Tuesday 31 January 2012

End of the season.

Before I put on today's post, just a little postscript on a post a few days ago when I complained that no-one wrote letters any more. This morning, as a direct result of that blog, I had two letters - what rejoicing in the household as I returned from Tesco and coffee with my friend, to find them waiting on the kitchen table. So thank you to friend P - who I hope to meet on Friday for lunch - for communicating by letter rather than e mail or telephone and also to Fiona (Marmalade Rose) for doing the same - answering my query with a letter. It really made my day.

Now to some good news. As you will no doubt realise by now, I am no fan of people who shoot. I know that the farmer is part of a shooting syndicate - that is his choice and we agree to differ. I must admit we do eat the pheasants (well he does and friends do - I cook it but draw the line at eating it). Well today, January 31st, marks the end of yet another shooting season. Anything that is still alive tonight (it is now dark) has made it through the season and is safe for another year. So rejoicing on my part with the following little poem, hastily written.

January 31st.

The day has come.
I need no longer
fear the gun.

If I can beat the wily fox
and never cross a busy road
then I have months ahead to find
a mate, or two, or more
who'll rear their young
and teach them how
to keep their feet
on solid ground
and not fly up with guns around.

Then maybe
as the years pass by,
we'll all become so clever that
these men with guns
will have to find
another way
to pass their leisure day.

(For those who don't realise it, men with guns never shoot down, so pheasants who stay on the ground are never shot at. Towards the end of the shooting season there will always be some pheasants who run along the hedge side rather than fly up into the line of fire. I like to think that these are the clever ones who have learned how to avoid being shot. Maybe it is wishful thinking.)

Monday 30 January 2012

Happy Birthday Desert Island Discs.

70 yesterday! Amazing how long it has been going isn't it? And it was all due to the late Roy Plomley who had the original idea in 1942 and as a freelance, submitted it to the BBC.

Dominic (made out of words on my sidebar) did a post yesterday on how things remain after even hundreds of years - and are used in different contexts. He posted a picture of the Mona Lisa (it is my jigsaw he photographed - he is not a jig saw fan). Poor old Leonardo could never have envisaged that all these years later La Giaconda would appear on a jig saw!

I feel like that about the signature tune of Desert Island Discs. It is forever associated with the programme, I don't know who wrote the piece of music. Maybe somebody reading this can tell me . But once I hear it, there is no need to guess what is coming on the radio.

I suppose most of us have speculated on what we would have if we were asked to appear. Well I know I would have Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Bob Dylan's Tambourine Man. The rest changes depending on my mood. The top 5 non-classical pieces that have appeared over the years are:
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien - Edith Piaf.
My Way - Frank Sinatra
Mad Dogs and Englishmen - Noel Coward
La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaf
Underneath the Arches - Flanagan and Allen

People choose things one would never expect them to choose. Norman Wisdom chose 5 of his own pieces and Elizabeth Schwarkopf chose 7 of hers!

But the story I love best is of the time when Roy Plomley was still alive and had Brigitte Bardot as his guest. When has asked her what luxury should would take to the island she replied.
"A-peeniss." Plomley was flummoxed and stumbled out the words, "Why may I ask?" Bardot replied, "Well, it's what ze world needs most - 'appiness"

Have a nice day.

You are brilliant you lot. I knew somebody would know the name of the music! Thank you Morning AJ - (see comments) It is 'Sleepy Lagoon' by good old Eric Coates (complete with seagull calls.)

Sunday 29 January 2012

A 'Spring' walk

Before I tell you about yesterday's walk can I just say thank-you to all who joined in the Kindle debate. On the whole most of you came down in favour of books - maybe that just means that Bloggers are more keen on books rather than that it is a general opinion. But it was really interesting to read your comments. Thank you so much for joining in.

I cannot tell you what a lovely day it was here yesterday. After an early morning frost it was a clear blue sky all day, little or no wind and a warm sun. I was on my own all day as the farmer was out on the last pheasant shoot of the season (it ends on January 31st for another year thank goodness. The pheasants who come to our bird table are safe for another year).

I made a batch of parsnip, onion and apple soup to warm the farmer up when he came in at tea time, ate my lunchtime cheese toastie (which I now make in the toaster in this little brown bag I bought - clever stuff), and then Tess and I walked the two miles to Forty Acre Wood and back.

The woodland ride had dappled sunlight. In the distance were the pheasant feeders for this is serious pheasant-shooting territory, with parties flying in from all over the world to pay enormous sums of money to take part in the shooting of birds (for what one asks?). There were plenty of birds round the feeders so let's hope they survive for the last few days of January, then they will be free to wander, mate, bring up their young and have another year of freedom.

Parts of the wood were under water. When I spoke to the farmer about it later on he informed me that there is a conduit (or cundith if you come from Yorkshire) under the road just there and it is blocked and needs clearing out. Still, it made a nice reflection of the trees.

I stopped to chat to our farmer neighbour, who was gardening in his front garden. With the typical doom laden voice only heard in local farmers he informed me that such days as yesterday, when they occurred in late January were 'real weather breeders'. His dairy herd are inside for the winter but they feed at a silage face which is outside. On a day like yesterday none of them wanted to go back in, so there was a bit of pushing and shoving as they all sought to stay outside in the sunshine.

The beck was full as it wound its way round before coming under the lane. The big old ash tree in the hedge between two of our fields was absolutely full of rooks. They must have been holding a 'parliament' - there was such a noise. I pointed my camera and took a picture but by the time I pressed the shutter half of them had flown. Away they went and in no time at all were over the moor.

Doesn't the moor look barren and brown? The brown colouring is heather - no green shoots there yet - or if there is they are too small to be seen from where I was standing. I was about two miles from the moor round by the road, but as the rook flies a mere few hundred yards.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Kindle or Books?

There has been an argument over which is going to win for some time now. Kindle enthusiasts say there is no contest, those of us who love the feel, the small, the weight of the book say we will never give up. Now I see that this year 'the bookcase' is set to become a new best seller in the furniture shop. So it looks as though ' you pays your money and you takes your choice.'

I have just spent a week clearing out my study and disposing of all my embroidery books and materials because I know I am not going to use them again. I am pleased to say that most of them have gone to a very enthusiastic new home.

Now I look to my books as maybe the next thing I should make a start on. If I were to suddenly 'pop my clogs' as they say, some poor sod would have to go through all my books and decide what to do with them.

But when I look at them I know that I really can't do without them. They are an integral part of who I am. You will see that I have three book cases. I did think of tidying them up well before I took the photographs (taken five minutes ago) but then I remembered my policy of always presenting myself as myself on this blog - what you see and read is what I am - so here you see them in all their glorious messiness.

The top shelf of one bookcase is all poetry books. In the last week three friends have given me poetry books they don't want any more. As I have nowhere to put them they are stuffed into the top of the poetry shelf awaiting sorting. Would you believe, when I first purchased that bookcase about a year ago, I filed my poetry books in Alphabetical order by poet?

The other bookshelves, which are an integral part of the room (an old-fashioned cupboard with the doors taken off) contain a lot of travel books and mostly art books which belonged to my previous husband, who was a painter. I think maybe I could get rid of some of them, as I rarely look at them. But then, suddenly, I am talking about a particular artist's work to someone and I reach up and get a book down and we look at his work. So I know I can't part with those either.

My third set of bookshelves is in the kitchen. The top shelf is mainly reference books, because it is here - in my armchair - that I tend to do my crosswords/sudokus/word puzzles etc. Below that are two shelves of cookery books which I use so regularly that they are tatty (not helped by the fact that Tess, when a puppy, chewed the backs of one or two (well maybe three or four).

How could I possibly get all that lot on Kindle? I have a friend who travels to London regularly and Kindle is ideal for his reading material on the journey. Me? I prefer the good old fashioned book. I could do with another bookcase, but there is nowhere to put it and I dare not raise the subject with the farmer. Have a good weekend.

Friday 27 January 2012

The Vagiaries of our English Weather.

Yesterday, after lunch, Tess and I set off for our walk in brilliant sunshine. Our lane has a high hedge on one side and luckily the wind was blowing from the South West, so we were completely sheltered. It was like walking on an early Spring day.

People often dump garden rubbish on our lane. While this can be unsightly and annoying, it does eventually rot down and it does have the occasional 'perk' like these lovely snowdrops which are growing up through last year's detritus.

The fields were bathed in sunshine and the sun was quite warm on our backs as we trundled along as far as the beck, which you will see is pretty full. Then we turned for home and even with the wind facing us, it was still quite warm and sunny.

We came in. I took off my boots, hat and anorak and we came into the warm kitchen. I looked out of the kitchen window and it was snowing heavily! It was only a shower and soon the sun was out again but by tea time it was sleeting and was a perfectly horrible end to the day.

I know it is only January, but the trouble is that a bit of sunshine, a clear sky in the morning so that one realises the days are getting longer, a lovely patch of aconites or snowdrops, and I tend to think that Spring is here. I have to keep reminding myself that February is still to come.

There was a time when we used to say 'February fill-dyke' but in recent years there have been some very dry Februarys. Who knows what it has in store for us this year. The farmer is hoping for a dry one as our fertiliser is coming this afternoon and at present the ground is far too 'claggy' for it to be spread. The fertiliser we have is called 20:10:10: although quite what that means I have no idea. I shall try and catch its delivery this afternoon and make some enquiries. Watch this space.

Thursday 26 January 2012

'Night Mail'

'This is the night mail crossing the border,
bringing the cheque and the postal order.....'

Auden's poem is still exciting to listen to, with its rhythm of the train diddle-de-dotting over the rails and the men and women sorting through the mail as it goes over the border into Scotland ready for delivery the next morning. Someone read it at our Poetry afternoon. It is a lovely poem to read out, with its fantastic rhythm.

Is it just my age or does everyone wish they still received 'ordinary' letters? Yes, e mails are superb with their instant queries and instant replies. If I wish to know whether my niece can come to stay I can e mail her with dates and get a reply within five minutes. But nothing quite replaces that feeling of excitement when the plop on the mat means a letter.

You pick up the letter, you recognise the handwriting, you put the letter to one side until coffee time, make a coffee, get a biscuit, sit down and savour several pages of news from a friend or relation.

Cheques are almost extinct, I think Postal Orders already are. I don't expect there is even a night mail train any more. Does anyone know whether there is or not?

My mail has just this moment arrived, so I shall go and pick it up and review it for you.
1. A letter about a Cancer Campaign in my area. This is marked 'For Private Business use only. Recorded correspondence. I have a charity which I support each Christmas. One year it was cancer research, so every few weeks I get a letter asking for more. I am afraid this does not encourage me to give them my support.
2. A letter from my Private Health Insurance company. This is the third letter that I have received saying exactly the same thing. I can only assume they have me three times on their data base.
3. A third letter from the same source for the farmer.
4. A letter from the tax office for the farmer (I know where it is from from the back of the envelope, I don't open his mail!)
5. A letter from my bank confirming a standing order - which had already been confirmed verbally.
6. One unsolicited catalogue for silk flowers. (Often there are half a dozen such catalogues)

Of those letters only two are even necessary. Assuming this is the kind of thing delivered to most households, one wonders at the senseless number of trees felled to make the paper used,

I know we cannot stop progress but how I would love to get just one letter to sit and open over my coffee. I might even break my keeping weight off rule and have a biscuit as well.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

St Paul's Day.

Today is St Paul's Day here in the UK. Did you know that? Neither did I until I read my Times this mor ning. But if I had lived in any part of Europe in medieval times I would have been very aware of it.

In fact there were processions in London in the sixteenth century: "And then the King with my lord cardinal, came to St Paul's, and heard masse, and went home again; and at night great bonfires were made throughout London, for the joy of the people." (Chronicle of the Greyfriars of London 1555)

Interesting stuff - of course I realise that in those days the majority of the population did work on the land, so the folklore prediction that
"If St Paul's Day be faire and clear,
It doth betide a happy year.
If blustery winds do blow aloft,
Then wars will trouble our realm full oft;
and if it chance to snow or rain
Then will be dear all sorts of grain." was listened to avidly.

On that prediction today is fine as the snow and fog of yesterday has gone and it is like a Spring day here with warm sunshine. So it remains to be seen whether we have a happy year.

The farmer doesn't quite go to those lengths in his belief in folklore - but he does still look at the sky for signs of tomorrow's weather and he does quote "as the days lengthen the storms strengthen" at this time of the year.

I suppose weather is uppermost in every farmer's mind. At present it is the state of the ground. After yesterday's sleet and snow the ground is now too wet to spread the manure, so that is building up in the midden again (amazing how quickly it grows). We have a load of fertiliser ordered. This needs spreading when the ground is damp but not too wet and hopefully when showers are forecast so that it is quickly washed in.

Daft sheep climb on walls and break them down - they need building up again but the ground needs to be firm enough to get the tractor and bucket of stones near enough to make the job as easy as possible.

There may not be so many working on the land these days (most of the farms round here are one-man-bands - just a few have one part-time helper) but the weather and the forecast for the weeks ahead is just as important as it ever was.

And we all look out for signs that spring is just around the corner. All our snowdrops are fully out now - a few crocus are showing their yellow flowers (sparrows go mad for them unfortunately) and I for one am determind to look on the bright side.

It is our poetry afternoon today - so must get choosing my selection.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Tenpting Fate.

I should have known that it was tempting fate to put a piece on yesterday about Spring, snowdrops and aconites. Overnight the sky was clear and full of stars. The Northern Lights were visible almost down to where we live and the position for seeing them is even better if there is a clear sky tonight. But this morning it was a very different story.

The temperature was below freezing, it was snowing, and once I got up on to the top road out of the village towards the Supermarket (my regular Tuesday morning trip) there was also thick fog. I almost chickened out and came back home, but instead I took it steady and once I began to come down again into the Car Park it cleared and the temperature rose to minus one.

I had then arranged an important engagement with my friend G. In twelve weeks my dear God-daughter is getting married and I am to 'give her away'. This, of course, entails best bib and tucker wear. I have the dress (kindly lent to me by another friend J) but need a hat. Instead of a full-blown hat I am having a fascinator made by a milliner. (Men can stop reading today's post here!). I have been slightly worried as at first fitting I felt I looked silly in it. In fact, whenever I see anyone wearing a fascinator I think they look silly in it.

However, today at second fitting I was much happier about it - it was comfy and did not look too ridiculous - in fact I am getting rather fond of it. The event will be here in no time at all and I am really looking forward to the big day. You will all be informed of how it went in due course.

On the return journey we stopped at The Station cafe for a Croque Monsieur - toasted cheese, ham and mustard sandwich with a side salad and a shared basket of french fries - together with a sparkling elderflower drink.

By the time I got home the weather had improved tremendously and there is even a lightening of the sky in the South. Of course we are all hoping for clear skies again tonight. It is so rare to see the Northern Lights this far down the country - it would be wonderful to see them.

Monday 23 January 2012

From Winter to Spring.

I am having a major clean-out of my study. I have decided to do no more machine embroidery and am giving the stuff out to make a bit of money for the local Air Ambulance, who were so good to me when I needed them. In the process I have found so many things I had forgotten about.

One of them was a writing exercise that we did at our local Writers' Group several years ago, when we had to write a piece on each season of the year in no more than fifty words.

Reading through them a few minutes ago I thought how apt they were for this time of the year. Alright, Winter still has a long way to go and there can be very cruel weather in February. Locals are quick to remind us that one of the worst Winters ever up here didn't start until the beginning of February.

But reading my Winter and Spring pieces together, does give one a feeling that Spring is not so far away. It is also possible to view it as a metaphor for life (particularly if, in may case you read them the other way round!)


Bushes are heavy with berries - red haws, orange hips, purple-black sloes. They shine damply in the morning light. Fieldfares, a thousand, fly in and settle on the branches. By evening the berries are gone. Next morning the bushes are bare and black. The fieldfares have gone. Winter has come.


A celandine under the hedge; a marsh-marigold on the beck side; aconites in the garden; a primrose in the wood; a daffodil by the side of the road; pollen on the pussy-willow; the sun shining weakly through thin cloud. All yellow. All the colour of Spring.

Have you ever tried doing a piece in fifty words? For someone as verbose as me it is jolly hard - do have a go. I would have been hard-pressed with the Spring one without the semi-colon.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Great Chieftan of the Pudding Race.

Yes, Burns' Night has come round again - well it will on January 25th but last night was the nearest Saturday night so, as we do every year, kind friends invite us round for a celebratory 'Burns' Night for the English'. It is always a lovely, relaxed evening in good company.

We are all getting older - many of those there are now in their eighties - but often we don't meet between one year and the next. Our friends lay tables in various parts of their bungalow and we choose a table, collect our meal from our hostess, serving in the kitchen, and then we just have a lovely chatty evening with lots of laughs. What could be better?

Yours truly does not eat haggis although it is always on the menu. Well, to be truthful I have never tried it, but I don't care for offal so presume I wouldn't care for haggis. Interesting how every country has some cheap filling dish which dates back to when times were hard and which fills us up nicely. In Scotland it was the haggis, made with offal and oatmeal basically; in the North of England it was the steamed suet pudding and/or the Yorkshire Pudding.

When I ate my first meal at the farmer's table his parents were still alive and his mother invited me to Sunday lunch (i think to look me over and see what she thought!). The meal started with a plate of Yorkshire Pudding and onion gravy. I said something to the effect of it being interesting having the pudding on its own rather than with the meat and the famer's father replied, "You're in Yorkshire Now!"

I suppose pasta takes the same role in Italy. When you think about it, all these things are made with basically the same ingredients but put together differently (or as the late Eric Morecambe used to say "I am playing the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order!)

So - for any Scots reading this - Happy Burns Festivities. Eat all the haggis you like, but go easy on the whiskey.

Saturday 21 January 2012

A Pleasant Jolly.

A jolly outing today with friend, G, to the small cathedral city of Ripon - a mere twenty five miles away. It is a blowy, stormy, sometimes-wet, sometimes-sunny day and quite cold with it and, as with all cathedrals, the wind really whistles round.

We had a look in a craft shop and then went for a cup of coffee in a lovely little coffee shop, of which there are a lot. I guess that in Winter these shops find it hard to make a living. In Summer, when there are plenty of tourists abouts these cafes will be full - in Winter they are empty.

We came back round by Fountains Abbey - a lovely National Trust property - not to go round it but to call in the rather nice cafe for a bowl of soup. Then we came back by a different route (you never know with my friend G which way you are going to go - she is a wonderful wanderer!).

I took a few photographs of the lovely countryside through the windscreen of her vehicle on the return journey. I share them with you. Interestingly - at Fountains Abbey there is a huge car park and the path from the car park to the abbey cafe is lined with neatly cut hedges. Now that they are bare for Winter we saw that they were full of chaffinches' nests from last year. What opportunists these birds are. The hedge is near to the outside picnic area so they were willing to risk nesting close to where people were constantly walking past, so that they could go to the picnic tables and pick up the crumbs.

Enjoy my photographs of typical English countryside in January - lovely from inside a warm vehicle - rather less so if you are out in it.

Friday 20 January 2012

The Sound of Silence.

We are a quiet pair living as we do down a lane and away from even village life. Our neighbours are equally quiet - I am deaf anyway - so there is little to disturb our peace. If the owls are calling when the farmer goes out with Tess late at night he comes in, tells me to put my hearing aid back in - and I go out to listen. But that is a beautiful sound in a silent background. I suppose you could say that there is a difference between sound and noise, although where one ends and the other begins is possibly a matter of opinion.

Reading Ronald Blythe over my morning coffee this morning (oh thank you Ronald Blythe - how often you provide me with a blog topic) I was interested to read what he had to say about farms and the noise there used to be. I related this to our own farm.

The farmer is one of six children and they were brought up to help and to do their share of the work - the boys outside and the girls to help with the baking, the hens, the making of the butter and cheese etc. I have to say that they have grown up to be very capable indeed - they put me to shame. (When I first started 'going out' with the farmer (we have been married for nineteen years and married a few years after I retired from inner city teaching) his mother remarked that she could see from my hands that I had done little work!!

So I thought back to what sound/noise there would be on our farm in those early days. They worked the fields with two horses, who were stabled quite near the house; they reared turkeys for the Christmas table, again quite near the house as this was a job for the farmer's wife; they had a dairy herd and the milking parlour is only a short distance from the back door; there would be machinery, animals, children shouting and playing, buckets rattling, turkeys gobbling, the sounds of the butter churn. I suspect there was rarely silence.

Now all that has gone and usually there is silence here. The farmer does a few jobs around the fields - mending fences, cutting the grass for silage and hay, looking after sheep etc. but all a long way from the house and its environs. When he is indoors we chat, we read, we play Rummikub, we do jigsaw puzzles, we watch some television, we watch the birds outside the kitchen window, we do the gardens - both front flower garden and back veggie garden - but all these are quiet activities. I sometimes think that the house must wonder where all that sound has gone.

And even in the village it is quite rare to see children out playing and making a noise. I suppose they are in and sitting at their computers. When we were children we couldn't wait to get outside. At home we would play various complicated ball games even if we were alone - they entailed doing various moves with the ball against a ball (I think it was called something like 'seveners' - anybody remember it?), we would have a hop scotch chalked out on the ground, or we would go off down the river bank, collecting tadpoles to bring home in a jar, only to have the poor things die on us year after year (still, hope springs eternal), we would make dens in bushes and climb trees and often we would go off for the whole day with a picnic lunch.

Does this kind of thing still happen? Is there still the sound of childrens' voices in the countryside? Or do parents consider this kind of behaviour too dangerous these days? Is it so or do we imagine it so?

I am not saying I don't like the silence. I love it. But I wonder whether our old house feels the same.

Thursday 19 January 2012

War Horse.

This morning Spring seems to have arrived. It is nine degrees, the sun in shining, the snowdrops are fully out and the bird table is inundated with cock blackbirds strutting their stuff while the hens sit on the privet hedge. Dangerous talk I know - snow next week I expect. Still we are hastening through January and that can't be bad.

I have been occupied trying to find hotels in Northumberland. It is a county neither of us know well and we rather fancy a week there in May. We have finally found one in Embleton which looks OK so have booked that. It will give the farmer a chance to see the Chillingham herd of wild cattle we hope.

Last night we went to see War Horse. I had read a lot about the making of the film - about the way the horses were treated and about the fact that all the props (barbed wire etc.) were made of soft rubber. Apparently the horses and their handlers had weeks together before the film started in the making, so that a trust built up.

What did I think of it? Well, I certainly did not need the tissues I took as everyone said it is a tear-jerker. Maybe that was because I had read about the film's making. For young people it would be a marvellous introduction to that absolutely awful First World War. I think Speilberg got it absolutely right - the mud, the rats, the inhumanity, the way the men were treated by the officers on the whole, the little touches of sanity in a world gone mad.

The farmer loved the pre-war part on the farms of the day - the auctions, the ploughing etc. The whole film was very watchable - slightly improbable but then so are most films and it did make for a lovely story. The boy and his horse riding home in the sunset after the end of the war was just a bit too sentimental for my taste but I did read that of the whole film, getting the horse, Joey, to hold his head still at the end and to look as though he was looking into the past, was the most difficulty part to shoot.

I can recommend it - not sure it is Oscar material but it was gripping and the time passed so quickly that we were amazed when the end came.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Why should it be so?

A friend and I were discussing at the weekend why it should be that these days people look so much younger than they did fifty years ago.

At seventy my mother was an old lady. She wore old lady's clothes, she spent most of her days sitting in a chair dozing - maybe reading a little or knitting a little. She was always delighted to see callers and would chat happily but when they went she would always say they had tired her out.

This seemed to be the norm amongst the mothers of most of my friends.

Now most of my friends are over seventy. They all still drive. They all dress fashionably - some very much so. I met a friend on Friday morning who I have not seen for a year. She looked fabulous and I was astounded to hear that she is eighty next month. She was walking quickly down the market place - her only concession to 'old age' was her basket on wheels. My friends read books and discuss them, go to the cinema regularly, entertain - in other words they live life to the full. So what has happened to make this great difference?

I would be interested to hear your views. I have asked around my friends - they cite better food, better health care, better education, central heating, better mental attitude. I don't know what it is, but I do know that I certainly rarely feel my age and unless I get too close to the mirror I even manage to look younger than my age! So enlighten me all you 'young' oldies out there.

Monday 16 January 2012

Miserable Monday.

The photograph of daffodils on my kitchen table is supposed to cheer everyone up, as today is officially the most miserable day of the year ( along with next Monday also). Perhaps this will not be so today because although it is still minus four outside it is also white frost and bright sunshine - very beautiful in fact.

Spare a thought though for Alaska where they have so far had twenty six feet of snow this winter and where the heating oil has still not got through to the town of Nome.

Even worse spare a thought for those caught up in the awful cruise disaster - I bet it will put a lot of people off cruising for a while, although statistically it is still a very safe holiday. For anyone like me who really does not care for the sea the whole thing sounds like my worst nightmare.

The Times today tells of this day in 1368 when winds tore through Ireland and on into England - monasteries, houses, churches, trees, woods - all were destroyed. Norwich cathedral lost its wooden spire and St Albans Abbey was completely destroyed.

Even worse was the great storm that then occurred in the North Sea which flooded all that vast inland area almost below sea level (I come from that area so am aware how low it is in places). The posrt of Ravenser Odd at the mouth of the Humber Estuary was completely destroyed and many were drowned further inland.

In The Netherlands enormous waves swept in land and killed thousands of inhabitants - it was so bad that it took over fifty years for all the dykes to be repaired. All together an estimated thirty thousand people were killed.

So, if you live in the UK, enjoy today's sunshine - if you live elsewhere please make the most of miserable Monday - enjoy my daffodils and remember only ten weeks or so left to the first day of Spring.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Friends and allied matters.

Friends are wonderful, aren't they? I don't know what I would do without their company. This morning I went to have coffee with one friend, J. She has a really lovely dog called Topsy, who has had such a troubled life and is now at last settling into a kind and loving home. Topsy doesn't accept me as a friend yet, but we are getting there. Anyway, we had a nice long chat before I came home to a warming casserole I had left in the oven.

After lunch and a quick baking of a batch of mince pies, another two friends came round for the afternoon and we had another long chat about all kinds of things. I can't think of a better way to spend a winter's afternoon.

I had really gone to town on an afternoon tea, using a table cloth I bought in Long Melford village when on holiday in the summer. The photograph above shows a little bit of the work that has gone into it. I find it so sad when cloths like this are abandoned to sale rooms. I found this pretty linen and crochet cloth - with crochet panels and a lot of drawn thread work - hanging on a rail in an antique shop. It was £40. Many years ago somebody lovingly crocheted this cloth = there does not appear to be a mistake in the work - and I wonder how a family could bear to part with it. I have a cloth which my uncle embroidered for my first wedding over fifty years ago. I hope that when I die my son, or even my grandchildren, will want to keep it as a fine example of his handwork. That such a cloth should end up in an antique shop seemed very sad to me - so I bought it. Did I need a new tablecloth - no, of course I didn't. But it now has a good home and I appreciate the workmanship that went into it.

So there you have it. A kind loving home for a maltreated dog; a kind, appreciative new home for a beautifully made tablecloth -

Now the sun sets on another frosty evening - a slight mist rises off the frozen ground. The curtains are all drawn, the stove is made up and glowing, Tess and the farmer have had their evening walk with Tip the sheep dog. Time to sign off until tomorrow. Night-night.

Saturday 14 January 2012


'Jack and the Beanstalk' - it was like going back to my own childhood!

The Panto is held each year in the Methodist Hall in our little town. It is put on by the same dedicated bunch of people every year - for charity (this year, in memory of my dear friend, Joan Cairns) who was the pianist for years. The charity dear to Joan's heart was the Terence Higgins Trust (for people with AIDS and HIV) and this is the Panto's chosen charity this year.

Of course, as with all these things, 'amateur' was an understatement. But I remembered my own childhood when we had a concert party and we went round all the villages entertaining - long before the days of TV, when our viewing public did not have today's sophistication.

Nobody forgot their lines. There were one or two lovely singing voices in there and the chorus of little girls, who took it all so seriously, was absolutely lovely. Audience participation was huge - 'cheer up' every time one character came on stage; 'boo/hiss' every time the giant appeared;
lots of songs where we had to join in.

But the highlight for me was the little three year old girl who sat directly in front of me. She had absolutely no sophistication/ no expectations/just plain innocence. She took in every single word - shouting, clapping, singing and - when the big, bad giant appeared on stage she was so terrified that she sprang on to her mother's knee.

I went with my friends who meet for coffee in the Golden Lion on Friday mornings. We all sat together in one row and we had a good laugh. What more could you ask for? Then we came our to an icy cold clear night and a sky full of stars. Brilliant in all senses of the word.

Sorry no pictures but photography was forbidden.

Friday 13 January 2012

A Good Day for catching up.

Friday is always special here in the farming week as it is Auction Mart day. Although the farmer no longer buys and sells cattle, he still likes to go both to see what the prices are like and to catch up on local gossip!

I always go with him as it is also Market Day and I like to buy my fresh vegetables and fresh fish too. And a group of friends and I always meet for coffee in The Golden Lion and for a good old gossip. Tonight we are all going to the local amateur panto - Jack and the Beanstalk - together - I will report on that tomorrow.

But today it is a gloriously sunny day - still, perfect blue sky and dry underfoot. This is just the right sort of day for farming this time of the year as there are so many jobs to do which can't be done if the ground is wet. Principle amongst these is hedge-cutting.

Our hedges must be cut before the beginning of March so that when they come into leaf they can grow up quickly. Our hawthorn hedges house lots of nests, notably blackbirds and yellow hammers, and they need plenty of cover. Some of our hedges are never cut so that they have become small blackthorn, crab apple and hawthorn trees - these house birds too, so that we get a fair selection. In addition, of course, we also get ground-nesting birds like pheasant, partridge, curlew, oyster-catcher, snipe and woodcock (the last two only in the marshy areas). Nesting time will be upon us before we know where we are.

But, speaking of birds, as the farmer and I walked round the fields after lunch to stop and chat with Mike, our hedge-cutting man, we noticed a big flock of seagulls in the field. I hope you can see them in the picture - they are in the middle and slightly to the left - I couldn't get them any nearer than this in the photo. They always stand in exactly the same place - don't know why but the farmer thinks it might be a sheltered spot out of the wind and in the sun. Whatever the reason, they are often there. As we were talking to Mike a jet roared overhead and the seagulls rose into the air as one and took off towards the West.

Sorry about the sudden change to italics - don't know why it happened and can't see how to change it.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Clear January Days.

The sky has been clear blue all day today and the wind has shifted round to the North, bringing with it much colder air. Tonight it is scheduled to be frosty and much more wintry. But one of the assets of that clear sky was that the sunset tonight was absolutely stupendous. The whole sky was suffused with a deep pink. Sadly, for some reason, my camera will not take such shots - I am sure it is not due to the camera - I just have not learned the knack! We shall certainly look out tonight for the Aurora Borealis - such a clear sky would give us such a lovely view of it if it arrives.

Today has been a day with lots of visitors. I love days like that, when lovely conversations happen and lovely people call. Tess loves it too, especially as one special friend 'G' also brings with her Tess's two best friends - Milly and Jem - terrier cross and collie respectively. So G's arrival always means another walk.

Today Tess had a walk with the farmer and the farm dog at 8.15am, another with the farmer and me at 1.30pm, another with G and her two friends at 2.30pm and a final one with the farmer and the farm dog at 4.15pm. But more than that, she had what she always asks for (and always gets) - a mammoth cuddle from G. So here she is - resplendent in G's arms and enjoying every minute of it. That is one dog spoiled rotten I think you will agree.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

A Winter Walk.

Do you fancy coming with me on a winter's walk through the fields? The day is dull but not cold, sun now and again and a light breeze - so off we go.

Gateways are always muddy at this time of the year - I really don't know why as the fields are mainly empty other than sheep and they do not have a habit of congregating near the gates. But once Tess and I get through the gate and into the field proper, the ground is quite dry.

We walk down the hedge-side and come across a new rabbit hole. My goodness me, how clever those rabbits are - they always put their holes in sheltered and dry places. This one looks quite cosy don't you think?

The beck is very full and slow-flowing at present. Of course this is Sod's Law because in the summer, when our neighbouring farmer friend is crying out for water for his beast, the beck will be almost empty.

Here and there the wall has fallen down a little. Usually there is wire netting as well because sheep do love to jump on to walls - that is probably the reason there has been a bit of a fall in the picture. The stiles between our fields are quite narrow - this is also to stop the sheep moving from field to field but it does make for difficulty for anyone wide of the hips!

Every sloe and every holly and hawthorn bush has been stripped of berries. There is hardly a bird to be seen other than the odd cock blackbird skulking in the hedge-bottom and a small flock of starlings flashing overhead. Here and there there are a few crab apples left on the ground. The birds only eat these in emergencies as they are so very sour.

There is little colour in this landscape. Only the lichen on the stone walls give a golden glow. Coming as I do from the fenlands of Lincolnshire, I love the browns of winter - the bare earth, the bare trees, the lack of colour. John (Going Gently) on the other hand, years for the bright colours of summer.

John Clare, that poet of the Countryside, puts it better than I ever could, when he says,

"All is gone, and nothing but the grass
remembers Spring."

Oh yes, the grass is green as we make our way home, but it is a sad, dismal green - no new growth here - just the drooping blades of last year's grass. But what is this we see in the grass - an aconite! I knew Spring was only just round the corner.

Monday 9 January 2012

Two in one today!

First an up-to-date photograph of my rooster and his entourage - thought you would like to see him. Ever the opportunist (aren't all birds?) (maybe that should have been aren't all men??) he spotted immediately that the farm gate was open to allow our neighbour to collect a load of straw - he was through it like a flash and up to the bird table for a feast on the droppings of niger seed, sunflower hearts and the like. Still, I don't begrudge him his little outing - he is so lovely I could forgive him anything.

Now to today's real topic. It says in today's Yorkshire Post that there is the best chance over the next few weeks of seeing the Northern Lights. Admittedly it says the best chance is in Ireland but there is also a good chance in Scotland and the Northern counties of England. Between now and the equinox in March is the best time for years, so I shall be looking out every clear night. Those of you who live North of the Border (Titus and Rachel and Juliet spring to mind) will have an even better chance.

It is something I have always wished to see. Some years ago the farmer and I went on the Hurtigruten up the Norwegian coast to the Russian border at the time of the midnight sun. The photograph above is of the sun shining into Tromso cathedral at midnight, when it was literally as light as day. The alternative of course is to go in mid-winter, when it never gets properly light - then there is a chance of seeing the Northern lights. Sadly there is also a chance of meeting forty-foot waves in harbours like Batsfjord (where the harbour has been destroyed countless times in mid-winter). As I was seasick in a slight swell going over to the Lofoten Islands then I think I will give mid winter Northern light spotting ideas a miss. But I would dearly love to see them - so shall watch carefully. If anyone is lucky enough to see them please do report it in Blogland.

Sunday 8 January 2012

A Wintry Swaledale.

This afternoon we felt like giving Tess a change of scene so we set off in the car into Swaledale in brilliant wintry sunshine for a walk at Grinton leadmines. Tess loves it there as there are so many exciting smells (it is a favourite dog-walking spot) but we never dare to let her off the long lead as the heather (it is on the grouse moor) is quite high and we think we would lose her in it.

Then we went on into the dale. A few weeks ago there was serious flooding here and so many of the stone walls are down. Good news for the stone wallers trade I suppose but bad news for the poor farmers who have to foot the bill - we had just a small piece of wall rebuilt last year and the cost was almost a thousand pounds.

I took a few photographs through the windscreen as we went along. The sun gradually disappeared and was replaced by heavy cloud and drizzly rain. When we crossed the Pennines at the Buttertubs Pass (the highest point) we were up in the cloud and it was quite scary.

Still, we enjoyed the drive out - me especially as I spent another night in hospital on Friday night - I had an attack just after bedtime - seems to be something to do with the balance of my inner ear and always occurs just after I lie down in bed. I was out again by lunchtime on Saturday but still feel a bit queasy.

It is nice to think we are getting well into January with fairly good weather (ie not cold) - each week brings us one week nearer the Spring. Today I have two crocus out and one clump of primroses in flower - can't be bad.

Friday 6 January 2012

In Scarlet Town...........

The hotel was as I remembered it. All I had requested when booking was that we had a room with a cathedral view in this city where I had spent my formative years. I was not disappointed. The West front of the cathedral filled the window of our room, the creaking floorboards gave away the age of the hotel and the smells from the kitchen promised an exquisite meal to come.

We didn't use the lift. I have a fear of enclosed spaces and prefer to use stairs. The stairs were old with many landings, each holding a piece of antique furniture. One landing held a particularly nice windsor chair, its seat gleaming with polish. On our way down we admired it and speculated how lovely it would look in our house.

Dinner surpassed expectations and we ended it with a drink at the bar before turning in early. We wanted a full day tomorrow to explore my childhood haunts. This time the chair was occupied. She was neatly dressed and sat crocheting, her work and a ball of brown wool on her knee as she worked. She didn't look up as we passed and I noticed she was humming a familiar tune - although I couldn't remember what it was.

The next evening she was there again. Her work was growing and the ball of wool was getting smaller. I almost spoke but as she was humming I thought it rude to interrupt.

It was one of the best holidays of our lives - seeing my old school, the cathedral with its nooks and crannies and the excellent hotel. She was there again on our last night and the wool ball was now very small. She was still humming and although I murmured
"Good evening,"
she didn't look up.

When we paid the bill I mentioned her at reception but they could throw no light on who she was, suggesting it might be one of the other guests taking advantage of the lovely chair and the shaft of late evening sun which fell on it at about that time of day.

My mother died a few years later. My sister and I were cleaning out the drawers in a sideboard and came across a piece of brown crochetwork and a tail end of brown wool.

I picked it up.
"Know anything about this?"

My sister is considerably older than me and she knew all about it. My mother's mother had been doing it the night before she died. She had complained that she was running out of wool and asked my mother to get her another ball.

My sister reminisced about old times:
"She was a lovely woman. Her favourite song was 'Barbara Allen' and she used to hum it all the time as she worked.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Writers' Group

Yesterday was the first meeting this year for our Writers' Group. We seem to be going from strength to strength, as we now have twelve members and almost all of them contribute each month.

We meet in The Golden Lion in our little town. There was a bright log fire blazing, the wall lights were on (we meet at 10am) and there was a cosy atmosphere. It costs us nothing to meet there except the cup of tea or coffee we all buy - and this is very welcome half way through the proceedings.

This month's topic was Open Manuscript and we had such interesting things - short stories, poems, humorous articles and parts of novels, and there was good discussion on each piece. I think this is due to our having a good strong chairwoman who really keeps things moving. It is so easy when listening to a piece of writing to go off at a tangent and say, "Oh I remember when such and such happened to me!"

Next month's topic is "A Ghost Story", which I find a bit daunting. But it is always good to have the imagination stretched and last night, thinking about it after I had gone to bed, I remembered how my mother always kept a piece of crochet that her mother had been doing when she died at the relatively early age of 58 and I thought of the bare bones of a story I could write around that. So watch this space - I might try it out in blogland first.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Guess who came to call?

It is another wild and windy day. But, never daunted, the farmer set off round the fields with Tip and Tess at 8.15 this morning. No sooner had he got into the top pasture than he saw, across on the other side of the field, a fox slinking up the hedge. Neither of the dogs saw it, although their noses in the air suggested they might well have smelt it.

After walking through the fields, along the side of the beck and through a muddy patch, he started back up the far pasture and had only got a few hundred yards up the field when he saw the fox again. Strangely, it was coming towards him, had obviously seen him and did not seem in the least afraid.

This time Tess spotted it and went towards it, standing until they were almost nose to nose. Scared that the fox might attack her, the farmer clapped his hands and the fox turned tail and went off down the pasture, hotly pursued by Tess - obviously a fox hound in Border Terrier skin.

In all his years the farmer has never seen a 'brave' fox who was not both suspicious and scared of humans (let's face it, nothing else preys on them) and we cannot help speculating that this might be a 'pet' fox which has been released. We do sometimes get urban foxes which have been dumped in the countryside. My only hope is that he/she learns quickly that humans are not to be trusted and that fox hunts are best experienced from well down in one's earth - also of course that my hens are safe from a hungry fox!

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Wild, wild, wild.

It is a wild day today. The trees are bending and crashing in the wind. We go to the feed merchants over a very swollen River Ure and River Cover - carrying vast tree trunks with them as they cascade downstream. Trees are down everywhere. Where one has fallen across the road someone has already been with a chain saw and sawn the trunk into pieces. All is piled neatly by the side of the road.

Where a tree has been ripped up in the field it lies, its roots cruelly exposed, its limbs broken and scattered - a giant felled in an instant. A buzzard rips a rabbit apart and devours it in the middle of one field and along the side of the road a sparrow hawk darts, below hedge height; although whether to keep out of the wind or to chase a little bird it is impossible to say.

The sky is very beautiful. Layers of angry cloud, some black, some grey, some silvery-white, overlay one another and here and there bright rays of sunshine push through. We can see another hail storm passing down the dale and we run into a torrent as we arrive at the feed merchants.

Sheep huddle against stone walls, keeping well out of the force of the wind. The hail, when it comes, is sharp and cuts into the skin. At least we end up with rosy cheeks.

Now indoors with all animals fed and watered, hens shut in, curtains drawn, log burning stove glowing I write this and look out of the hall window in front of me to see the most magnificent sunset. The whole sky is pale apricot edged with black clouds. There is such beauty in this wild weather.

Monday 2 January 2012

The First Sign.

'Yes - I know Winter has only just begun - officially on December 21st - and there has just been a snowstorm here although the sun in shining again now, but stepping outside this morning I saw the first snowdrop. I just had to take a photograph of it - and it is a poor little thing. I was going to say 'a feeble little thing' but then I thought of these hardy little harbingers of the New Year and the way they push their spikes up through the hard, frosty ground to give us such joy and I hadn't the heart to call it feeble.

In the hedges around our fields the wild honeysuckle has begun to come into bud and the catkins on the alder trees are showing red. One week of relatively warm weather and the hazel catkins will be bursting forth. And all this at 700feet above sea level. And, of course, all kinds of growing is going on just below the surface of the ground.

I have to cling on to that through the weeks ahead to the end of February when the weather can throw anything at us. I also remind myself that on January 28th 1992 the weather was so warm that I wrote in my diary - 'sat in my shirt-sleeves on a tree stump in the field and did the Times crossword and ate an apple.'

The farmer has just brought down the box for the last of the decorations, so yippee - in five minutes time it will be goodbye tree for another year.

Sunday 1 January 2012

New Year's Day.

Is anybody else ready to get 'back to normal' - to get the fridge cleaned out, the last remnants of the turkey disposed of, the last few slices of ham put in a sandwich, the cards down, the tree away and peace on earth? Or is it just me?

I have really enjoyed all our friends and relations coming - I have enjoyed cooking gargantuan meals - I love cooking; I have enjoyed the conversations and the fun. But by this morning, after sitting up to see the new year in with seven friends and family I have been pretty much good for nothing today. I crawled back to bed after breakfast and slept for another couple of hours and then have dozed on and off since, apart from one last hour's chat with my grand=daughter before she goes back tomorrow.

I think it does us all good to relax and take things easy and to chat with our friends and relations but there does come a time when I want to get back to normal three meals a day at the correct times. And that time has come.

So here is to 2012 starting the day after tomorrow (tomorrow is a Bank Holiday) when all the mundane, ordinary things like bills coming through the post, washing needing doing etc. take over again. Happy 2012 to you all.