Wednesday 30 November 2011

Follow on from yesterday.

It was a local who was the perpetrator of the attack on the 84 year old, and they have already caught her. The old lady is out of hospital too.

I think reading Dominic's reply, that I must have given a totally wrong impression of what I felt yesterday. Of course - having worked with disturbed, socially deprived and less-able children for most of my working life - I know only too well what goes on behind closed doors in any community; I also know that town or country makes absolutely no difference to that. Our local paper is full each week of cases of petty crime, domestic violence etc.

This is what I was trying to get across - and I don't expect Dominic or anyone else of his age or younger to really understand. However much you think you know about old age, however well-prepared you think you are for it, until it hits you you have no idea what it is like. You feel exactly the same inside, you have the same thoughts and aspirations, if you are sensible you either don't look too closely in the mirror or, if you do, you accept the wrinkles and think of them as 'lines of experience'. But what is most difficult to accept is that physically you are weaker. Knees are usually arthritic, you don't walk as quickly, you are totally unable to defend yourself. Anyone over 75 will know that carrying a shopping bag, opening one's purse to pay for something in a shop, putting the change back into the purse and putting your purchases into your shopping
bag is a major operation. This is what makes the attack seem so unsettling - and has nothing whatsoever to do with Conan Doyle's remarks, which I am sure were as true then as they are today.
The fact that they have quickly found the perpetrator has cleared the air. I have two old friends of 87 - both steam round the town every day - their sticks tapping on the pavement. One has just lost her husband of 60 years; when I gave her a hug and said I was sorry the other day she said 'I'm not the first person it has happened to.' The other one still works in a charity shop one morning a week although she lives in sheltered accommodation. When I saw her last week and asked her how she was and how she passed her time, she said, 'I don't let myself get down, if I begin to feel miserable I just muck a cupboard out!' But both are frail and if it had been them I don't know whether either of them would have survived and if they had they would have taken a while to get their spirit back.
I had no intention of suggesting that the 'dark shadow of decay' had arrived and I agree about stupid fast drivers and Health Service cuts - all very valid points. All I am saying is that I shall definitely be holding on to my handbag a little more carefully in the future and I shall certainly not walk down the one or two lonely little cut-through alleys in the town. I shall stay firmly where there are people about and continue to meet my ageing friends (and my young ones too) but that maybe I shall be a bit wiser about it all. Hopefully the ripples created have settled quickly but I am sure there are a few ageing ladies who are feeling just a little undermined at present and we must allow them that feeling.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

A Sad Day.

Our little market town is very small. Everybody knows everybody and the difficulty of shopping there is that every other footstep you take you meet someone you know and stop for a chat. We have always said how lucky we are to live in such a crime-free area. Admittedly there are burglaries and farm thefts galore but still we have always felt safe in the town. In fact, my son roars with laughter when I say that I am 'going into town' as it is such a tiny place it is little more than a village. It is often like stepping back in time and everything is peaceful. Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday in broad daylight, at around ten oclock in the morning, an elderly lady of 84 was attacked in the town's toilets and she was hit over the head with a hammer four times and her handbag and stick were stolen. Later the handbag and stick were recovered, minus the money of course. What somehow makes the mugging much worse is that the perpetrator was a middle aged woman.

I'm sure that anyone who lives in a large town and is reading this will be thinking 'welcome to the real world' - but I think most of us up here did think that maybe we had escaped it. It is obviously not so, and I for one am greatly saddened.

I am still waiting to hear which elderly lady it was who was attacked. For many years I was President of the local Womens' Institute and although I came out of it when I married the farmer eighteen years ago, I am familiar with most elderly local ladies and I really do not wish it to be any of them - or anyone else for that matter.

Sad day indeed.

Sunday 27 November 2011


Yesterday afternoon, I was just preparing to bake another Christmas cake, when my daughter in law rang to see if I would like to go to a Craft and Food Christmas Fair at The Station, Richmond.
Readers of my blog will know how much I enjoy going there anyway and I am never one to turn down an invitation to go out rather than do a job at home.

As usual there was a terrific 'buzz' there. Children were eagerly waiting to go into the cinema to see The Sleeping Beauty; the stalls were all busy with browsers and buyers. There were hot mince pies, ginger wine, cheeses, game and other meats, handmade soaps, jewelry, preserves, sweets and much more. We had a wander round. I bought two bottles of the excellent Glendale Ginger Wine. Then we had a cup of coffee in the restaurant.

One stall was selling 5 bird roasts for Christmas - very Victorian I thought - the birds being pigeon, mallard, pheasant, chicken and turkey - each one stuffed inside the other, finishing with the turkey. They looked appetising but I am afraid I could not eat pigeon, mallard or pheasant =- I prefer to see all three wandering loose in the fields.

And so I arrived home too late to make a Christmas cake. It also made me think of that 19th century word 'scrimshank' which meant doing anything to evade work. I knew I had written a poem about that too, so I searched through and found it. So here today is another of my poems:-


The dust lies thick
where the sun falls:
but it also falls
on the apple blossom
on the old tree
by the window.
I touch the blossom,
smell the Spring
and watch the bees
(those models of work and efficiency)
and the dust lies thick.

The weeds grow fast
in the garden -
groundsel, chickweed,
fat hen and the
ubiquitous dandelion.
I bend and touch the
yellow flowers.
I cannot destroy
a hundred suns.

Someone should clean
the windows.
The sun shows up
the smears.
But there is a
gossamer web and a
busy spider -
I cannot disturb
her work.

We are out of milk,
and butter,
and bread.
But the road to
the shop has
stupendous views of the
Vale of York.
The sun is hazy and a
faint mist rises
and the trees are etched
in charcoal.

I stop
and sit
and look.
The jobs can be done
or the next day
or the next.....

Enjoy your weekend.

Saturday 26 November 2011

The first batch of ladies have arrived.

They came this morning, walking over the three fields between our farms and so gratefully coming into the barn full of fresh, clean, sweet-smelling straw. They have already settled in - as you will see. Some of them are nibbling at the silage but most are lying down taking a well-earned rest after their walk. After all - they are all pregnant so need to take a rest now and again.

The farmer is off shooting with the syndicate today. Tess and I walked up the lane after lunch, accompanied by the black cat who succeeded in almost tripping me up on the return journey in the way that cats do when they want milk. I just happened to notice this lovely little beech tree on the lane. It is the only left with reluctant leaves still hanging on it and shining in the sunshine. Everywhere else is now bare and leafless. It is a year today since we had that really heavy snowfall and winter came with a vengeance. So far no hint of similar weather this year thank goodness.

Friday 25 November 2011

The run-up to Christmas phase two.

The Christmas puddings are made, cooled, re-wrapped and put in a cool place for storage. Now for the Christmas cakes. I always make four or five - some as presents and usually two for us.

I have just put the first one into the oven and it is one for us and one I have not made for a few years - a tropical fruit cake. It has pineapple, papaya, melon, mango, cherries, orange and lemon peels, sultanas, ground almonds, crystallised ginger and lots of Highland Park whisky in it. As I write it is cooking in the Aga, so keep fingers crossed that it comes out well. I shall not ice it, but add a topping of glazed nuts and cherries. If the fiinished cake looks reasonable I shall post a photograph to this blog tonight, to go with the one of the mixture in the bowl above.

Anyone having a Thanksgiving Day - have a wonderful day.

Thursday 24 November 2011

A Journey

Today I have driven over to meet my god-daughter for lunch in Sedbergh. I love this journey and I have taken you with me on the drive through Wensleydale many times.

One of the interesting things about living in the Pennines is that the weather can change in just a few miles. It was a lovely sunny day here and it remained so all the way (it is thirty miles) but within five miles of leaving home it was obvious that there had been torrential rain overnight. The roads were swimming with water, the water was cascading down the hillsides and the river was full to overflowing. We had had no rain here.

Sadly I drove past a dead badger on the road. It is always sad to see such a beautiful animal killed by a car. Road kill is a fact of life up here - pheasants, rabbits, even the occasional hare I am afraid to say and now and then a roe deer, but it is a long time since I saw a badger.

I allowed myself an extra half hour to look round Westwood's Bookshop in Sedbergh one of the best second hand bookshops in the country and one of the most comprehensive. I managed to find an Iris Murdoch which my son has not read so that can go in his stocking for Christmas (if you are reading this Dominic, skip this paragraph).

Then, so that I got home well before dark (I am not good at driving in the dark), I set off to come back home. I stopped just long enough to get you a shot of the beautiful Howgills looking in quite a sombre mood, but livened up by a few shots of sunlight. And that brings me quite neatly into another of my poems. There is a hill near home called Scarth Nick and the view from there is spectacular. This is a poem I wrote about it:-

The View from Scarth Nick.

A spotlight shines
on Friesian cows
and, for an instant,
they are
Prima Donnas
holding centre stage.
Then a cloud
switches off the light.

A golden poplar,
lit from the side,
gets a starring role before
the light goes out.

There are bit players,
the barns,
the sheep,
the sometimes sparkling water
of the beck,
a red car that - for a split second-
catches the sunlight.

But for today
the cows
and the tree
are the stars.
Tomorrow will be
a different play.

Wednesday 23 November 2011


Very busy today - out for coffee with American friends over here for a few days and then out for a Poetry afternoon. As usual, we had a good, eclectic mix of poetry -RS Thomas,Betjamen, Tennyson, TS Eliot, DH Lawrence - to name but a few. I read some new poetry from the book I had for my birthday - An Anthology of New Poetry published by Carcanet. It is the most civilised afternoon and I always come home feeling refreshed.

But this does all mean that I have had little or no opportunity for find a blogging subject - so the blog today is to wish all my American blogging friends a very happy Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. May you all have a wonderful time with your families and friends and delicious food to eat - and may it be the start of a good year for you all.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

My wonderful farmer.

Today has been a really busy day - Tesco this morning, as usual on a Tuesday. Then out for coffee this morning to friends in Richmond - a lovely chat and a chance to meet (albeit just a peep round the corner at the top of the stairs!) their new Bengal cat. Friends after lunch and then the washing out of the fridge and the putting away of the food.

Tomorrow will see the first of my Christmas cakes being made - I make a series for various friends and relations. The first one tomorrow will be a cake full of glace fruits - pineapple, ginger, mango, apricot etc. I had forgotten about it until I came across the recipe in my book and found I made it last in 2005 - so tomorrow it will be resurrected.

So, that means there has been no time to think of a blog for today. But - as you so enjoyed my poem of yesterday I thought I would post another one today. Before I post it I will tell you a little story (although I do know that any poem which needs an explanation is by its very nature a bad poem).

When the farmer and I first met, twenty years ago, I was a widow and he was a bachelor farmer who farmed and lived near to where I lived. The local footpath went through his land and each day I would take my dear little pug Algy (now long gone to that lovely pug heaven in the sky) across these fields on our walk. Often I would meet the farmer and we would have a chat - usually about something to do with the bird life, or the wild flowers, or the stock in the fields.
Eventually we began our 'courtship' and I would still walk and we would meet and talk. Sometimes he would be busy elsewhere and I would not see him. But so that he knew I had been round the fields I would leave him a message. I would gather some wild flowers, wrap them in grass and hang them on the electric fence wire, where I knew he would find them when he fetched the cows in to milk. Here is the poem:-

Message on a Wire.

There is a stillness in your field.
Not a silence -
(for the mistle thrush sings
on the topmost bough
of the hawthorn).
(And the beck finds its voice
as it slips over the stones
in the South eadow).
But a stillness
from long ago,
when the grass was first sown
and peppered with wild flowers
in their season.

One day in July
that still ness would be broken.
The grass would be mown,
tossed, dried in the sun,
smelt and carted away to the stack.
Then the stillness would return.

Men who care for fields
feel that stillness,
soak it into their bones,
become that stillness,
protected, cocooned
within the confines of their walls.

I walked across your field today.
I could leave you a message
on your answer-phone.
Or I could leave
two buttercups,a herb robert
and a cuckoo flower, tied
with a strand of grass and
hanging on the wire.

Either way and you will know.

Monday 21 November 2011

The Hotel Awaits.

Any day now the ladies-in-waiting are due to arrive. Their accommodation is ready - good clean, sweet-smelling straw, clean, filled water trough. They were due to come on Saturday but never arrived, so we must await their coming.

The ladies-in-waiting are twenty-seven in-calf heifers. I look forward to their coming. It will be nice to have the yard filled with curious faces again when I go to get the car out of the garage.

A friend has asked me to fill a notebook with my poems for her to keep. Since I have been taking my drugs (it is a year today since I was ill, incidentally) I do not seem able to do anything creative. But it was interesting reading through them. Most have been posted on my site before, but a long time ago. So I thought I would leave one for you today.

This one was written for the farmer. Hope you like it:

'A Man of Few Words.'

No smile
or word of greeting;
just a raised forefinger
on the steering wheel.

No word of praise
or complaint;
just tacit acceptance.

No eulogies,
no promise of undying love;
just the cuckoo-flower,
the hazel nuts,
the subtle tail feather of the grey partridge,
brought in the afternoon
and given with few words,
but saying more
than any gaudy bunch of roses.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Christmas begins.

I have never understood why people buy their ready-made Christmas Puddings. They are so easy to make (thanks to Saint Delia), take no time at all and fill the house with the spicy smells of Christmas. A mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, rum, stout, barley wine, oranges and lemons sneaks into every corner of every room, so that you suddenly catch a whiff unawares.

I suppose having an Aga makes the cooking easy though - they just go in overnight tomorrow night in the bottom oven and cook away all night. When I think back to my childhood, the kitchen used to be full of steam as each pudding had its ten hour steaming - so perhaps that is why people buy rather than make!

Another lovely day here after a foggy start, but now - at 4pm - the cold is coming down and the fog closing in again. I have just lit the stove and the hearth is piled with sweet smelling logs - so that is another smell to tickle the senses and spread the message that Christmas is coming.

Tomorrow anyone who calls will stir the pudding mixture for good luck - because tomorrow is Stir-Up Sunday. All have a metaphorical stir please - it will bring you good luck for the whole year I hope.

Friday 18 November 2011

Autumn Quiet

Walking up the lane after lunch today I was struck by the quiet. It is a still day; all the leaves are stripped from the trees; all that is left in the fields - apart from the odd one or two hardy heifers still out - is sheep and at this time of the year they make little or no noise.

In the bare hedgerows birds flit in and out - maybe a little flock of long-tailed tits working the bushes and twittering between themselves; maybe a cock blackbird sending out his alarm call at our approach. But of the rooks there is no sign today.

A cock pheasant, set up by Tess, flies off into the field with his alarm call. Then silence descends once more. Yesterday, as I drove out of the drive into the lane, fourteen cock pheasants in solemn procession stalked up the lane, followed by two or three hen followers. They stopped when they saw my car. I wasn't away long and as I stood preparing lunch in the kitchen window they stalked down the drive, picked away at debris under the bird table and then wandered off again.

Coming back from our walk Tess's tail began to wag and I knew that she had heard one of the farm cats sitting in the hedge waiting for our return. Sure enough, as we reached him, Blackie marched out in front of us, tail in the air, trying to trip me up, making sure I got the message that he wanted some milk. He knows I am a soft touch.

Our cotoneaster horizontalis is covered in small, beady red berries - they look to me just ripe for the picking. But - like the berries on the top of the holly bush - they will not go yet. They always seem to be left until there is a really cold spell, when they disappear overnight.

Thursday 17 November 2011


Yesterday I went to Ripon for my hair appointment. Coming back down our lane at lunch time, suddenly a muntjac loped across the road in front of me. It came out of a piece of scrub land, crossed the lane and went into the field on the other side. I didn't stop to get a good look at it. I was quite a few yards further on before I realised what I had seen (it is not uncommon to see roedeer) and by then it was too late, there was no sight of it.

I am absolutely sure it was a muntjac - although it is the first I have seen in the wild. It was smaller than the roe deer, a different colour and - most importantly - its front end was lower than its back end -i.e. it did not have the straight back of a roedeer. We do get roe deer in our fields quite often but this was something quite different.

Quite an exciting end to my morning out I would say.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Wuthering Heights

Well, the farmer and I went to the cinema to see Wuthering Heights last evening. We are so lucky to have the Station Complex at Richmond, with its artisan shops, its delightful cafe and its two cinema screens, each seating one hundred people.

On Tuesdays there are three screenings on Screen 1 - one at 1.30pm for senior citizens (£4.50 entry), one at 5pm and another at 8 pm. We usually go to the 5pm screening, leaving home at 3.30 for the twenty minute drive, parking (not always easy), ordering a sandwich tea and two pots of tea and then sitting relaxing for an hour before wandering into the cinema. We did this yesterday and sat chatting to a most interesting man on the next table, so it was a really pleasant hour. When we got into the cinema there were only 17 people in the audience, but once the lights were out this didn't matter, except that the lady behind me spent a large part of the film trying to open sweet papers quietly about a yard from my hearing aid!

As to the film, well the jury is out. I am hoping that somebody who reads this has seen it, so that we can discuss it in a bit of detail. It is many years since I read the book and I purposely didn't read it again before last night, although of course I know the story - don't we all.

Although it is set on those bleak Yorkshire Moors above the Bronte village of Howarth, it was actually filmed in Upper Swaledale - quite near to where we live, so that the scenery was in many ways familiar territory.

Some things it got over very well - the primitiveness of existence up there, the cold and the mud in Winter, and - of course - the central 'love' story. But there was very little dialogue and an awful lot of shots showing bleak moorland, grey sky, branches tapping on windows, pouring rain and howling winds. Everyone seemed to be wet through and frozen most of the time and yet, miraculously, they would be dry inside moments later.

It has occupied my thinking a large part of today - perhaps that is a plus too, but really I don't think it was all that gripping. Anyone out there like to add a comment?

Monday 14 November 2011

Busy weekends.

It has been a busy weekend, which is the kind I like best really.

We have a rather pukka local auction house and every now and then they have a Catalogue Sale of really super items. The sale is later this week and yesterday was the first viewing day. It is always nice to go and have a look at the lovely jewelry, furniture, china, clocks ( about twenty grandfather clocks, two of them I think could be called great-grandfather clocks as they were enormous) etc. We had a good wander round, admiring so much of it - particularly the silver. But when we got home we decided that there was not a single thing that we would like to own - nice to look at but that's all.

Later in the day we had various visitors to eat up the cake I had baked for the tea party. I have to say that the chocolate fudge cake was delicious, but note to self - do not make it again, it is irresistable and fattening. A bad combination.

Today I went to our Station cafe and arts complex to look at an exhibition and to book for Wuthering Heights at the cinema. The Yorkshire Post newspaper gave it one star and said it was a very poor version; the Times gave it four stars and said it was excellent. I will tell you what I think after tomorrow night.

To finish on a bright note. How can something so scary and creepy crawly that we all dislike (OK I admit I dislike) produce a web in the privet outside my kitchen window that catches the dew drops in the early morning and manages to look like diamonds?

Saturday 12 November 2011

Sod's Law

Another shooting day on our land today and after a complete week of greyity (yes, I know - I just invented the word) the sun has shone all day, just as it did on the last shoot. Quite a lot of the pheasants have ended up under our Scots Pine trees, carefully negotiating the fairy rings of toadstools which seem to have sprung up overnight with the damp weather. Clever pheasants - I think maybe it is the law of natural selection - those who are clever enough to evade the guns by scuttling up the hedgeside will survive and breed and hopefully teach these skills to their offspring.
Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part.

I have spent the morning baking as we had friends coming for afternoon tea tomorrow. Now they have just let me know that N is not well and they can't come. The next e mail was from other friends to say can they pop in this evening and see us - so I shall not have to think what I am going to give them to eat for supper. Still, get well soon N. The trouble is that as one gets older things seem to take more of a hold, as Arija says in her comment to my last post.

I don't know who it was who said that old age is not for wimps, but by golly it is very true.

Friday 11 November 2011

An exciting parcel.

Isn't the internet wonderful? It is particularly so for people like me who are 'getting on a bit' and who live in quite an isolated spot. Daily I have communication with twenty or thirty people, all of whom seem like old friends

A few weeks ago I was chatting to Margaret of Thousand Flower Farm. Looking at the farm on Google Earth I see that I hardly know the meaning of isolation, compared with the area where Margaret lives. And yet, like me, she tells me that she gets so much companionship from the internet.

Margaret weaves, knits, grows fruit and vegetables and flowers, makes rugs - and sells these things at local markets. One of the things she makes on her loom is potholders. I said I wished I could pop into the market to meet her and buy a potholder. And lo and behold, this morning two potholders woven in the colours of my kitchen, arrived through the post.

So this is just to say thank you so much Margaret for making my day. The potholders are absolutely lovely - sturdy,colourful and a great addition to my kitchen decor. I don't think I shall dare to use them, they are much too nice.

On a completely different note - today is Remembrance Day and at 11am this morning a group of us gathered at our little town's War Memorial to pay our respects. It was a short, solemn occasion but very moving; made moreso for me by the fact that there was a class of young people from the local Comprehensive school - not only did they behave impeccably but they were also visibly moved by the occasion. Top marks to their teacher for bringing them along and top marks to him/her too for allowing them time afterwards to nip into the sweet shop and buy something - they deserved it.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Saving for a Rainy Day.

'Saving' is not a very fashionable word at the moment - there doesn't seem to be a lot of point in saving (even if you can afford to do so) when the banks are in such turmoil and offering such poor rewards. But there was a time when saving for a rainy day had real meaning.

As I look out of the window this morning, it is thick fog. In spite of there being quite a breeze blowing, all it is doing is blowing the fog from place to place. It is the kind of fog which, up here, usually only goes away with a good heavy rain shower.

Here in the Dales we have always been mostly grass land and I dare say there would often be jobs for the farmworkers to do indoors on wet days. There were cattle to feed and clean out and milk etc. But on arable farms, once it rained the men had to go home for the day = hence the expression 'saving for a rainy day'. Also the reason why they all had vegetable gardens and all tended them after work every night. Imagine working on the land all day, coming home, eating your dinner and then going out until it was dark to work in your garden. But they needed the produce to supplement their meagre wages.

In the days I am talking about almost everyone in the village would be a farm worker; maybe a road man (the road man in the village when I was a child was called Joe Hardy. If you saw a blocked drain or if there was water on the road, you went to Joe's door and told him and soon he would be there with his barrow, seeing to it. As kids we used to go specially past his house on a Monday to see his long combinations hanging on the washing line!) and then the 'posher' people, like the vicar, the doctor and so on. But, by and large, all were farmers or farmworkers.

I have now lived in our village for twenty-seven years and even in that time it has changed. Now the farmer (who was born here - and his father before him) hardly knows anyone. A lot of the old inhabitants have died and their children have moved away - sometimes to better jobs but often because the village has become 'trendy' and houses are too expensive for them to buy. Also there has been quite a lot of new building.

I expect this is probably the way with all villages these days. The trouble here is that because we are perhaps too far away from large towns to become a commuter village, many of the occupants are now retired. The school closed some years ago (before I arrived) and there is no village shop. The pub has changed hands a few times but the new owners seem to be trying all kinds of things to attract customers - they had a Hallowe'en Party and a Bonfire Party and they run a Quiz each week.

But there is our monthly coffee morning, when the hall usually has a few children dashing about on the little bikes provided for the Play Group who meet there a couple of times a week; there is a Village Study Group who meet weekly in the winter and walk fortnightly in the summer and there is a thriving art group and camera club.

All so very different from the days when my father-in-law was a lad. He used to speak of going over the fields in winter with his milking stool strapped on his back, to milk the cows in the barn - before going to school.

It is all a mixed blessing isn't it? Sadness that many of the locals are no longer able to afford to live here (low cost housing is a long time coming), yet when we think of those working men struggling to make a living and dreading the odd wet day when they just had to hope that they had married a careful housekeeper who had a bit put by in the old teapot on the mantelshelf to tide them over until the sun shone again. I am hoping it soon shines again here.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

A delightful book.

I am reading a most delightful book - Helen Simonson's 'Major Pettigrew's Last Stand' - and I am enjoying every word of this gentle story. I really do not want it to end. Isn't it lovely when you find a book that is so enjoyable. Great literature it is not - but readable it is - very. Do be tempted to pick it up on a cold, damp Autumn night and read this heart-warming tale by the fire - and enjoy.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

Going into the shed early this morning to pick up the bags for my weekly Tesco run, I caught sight of this 'machine', which has been in the shed for many a long year. In case you are wondering what it is = it is a fiddle drill.

Returning from Tesco I determined to look up seed drilling and do a bit of reading about it. I found that the first seed drill was invented by Jethro Tull, who lived from 1674 to 1741. Before that date seeds were sewn by men scattering them - men who worked in all weathers, men whose only protection from the weather would be an old sack fastened over the shoulders, men who gave real meaning to the words of the old hymn -'we plough the fields and scatter......'

When I told the farmer this at lunch time, he told me that his father still sowed seed by that method. The thing is that up here there are no arable farms - we are all smallish Dales farms (that is changing now, but that is another story) and the pasture land is never ploughed and resewn. Our ancient pastures still show evidence of the rig and furrow method of cultivation in the Middle Ages and quite a few fields still show the ancient Lynchets.

During the second World War the Ministry of Agriculture (or the WarAg as the farmer called it this morning) decreed that meadowland be ploughed and sown with food such as turnips, carrots etc. At this time my father-in-law bought the fiddle drill. As a young man the farmer used it too. The alternative was to use a sub-contractor supplied by the War Ag.

My goodness me, how times have moved on. Our friend P, who is an arable farmer in Essex, now has a permanent seed drill built in to his latest Combine Harvester, so that when he harvests his wheat and/or barley, he can sow rape seed at the same time. This seed will be covered up by the straw from the harvesting, and when the Autumn rains come, the rape will come up through the mulch of straw and begin to grow.

I wonder what Jethro Tull would make of that.

Incidentally - Tull got the idea for the first seed drills from watching the retraction mechanism of the church organ as he sang at the Harvest Festival.

Here it has never got light today. There is thick fog in a blanket over everything. After shopping at Tesco, a friend took me over to see a milliner. In the early Spring I have the honour of 'giving away' my God-daughter at her wedding and I am intending to wear some kind of hat. I have to say that hats are just not 'me' but I tried on a variety of 'fascinators' and have been persuaded that one of them suits me enough to have it made in a different colour-way. When it comes I might be persuaded to show it to you - depending on what it looks like. I promise you that I shall not look like Posh at the Royal Wedding!

Sunday 6 November 2011

Passing away.

In the last week three 'almost friends' have died. I can't say they were really friends but yet they were more than acquaintances. All three were over 70 and none of the deaths were unexpected, but still they leave gaps in our lives.

I know from my own experience that when you lose a loved one the world seems to go on as it always did - the radio still carries the news, the birds still sing, everyone is going about their usual business oblivious to the fact that your life will never be the same again. But that is how it has always been.

Remembrance Day is coming up. We have a small War Memorial in our little town and the British Legion will be there on Friday morning at 11am to pay their respects to the fallen. Poppies are on sale everywhere and I see that everyone who appears on the BBC is wearing one - as indeed they should be. I stood with a friend chatting outside our local newsagent on Friday morning. She was selling poppies and an old man came up. She stopped him and chatted to him but he was very confused and we are not sure that he recognised her. After he had gone she told me that he was one of the few remaining veterans of Dunkirk. Of course there will be few left now. My brother was at Dunkirk and had he lived until now he would have been 90 this year. My previous husband was the youngest serving soldier to be on the so-called 'Death Railway' as a prisoner of the Japanese, and he has now been dead for over twenty years.

But sadly of course, soldiers are still dying in the line of duty. Iraq, Afghanistan - will it never stop? And think of all the hundreds if not thousands that are dying in the cause of the so-called 'Arab Spring'.

While we are on the subject of dying - I have not had an up to date figure on the number of deaths in Friday's appalling car pile up on the Motorway - it was seven and rising last I heard but I have no doubt it is more now. Is it just me that feels the speed limit should not be raised to 80mph. Alright, I know that if you are on the motorway some idiot will pass you doing over a hundred mph - but at least he or she is breaking the law. Raising the speed limit to 80mph is just giving everyone carte blanche to go quicker and speed costs lives.

On a more cheerful note - it is a lovely day today. There is a sharp North East breeze but the sun is shining from a cloudless sky and there is a robin singing every few yards along the lane. I know the theory is that they are singing to tell the bird-world that this is their patch, but I like to tell myself that they are singing from the sheer joy of still being alive.

Friday 4 November 2011


It is definitely Autumn now. Today it is as warm as a pleasant Spring day yet even if I was blindfold I would know it was Autumn. There would be the crisp rustle of leaves underfoot and there would be the smell of rotting vegetation - not an unpleasant smell but one that is everywhere at this time of the year.

Fungi in their hundreds have sprung up overnight under our Scots pine trees - some in 'fairy rings' some haphazardly scattered about the grass. The combination of damp and warmth seems to have sparked them into life.

The journey down to our feed merchants this afternoon meant running the gauntlet of the guns as our local landowner's shooting day happened to be down the bottom of our lane. A lot of the pheasant had come up on to our land - they are welcome to stay there until the danger is past. Most of them were only hatched in Spring and they are still quite small. Eventually the older, wiser ones learn to run along the hedgerow rather than to fly up in the air. It is not done to shoot anything on the ground, so they are much safer there.

On the way down to Masham the fields seemed to be full of pheasants. Many of the fields are stubble from wheat or barley or maize. The farmer tells me that they are likely to stay as stubble until the Spring now - they will be 'well-mucked' and then left over the winter.

The river is low. Although there are heavy downpours in the form of showers, this comes gradually so that no extra water builds up. We passed several bonfires stacked up and ready for Bonfire Night, which is tomorrow night. It does seem macabre to say the least that we should celebrate someone being hung, drawn and quartered by having a celebration bonfire once a year and that we should then supplement it with fireworks to symbolise the gunpowder plot. I am not a lover of fireworks myself - and neither is Tess. Pets are very vulnerable tomorrow night and need a lot of TLC - but I know I am preaching to the converted.

Thursday 3 November 2011

A Childhood Memory.

Friend W and I are off to Thorpe Perrow Arboretum again today to see if we can catch that elusive Autumn colour on the maples. This will be my third visit, so hope it is colourful this time.

In the meantime, our next exercise for the December Writers' Group is ' A childhood memory.' Now last night my brain was in a whirl by the time I went to bed (too much information I think) and, when I had not gone to sleep at 1am and was mulling childhood memories over in my head, I decided to get up, make a cup of green tea and write down a memory. I offer it to you today - unedited, spontaneous - don't know whether that is the best kind of memory or not.

A Childhood Memory.

The River Witham is a narrow and slow river as it winds its way through the Lincolnshire Fens on its course from Lincoln to the Wash at Boston. During my childhood it played a major part in my life.
Because it was slow-flowing it easily silted up and as, in the 1930's, it was still navigable with corn coming up to the flour mills on Brayford Pool in Lincoln, it was dredged yearly and the silt piled up on the banks, where the new rich soil encouraged a covering of grass, water iris and kingcups. It was our playground.
On those seemingly endless Summer evenings, when it was always still and warm and the air was full of the sounds of Summer, we would gobble down our tea and head for 'the banks',, our cossies wrapped in an old towel. In those pre-polio scare days we would teach ourselves to swim in the warm, muddy water.
We were given free rein. No parents came, but nobody drowned and we all learned to swim eventually. The baptism of fire was the day you crossed from one side to the other - a distance of maybe thirty strokes. There had been a ferry here and the landing stages were still there, making perfect places to hold on to and exercise the leg strokes, or walk out a couple of steps and launch out with a couple of breast strokes.
Our older brothers and sisters would often come down after work. They would dive in with consummate ease and swim up and down, doing the crawl or showing off their back-stroke skills, splashing their feet in the water. We were envious.
One Saturday my friend and I went to the next village along the river, to see her Grand-parents. We often went there at weekends, riding our bikes (very little traffic in those days) and pretending they were ponies, jogging up and down in the saddle - mine was Molly and hers was Bonnie.
There was a ferry here across the river - a hand-operated chain ferry. We would cross on it, have our tea and then cycle back. One day we decided to go for a swim there too.
Messing about in the water I suddenly realised that when the ferry went across the chain was taut. I felt it and began to move along it, edging stealthily towards the far bank.
My friend was chatting to other children. She wouldn't look up and see me until I had reached the other side and would think I had swum across!
Of course, as I reached the centre of the river, the deepest part, the chain went slack and sank to the bottom, taking me with it. My feet went down into the soft mud and my head went under into the murky water. Nobody noticed. I was on my own and desperate.
I floundered, then pushed out for the bank. Making a grab for the side I realised I had made it.
Was I going to go back on the ferry? Oh the indignity of that.
Like the cat who does something silly then, when he is seen, washes himself and pretends that he meant to do it all along, I waited until the ferry had started out then I swam behind it, pushing off. Doing my best breast stroke I swam across. I had made it.
Like the young bird leaving the nest I had been practising for long enough. Necessity was the mother of invention here. I had suddenly found my wings. I was away.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Today has been a busy day.

This morning it was our monthly Wensleydale Writers' Group. We are in the process of setting up our own web site so shortly you will be able to see what we are up to. In the meantime, today we had a speaker and a workshop on Short Story writing.

We meet in the Golden Lion pub which is a good venue as there is coffee and tea to hand - and often the chef sends us out a plate of scones too.

We did a couple of interesting exercises to get us going. The first was to use the five given words and incorporate them all into one paragraph of writing. The five words were:- elevate, spinnaker elegant, potato and writer. Of course, the addition of the word 'spinnaker' meant that we almost all wrote a paragraph which included boating in some form, apart from our one lateral thinker, who called her dog Spinnaker.

Then we split into groups and each group (of 3) was given a passage from a book cut into pieces, so that we had to put them in the correct order - or at least in an order which made the passage understandable. Then we had to say what we thought the subject of the book was, the genre, when it was written etc. This was a most interesting exercise and again caused a lot of interesting conversation.

The last half hour was spent in discussion about construction. Altogether a most enjoyable session and one which left me feeling pretty tired. Coming home and cooking lunch was also a bit hectic, but nothing like as wearing as what happened after my walk.

Tess and I did our usual sharp walk which always leaves me feeling good. So I embarked on entry onto the Government Gateway site to register some cattle movement. Does anyone else ever get totally frustrated by being unable to achieve one's aim on the computer. It kept telling me that I was doing it wrong without telling me how to put it right!

A friend popped in to see if I would like a ride up the Dale to an art exhibition. Would I like a ride - I'll say! Anything to get away from a very contrary computer.

The exhibition was interesting - a watercolourist, an oil painter and a fabric collage artist - we both enjoyed it and then had a wander round Hawes. But of course, now that the clocks have lost that British Summertime, it began to get dark very early. We came back in the dusk, following a herd of sleepy cows up the road for quite a long way as they went home to be milked.

After tea I had another try at logging on to the correct site and finally managed it! Eureka - once there I put the information on in no time at all. But I must say I am now pretty tired.

Still 9pm tonight sees the wonderful 'Frozen Planet' on television - I think the most splendid programme that has been on for a very long time - so after putting on my blog I shall go and relax - hope you are all doing the same.

PS If you haven't been to John Gray's blog (Going Gently) and seen his adorable new bulldog, Mabel (what a glorious name for a bulldog) do find time to pop over and see her photograph.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Any colour, so long as it's red.

Do birds see colour
as they fly overhead?
Do they see the bright berry
flaunting itself in the hedge?
Do they imagine the juicy,
sweetness of summer
encapsulated there?
Do they choose the brightest
and sweetest
and leave the rest?

Or is it
every bird for himself in this
Autumnal world,
where the leaves are falling
and the hedges baring?

Is there no thought at all for
winter housekeeping -
for days when food is scarce
and there are frugal pickings?

These hungry mouths
trawl the hedgerows
with no thought
for one another.