks because their combs grow more quickly if they are male.
Then comes the thorny problem of what to do with the males, as nobody wants them. The farmer, however, has said that as their father is a very large Buff Orpington male, they should be big enough to rear for the table. Oh dear me - I shall have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

The farmer has gone walking today in the Dales. I have been to a friend's house for coffee, where we sat in the garden in the lovely sunshine. She has a very shy rescue dog so I took Tess along as we are trying hard to make her dog (Topsy) become less frightened and more sociable. Hopefully it seems to be working. She is such a lovely dog - some people have a lot to answer for in the way they treat dogs as she came to J as a totally traumatised dog, terrified of men. Now I don't think she can quite believe the love and care she is getting.

Incidentally - for those who asked - Goldie, the hen who has sat on the eggs and is now rearing the chicks, is not necessarily their mother. One or two of the eggs may or may not be Goldie's. The eggs merely come from the nest boxes in the hen house and could belong to any one of the birds. One thing for sure though - she is looking after them like a mother.

Friday 1 July 2011

Hay - make it while the sun shines.

Sorry that yesterday's post didn't appear until today but I finally gave up on Blogger as it was so contrary yesterday.

Today the hay is being baled. This is as good a year as the farmer can remember lately. From cutting to baling there has been no rain and today the grass is crisp, dry and sweet-smelling.

Of course there have been hiccups, and watching the farmer I can see where he gets his patience from (it is unlimited I assure you). Inside the baler are great balls of baler twine - these got twisted (think of a kitten playing with a ball of wool!) and before he could proceed he had to sort it all out because the baler was spewing out unwrapped bales of hay which were just falling apart on the field.

However, now it sounds to be working properly - the paddock is next to the hall where I am working; the door is open and the smell of hay is divine. Mother and foal racehorses in the field the other side of the paddock have got quite tame and came to the fence to watch. I am torn between watching the haymaking and watching the tennis.