Wednesday 29 February 2012

Poetry please.

What a lovely time we have at our Poetry afternoons. Sadly, one regular member, S, was unable to come as she felt a cold brewing and nobly did not wish to pass it on to us all. So, if you are reading this S - thank you for being so thoughtful, get well soon - and we missed you.

As usual, we had such a variety of poetry. D read The Lady of Shallot - a poem which conjures up such wonderful pictures - and she read it beautifully. Then she read excerpt from Under Milk Wood - what a brilliant poet Dylan Thomas was - that marvellous idea of taking a village and immediately launching into description of the characters. And we all agreed on 'Bible black' being such a brilliant description too.

We had two poems on Starlings - the second one by Pam Ayres, read by J.

I can only describe it as the most civilised afternoon of the month. As usual, I meant to take a photograph of the gathering but forgot.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

The Farming Year Moves On,

To everything its season as the saying goes. Farming goes through the seasons year by year and nothing changes. Because the farmer has been farming for nigh on sixty years he has it all at his fingertips and does the same jobs each year at the same time.

This week there have been various what he calls 'squaring up' jobs. First of all there are all Nature's winter prunings to take care of. Every winter gale brings down the old, brittle branches on trees in the hedgerows and walls. These lie about until this time of the year when the farmer collects them all up on a trailer, piles them in a field and has a bonfire.

Then there is the mending of fences. Whenever he does this I am reminded of the Robert Frost poem which begins "Something there is that does not love a wall". The poem is called Mending Walls and I love it. We had a piece of walling rebuilt (at a huge cost I might add) and this left a gap where the beck ran through. Sheep have little sense when it comes to water, so this morning the farmer has built a fence across the gap - and a good job he has made of it too, I think you will agree.
The same sheep are hopeless at judging width and therefore they try hard to squeeze through gaps (the grass in the next field being always greener). They are also pretty good at dying and if they get stuck in a gap overnight they will be pretty weak by next morning. So while he was down there the farmer also built a neat little wooden gate from old bits of wood and an old tyre (waste not want not is another of his maxims) because sheep definitely cannot open gates.

Walking round the fields after lunch we went to look at the place where there is always a good display of snowdrops and sure enough they were there. Ronald Blythe always says that snowdrops are good at taking long walks - well we think these snowdrops took a long sail because the only way they could have sprung up where they are is by them being carried down the beck during a flood and deposited on the bank. However they got there they make a fine display.

The blackthorn is in bud as you will see from the photograph. A few more days like today (it is eleven degrees as I write) and it will be well on the way - and very early.

In the vegetable garden the farmer has finished the digging. The birds have enjoyed a feast of slugs' eggs which he left on the surface and it is all looking very neat. I love it when it is like this. The Swiss chard is springing up. I know from experience in growing it in the past that in year two it soon goes to seed, but at present it is nice and green so I intend to collect it tomorrow and serve it up for lunch before it has a chance.

Our poetry meeting is here tomorrow, so this afternoon I shall be looking out some favourites for when it is my turn to read. It is such an enjoyable afternoon, I do wish you could all join us.

Monday 27 February 2012

A Head Start.

I am about to put on my teacher's hat and get on my hobby horse, so beware.

I read in the paper today that forty percent of pre school age children never have access to a book at home. I also read a piece which talks of children being pushed along in their push chairs while their mums are on their mobiles or fiddling with their blackberries or i-pods or whatever. There is often no effort to point out things they are walking past, or engage the children in any kind of conversation. I was reminded of walking out with my grand-daughter in her pushchair when she was around two years old. Every time we came to a street sign we had to stop so that she could point out to me the 'e' for emily.

There are still schools where children come in at entry level having never seen a pencil and having no concept of what writing is for, where their language skills are poor because they have not been talked to, where their knowledge of everyday things (birds, flowers, shoe laces) is limited. All teachers know this.

Nursery school places are one answer and are doing a marvellous job. But without the backing of the home, the parents, the siblings, the grandparents - children still enter school at a disadvantage. Then, when the same children reach eleven and transfer to secondary education, primary teachers are blamed for some children being behind in their reading skills.

The lady who cleans for me on a Monday morning has just gone. She was telling me about her grand-daughter, who is five. My cleaner and her husband have just joined the National Trust and one of the 'free gifts' on entry was a tiny pair of binoculars. They have given theirs to the grand-daughter and yesterday she was bird spotting and kept saying "You'll never believe how good my eyes are at spotting things!" Now today, her grandmother is off to look for a simple bird book so that she can identify the garden birds.

Nursery schools, primary schools, secondary schools all have an important role to play of course. But parents should remember that children spend only approximately on eighth of the hours in a year actually in school. One bedtime story every night, cuddled up on the bed together, would make all the difference.

##A friend's wife bought him this splendid birthday present a short while ago. Thought you would like to admire it. The farmer was taken for a spin in it yesterday.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Two topics today.

First of all, feast your eyes on the daffodils above. A friend bought them for me on Friday morning as a thank-you for inviting her to a meal a couple of days earlier (thank you W). There was no need of course - we invite her because we love her company, but she knows how daffodils make my heart soar this time of year and they certainly have done. They are quite slow to open up and I look at them dozens of times each day. They prompt me to quote those first four lines:

I wandered, lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o'er dales and hills;
when all at once I saw a cloud -
a host of golden daffodils.

I know they have been quoted so many times that they are almost hackneyed - but I still love them. The Lakes is not so far from here and Wordsworth tramped the hills and wrote most of his best poetry there.

Still on the subject of friendships - we are off out to tea today to another friend met through my blog. She does not have a blog herself but she has read mine ever since she and her husband decided to move into the Yorkshire Dales. We have found several interests in common and enjoy one another's company. Yet another example of how blogging enriches one's life.

Now to topic number two - one which I found so interesting in yesterday's Guardian newspaper.
Oliver Burkeman suggests (he got the idea from Glen Whitman, an economist) that for every subject there are really only two things you have to know. The rest is really only an application of one or the other of those principles. Whitman now has a website devoted to the Two Things Principle - it is at - and there are one or two suggestions in the article. For example the two things about going into acting are - don't forget your lines and don't run into the set. Someone suggested on Whitman's site that as far as parenting was concerned it could be broken down into - there's no such thing as too much affection and it's not what you say it's what you do. I was talking to Dominic last evening about it and he suggested that for music it was probably - look at the key signature and remember to count (or something like that - if I am wrong he will probably correct me). I thought about the two Principles of a happy marriage and thought they would probably be - give one another plenty of space and never let the sun go down on a quarrel. I would love to hear your two principle ideas. For example, can you break down gardening into two principles? Whitman suggests that you always can, with any subject.

Whatever you are doing today enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Look who came to call.

Lovely surprise today when Denise Nesbitt and her husband said they were going to call in and see us. I have blogged with Denise for a couple of years - we do not live all that far apart - maybe fifty miles. So it was very nice when then rang about coming.

They turned up on this beautiful Honda motor cycle, and in matching motor cycle gear - very trendy and smart. As you can see from the photograph, Tess was very pleased to see them too.

We had an hour and a half's chat, a cup of tea, a piece of cake - and then they were off home again. The wind will be behind them on their way back, so hopefully it will not be as cold as it was when they came over.

Isn't it good to meet blogging friends? That is the power of blogger I think - that we make friends all over the world - people with whom we have a lot in common but who we would never otherwise have met. Long live blogger.

Friday 24 February 2012

Busy old fool...

As the great John Donne said,

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?

I don't know about you, but once the sun comes out this time of the year, my spirits lift.
There is a cold wind today but walking in the shelter of the hedge, the sun is warm on our backs and we know for sure that Spring is coming. It might still have a few battles with Winter to come, but another week and it will be March and then the battle should be almost over.

And as John (By Stargoose and Hanglands) was out in his garden photographing in his shirt sleeves then I am obviously not alone in thinking along these lines. So, not to be outdone, I went out in the garden with my camera, to see what was about. The results are quite good for February I think.

I found - purple species crocus, opening wide to the sun; my favouriute purple striped crocus - they are in a shady place so do not open to the sun, but they last longer; a white hellebore - I think it is Argutifolius - always out early but very prone to white fly as soon as it is warm enough for them to fly; aconites - which I did read somewhere do not actually have a flower - the yellow 'petals' are really sepals; primula wanda - I have had these for years and move them with me from house to house - they always come up with a good show; the Lenten rose - just out right, as Lent began this week; and last, but not least, Pulmonaria (Soldiers and Sailors) one of my all time favourite Spring flowers. If only it didn't have such ugly great leaves so prone to mildew later in the year.

Changing the subject entirely, somebody who reads my blog says they have not seen nor heard anything of my chickens lately, so I post a photograph of my cockerels. The news is not good I am afraid. They are magnificent birds. The farmer shut them up a couple of months ago in order to fatten them for the table but they are hardly eating anything, they have got very aggressive and attack him when he goes in to feed them and they are putting no weight on at all.
So what to do with them. Advertising them 'free to good homes' is to no avail. Nobody wants a cockerel. I can't let them out or they would fight for supremacy with their father, who is the most gentle, peaceful bird and wanders round the fields with his little flock all day. Their days seem to be numbered. For the farmer, the only solution is to kill them and bury them. It seems sad but it is only a matter of time before they begin fighting amongst themselves - they would now if there was a hen about, but luckily they can't see the hens from their cosy shed.

It looks as though I shall not be raising any more chicks this year. I love the whole thing but if we are always going to be left with cockerels which have to be put down then I don't really wish to do it any more.

Still Spring is on its way. Enjoy the flower photographs and if the sun is out where you live, enjoy that too.

Thursday 23 February 2012


Well - here it is folks - laid on our quilt - it is certainly a cause for celebration I think.

Dinner Party.

What is nicer than sharing a meal with family and friends? The evening went so well that I am afraid I forgot to take photographs until it was over and everyone had gone home. So I can only tell you about the food apart from one sweet in the photograph.

The day before I made a shepherd's pie and a pheasant casserole - both improve with keeping overnight. It also takes the hard work out of the day of the dinner party. My friends came through the Dales and the Dales were flooded big time. They had great difficulty getting through and kept ringing for alternative route instructions. They arrived at 2pm and because I had made everything in advance I was able to sit and chat all afternoon.

My son and his wife and our friend, W, arrived for 7.30 and I had only had to spend the previous hour in the kitchen. I made a vegetarian dish for my son (sweet potato/apple/sultana with a potato and cheese topping) and a mixed fruit crumble pudding (blueberries, raspberries, apples, plums and gooseberries). I also made a recipe for rhubarb and ginger cheesecake. This had appeared in the Guardian newspaper on Saturday and as our friends are Guardian readers they were quite impressed with the fact that it looked exactly the same as the picture (see above).

Afterwards we sat and chatted, had lots of laughs, played a bit of music and generally relaxed until around ten thirty. What could possibly be better than a night spent with good friends?

~~If the farmer will agree to take a photograph of the fascinator for me, I will post it later in the day.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

A Busy Day.

I went up to Tesco at the usual time but hurried as it was the day to collect my fascinator. For anyone who does not know, in April I am to give my God-daughter away at her wedding, so I have had a fascinator made. I am not a hat person at all and it does feel strange but the farmer was quite complimentary about it when I put it on at lunch time for him to see. It certainly has an air of celebration about it! One day I may post a photograph!!

Tomorrow I am having a little dinner party, so this afternoon was taking up with making two savoury dishes to save time tomorrow - a pheasant casserole and a shepherd's pie. This means that in the morning I have only to make two sweets and to cook the potatoes for the pie topping - makes life so much easier.

A busy afternoon on the farm too as some of the cows we overwinter - all from our neighbour's Dairy Herd - were to be freeze-branded. This quite painless procedure means that each cow is settled into a crush and then a number is branded onto its haunch using dry ice. It makes identification of individual animals so much easier. These cows have been used to going into a crush since they were very young - for having their pedicures, for pregnancy testing etc., so they accept it as a matter of course.

Each day the temperature is rising a little higher here in the Dales and is set to reach a record February high by Friday. Unfortunately there will be strong winds so the wind chill factor will make it feel much colder. How glibly we use all these meteorological terms these days.

Monday 20 February 2012

Almost losing the will to live.

Our little town has quite a few amenities. One of the most important is that we have kept our Post Office. I choose to get my weekly retirement pension through the Post Office. Yes I know it would be more convenient to have it paid directly into my Bank Account - then I could even get my money from the hole in the wall, although we are lucky that we still have two Banks in the town.
But thinking I was being altruistic I chose the Post Office.

Each Tuesday morning I go down to the Post Office, draw out my money, pay the newspaper bill and then drive to the supermarket for my weekly shopping. Yes, I know it is boring but I am afraid that I am a creature of habit and find it so much easier to carry on my life in this way. Then I go on to my friend, G, and we have a coffee and a chat. We used to have a Danish pastry too but now we are both being sensible!

Tomorrow morning I need a flying start as we have to go and collect my fascinator from the milliner, so I thought it would be sensible to break the habit of the last ten years and go down on a Monday afternoon. When I arrived at the Post Office there was only one desk open and there were eighteen people in front of me in the queue. It took exactly one hour.

When I got to only one person standing in front of me, the man being served at the desk had a huge pile of packets to put through for posting and each one had to be put through separately. The lady in front of me asked him if he intended posting them all and when he said yes she said to the lady behind the desk, "I'm sorry but I think an hour is too long. I just am not waiting any longer." and she stormed off.

Seconds later the second desk opened. Even so, the lady behind me had a shopping trolley full of parcels to put through. What makes monday so special that all these people are putting through such huge amounts of stuff?

Anyway, having got the money, paid the paper bill, driven home and sorted myself out I could not find my card. I came to the conclusion that I must have left it in the machine. So I unlocked the garage, went back, only to find sixteen in the queue this time - and two desks open. Then, luckily, I spotted that the first person in the queue was someone I know, so I was able to pop in front of him and ask and yes - I had left my card. I was soon home again but it had taken up the whole afternoon. This will not have to happen many times before I abandon any altruistic thoughts towards and Post Office and transfer to my bank.

Now to a piece of more cheering news. I heard on the News this evening, ten minutes ago, that they are getting nearer to eradicating Poliomyelitis from the world. They have done it with smallpox - Polio next. There has been such a stringent campaign of vaccination in India - often done by British Rotarian ladies - that no new cases have been reported in the last year. Sadly that is not the case in two neighbouring countries - Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I can vividly remember the first big Polio epidemic around the late forties, early fifties. Many children in the village of Digby in Lincolnshire, quite near to where I lived, went down with the disease and many died or were left maimed in some way. Everyone became terrified of catching it. We stopped swimming in our local river; everything was blamed for causing it. It is so good that a vaccine was developed and is now serving such a worthwhile purpose.

I can also remember when the scourge was TB - or consumption as we called it. Almost every family in our village was touched in some way by the illness. Many people lost sons and daughters. It seemed to target young, healthy people the most. And I remember the Sanitorium in the next village, where patients spent all their time in bed on verandahs in the hope that the fresh air would cure them. Of course, the cure eventually came with the use of antibiotics. It seems as fast as we conquer one thing, another comes along to take its place.

Sunday 19 February 2012


Change in more ways than one.

First of all, that irritating change to the word-verification on Google. Can we all have mass protest or something? Everyone I blog with is complaining about it. Tom Stephenson has even threatened to stop visiting me - and I couldn't bear that! I thought it was just my rotten eyesight but it seems that everyone is in the same boat =- we are all having to do three or four word verifications before we get one correct. Why have they changed it and how long do we have to put up with it?

Now for the real change - they have started to chop down my beloved Forty Acre Wood at the bottom of the lane. I am assuming that the trees were grown for wood and are now mature enough to be cut down and sold. The wood is too far away from the farm for us to hear the machinery working but daily lorry loads of tree trunks are hauled past and today the farmer and I walked down to have a look at things. You will see that a large swathe has already been felled. I just hope that they are going to replant. I am pretty sure they will as that is a main pheasant rearing area and the pheasants need plenty of cover. There is also a herd of deer in there somewhere. So far they have not reached the rookery - I wonder what sort of a kerfuffle that will spark off.

At this time of the year, when walking down the lane, I always look out for a patch of purple crocus that I am familiar with. Sure enough they were out today and I greeted them like old friends. That's a sure sign that things are on the move.

And just to underline it, on the way back we saw our first Lesser Celandine. That and a brilliant sunny day here is enough to do the old heart good. And as if that wasn't enough - first thing this morning I watched two brown hares boxing in the field opposite the farmhouse - a sight for sore eyes.

Sorry about the blurred photo of crocus - my hand is very shaky today - think of it as an impressionist photograph.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Should we try to keep up the standards?

I have been into Ripon to the hairdresser's salon today. Have I put the apostrophe in the correct place? Yes, of course I have. But on the way back I noticed the following signs - ICES'
Banana's and Coffee's and Tea's. And I remembered from my days of teaching English in a Comprehensive School that one of the most difficult things to eradicate was a pupil's tendency to put an apostrophe in front of every s they come to. (Using'they' instead of 'he' or 'she' here is another irritation, but that is another story.)

And I do begin to wonder if teachers are banging their heads against a brick wall; if it might not be better to stop using the apostrophe all together. Is it only me who is irritated by its misuse? Really, I would rather there was no apostrophe than one in the wrong place' I will be interested to see what you think.

And while we are on the subject of signs placed on the side of the road - I passed a very funny one this afternoon, coming back from Ripon. There was a sale advertised in a village hall from 2pm to 4pm - and according to the sign it was a sale of( and I quote) "Second Hand Children".
I certainly don't want one of those - don't know how you feel!

Friday 17 February 2012

Come with me on a walk in the country.

It is a long time since you came along with Tess and me on our afternoon walk, so why not come along today? It is a dull day but there is little wind and the temperature is quite high for February, so walking conditions are ideal and we set off across our own fields.

We cross over away from the footpath to where the first hazel catkins always appear and sure enough, before we reach the hazel shrub in the hedge, we see them hanging there. We also see something else though. Just above the catkins, sitting quietly in the branches is a little owl. We watch him and he watches us. We stand and eventually he flies off in a leisurely fashion, not so much afraid as tired of our little game. There are not many catkins out and I hold a branch with one hand and photograph them with the other - the result is rather out of focus from my trembly hand, but I love their red tips and they are, after all, the first sign of Spring.

Pushing through the gate we cross the bottom of what we call the racehorse field. This is one field which does not belong to the farmer and it has been carefully fenced off to keep the horses in. They only come in the Summer so now it is quite empty - apart from the rabbits. And they are everywhere. Because it has been a mild winter they have already started breeding and half grown rabbits can soon be seen if one stands for a minute or two. Every hole we come to seems to have been freshly dug out.

The beck runs low and chilly-looking, its sides just dead grass - no sign of marsh marigold or celandine yet. And under the pine trees last year's cones lie undisturbed. Most of the trees on the sides of the beck here are alder trees and their catkins are just beginning to turn a deep red. A few days of warm sunshine would make all the difference.

But in the old hedgerows - or cams as they are called up here - where most of the bushes have died away and only some ragged old hawthorns remain, there is no sign at all of anything but bare, black wood.

As soon as we reach the lane, our friend - Blackie, the black farm cat, - is waiting for us. Well, waiting for milk more like. He and Tess greet each other, as they always do, and then Blackie walks directly in front of me so that I cannot possibly avoid him until I reach the back door. Milk in his saucer and he is happy. We come back into the warm kitchen, having enjoyed our walk.

Now to make some scones for tea.

Thursday 16 February 2012

The Spice of Life.

.Three different themes today - two with a supporting picture.

First of all - thank you for the really interesting comments on yesterday's post about changing the names of streets. If you haven't read the comments then it is really worth reading them because they are so varied and reflect the interests and political leanings of those who have replied, I think.

Now to today's two themes. They say that what you have never had you never miss. I am not sure about that actually - I think it depends upon what it is to some extent. But I do know one thing for sure. What you have had, then lost, then got back again is quite a different kettle of fish.
Our Aga is - hopefully - mended and working again. (Please let it be so). The engineer has replaced the oil receptacle and it has fired up. Suddenly the whole fabric of the house is warm again. The last few days, in spite of having central heating and the wood burner going full pelt, the house seemed to get colder and colder. Now we fully appreciate the Aga. I think we had forgotten just how effective the heat from it was (we have never lived in the house without it).
Even the dog is basking in its warmth as you will see from my photograph.

And now to this wonderful book. Eryl (The Kitchen Bitch Ponders on my side bar) recommended it on her blog and her description was so interesting that I ordered the book from Amazon. Once you have registered it is all too easy to click on the order button. The book came this morning (Amazon is brilliantly efficient) and I am already on Chapter Five. It is almost impossible to put down - the book is pure magic

Eowyn Ivey (wonderful Christian name - anyone know how to pronounce it?) got the idea for the book from Arthur Ransome's 'The Little Daughter of the Snow' - if you have not read it and can lay your hands on a copy (£11.99 from Amazon uf you have a birthday coming up.) please do read it and let me know what you think of it. It is the kind of story which stays with you long after you have put it down.

So I shall go now, put my feet up by the Aga and continue the read. The trouble is although I want to know what happens, and although I just love the way the writer uses language and conjures up a wonderful image of a snowy Alaska, I don't want to finish it. But isn't that the trouble with any good book?

Tuesday 14 February 2012

The times they are a'changing.

Well, they have changed really, but I wanted to quote Bob Dylan.

In those heady days after the second world war, when the brave young men who survived came back to the UK full of joy at surviving and hope for a bright future, I really think for a few years they thought they were invincible.

Never again would there be rich and poor, landed classes and workers, we were all equal weren't we in the general run of things? Poor old Churchill, who had done such a magnificent job during the war years, was booted out in favour of a Labour Government - the Government for the working class, the Government which was going to pull us all up by our bootlaces and make us all equal.

Large council estates were built; housing was necessary after the war and town planners went to work with a will (not always as picturesquely as they should have done maybe) and houses went up all over the country - often on the edge of towns.

Yesterday I passed one such estate. As these estates go, this one is a good one - out on the edge of the town, nicely planned and quite open. I have noticed it ever since I have lived up here. The main road into the estate comes out on a traffic island and it has always interested me that the road in was called "Aneurin Bevan Way". Now he was an iconic figure in that Labour Government, along with his wife, Jennie Lee, they were almost idolised in those early days.

Of course, eventually Mrs Thatcher's Government came along. People were encouraged to buy their council houses, to aspire to being middle class, to leave the worker image behind - fallen into disuse like the Berlin wall.

I passed that road yesterday. No longer is it called Aneurin Bevan Way - it is called Oak Tree Drive, leading to Honeysuckle Close. How are the mighty fallen? Poor old Nye - every dog has his day and Nye's is well and truly past it seems. Are the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer - just as that Labour Government of all those years ago promised it never would happen again? Don't people who own their houses wish to be associated with one of the early pioneers whose name has all but been forgotten? To be honest, I think I would rather live in Oak Tree Drive than Aneurin Bevan Way. Not sure what tat makes me though.

Monday 13 February 2012

An Outing

Yesterday, with no Aga to cook the Sunday lunch, we had a trip up to Hawes and went to The Pantry for our Sunday lunch. We had local Hereford beef which had been hung for a month and the farmer who reared it sat at the next table. That is real local farming life up here. It was the best beef I have ever tasted. And the man who carved the beef was the man who keeps his sheep in our fields in the Winter. All very local. It was an enjoyable lunch, where everyone knew everyone and there was a lot of friendly chat.

Afterwards we visited Fiona (Marmalade Rose on my side bar) and spent an hour chatting to them too. That was also a nice event - and then to drive home in the sunshine, which we have not seen for a week, was the icing on the cake.

The Dale looked particularly pretty in the weak sunshine, so I took a few photographs for you to enjoy. Baimnbridge lies half way between home and Hawes and it is here that the river Bain (the shortest river in England) flows into the River Ure. The farmer stopped on the bridge over the Bain for me to take a photograph of the falls. Also in the picture is a recently built hydro station to provide power for the village. It didn't appear to be working yesterday.

I have posted photographs of Lady Hill before but couldn't resist taking it again for the tiny bit of blue sky lighting up the horizon. It must be the most photographed scene in Wensleydale but it never loses its attraction for me. The other photographs are of the River Ure at Aysgarth Falls - another much photographed scene. The mill is now a gift shop and a tea shop, but the mill building is still there and you can see the mill race coming back into the main river at the side of the mill.

It was so good to go out on roads and pavements which are not slippery. All the snow has gone this morning and - hopefully - the farmer and I are going into Northallerton this afternoon to look for shoes. I will keep you posted. Why is it that men find it so easy to buy shoes, whereas women find it so difficult? Answers on a postcard please.

## I was quite right. The farmer bought shoes, shirt and tie all from the same department store in Northallerton and the whole lot took him about twenty minutes. My shoes took an hour and a half and two different shops! I think Juliet (Crafty Green Poet) has a point when she says that on the whole mens' styles stay more or less the same while womens' styles change from year to year. Also Heather's point that her inherited feet take some fitting certainly hit home with me too.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Ivy and Pork.

Now how's that for a headline?

First of all thank you to all who commented on my post on ivy -either on my blog or by e mail. It seems there is an awful lot of folklore surrounding ivy. As Tom says - it keeps witches away. As I was born on Hallowe'en and have always considered myself to be a bit of a witch (albeit a good one) I am not sure how to take that. But my friend, W, also points out that it flowers when there is not much pollen about, so it is a good source for the bees. Also, as it is evergreen and quite thickly spread, it does provide good cover for little birds on cold nights.

Now to the pork. As you will know if you have read my last few posts, the Aga is off awaiting a spare part and this means that my means of cooking is limited. I have an electric hob, but also a combination microwave which I have only used for microwaving things. So yesterday I got to grips with it and cooked a pork and apricot casserole on something called Combi 1. You will see the photograph above. I thought marks wise I would give it about five out of ten; the farmer gave it eight out of ten but I think he was probably being kind.

The main reason I scored it so low was nothing to do with the cooking, but to do with the taste of the pork. We rarely eat pork because each time we eat it I get the same flavour - and this applies to bacon too. I can only describe it as a faint taste of pig's urine (sorry about that). The farmer says this is because European law now forbids farmers and pig rearers to castrate boar pigs.

Now, admittedly, listening to him tell me how they used to castrate boar piglets is very barbaric and I agree it should not continue to be done in that way. But is it only me who gets this taste? I don't taste it in ham, but then I rarely cook a joint of ham myself unless for a large gathering. I find it cheaper to buy ham already sliced and from a good deli - and it tastes and smells delicious.

So, has anyone anything to add to this? Does anybody else notice the smell and the faint taste in present day pork? Does anyone know anything about this ruling? Maybe John is a good one to ask as he has just sent two pigs for slaughter. Were they gilts or boars John - I would very much like to know. And does the meat you have so far received from the abattoir smell of anything other than pig, please?

Saturday 11 February 2012

In Praise of Ivy.

Poor old ivy tends to get a bad press. Gardeners chop it down from their garden trees and the farmer tends to pull it out of the hedge. Well, can I make a plea for everyone to let it be, to let it flourish where it wishes and only to cut it back when the weight of it becomes too much for its host plant to bear.

It is a lovely plant if you look at it closely. It is one of the few patches of real green at this time of the year. And - more importantly - it still has berries. This has not been all that good a year for berries here in the Dales. Once the redwings and fieldfares came in from Scandinavia the berries were soon gone and the birds moved on in their search for food. Now some of them are back and food is scarce.

But the berries on the ivy are just beginning to ripen and will provide a good food source. Although I put oats, suet and sultanas out daily in the hope of encouraging fieldfares and redwings, we only get blackbirds (thirty of them this morning). Strangely enough, when I lived in a town in the Midlands, fieldfares and redwings were regular visitors to our bird table.

The farmer has plastered our fields with slurry this week and now they are absolutely full of birds, which leads me to believe that there is something either in the slurry itself, of maybe coming up from the ground (worms?). I counted twenty cock pheasant in our paddock yesterday; today it is lapwings - a whole flock of them, searching the grass.

These are lean times for the birds. We put out huge quantities of food for them and we are rewarded with the sight of them every day. But please leave that ivy if you have any. It is not a parasite; it has its own root system and only uses the tree/wall/bush as a support.

Friday 10 February 2012

Familiarity breeds........

....well in my case not 'contempt' as the saying goes, but the ability to do something well.

I have been clearing out my machine embroidery stuff because I feel I do not wish to do it any more. Now, all I have left is my computerised sewing maching and six drawers full of material, so this morning (as the kitchen was cold and the aga off) I shut myself in my study with the said sewing maching, which I have probably not touched for a year.

First of all, I thought, I would give it a good clean and oil. 'Take out the bobbin race and when you replace it after cleaning and oiling, make sure the race is to the left'. Well, yes, that is good plain English (if you know what the race looks like) but it may just as well have been a foreign language as first of all I couldn't get it apart and then I couldn't get it together again.

Now I could blame my age but I am not altogether sure that is the problem. Because I haven't used the machine for so long I think it was just unfamiliarity. After a lot of struggling, a break for lunch, another lot of struggling, ten minutes to thread the needle - I finally got the thing going and sewed a fine seam, feeling rather pleased with myself. Now I plan to sew for about half an hour each day until I am totally familiar with all the things this rather clever machine can do.

It looks as though life is going to be rather hard for the next few days. Tess is already sitting looking at the Aga and whining. She sleeps in front of it so there will be a rude awakening for her tonight. So it may well be that my study, which houses the central heating pipes under the floor and also the hot water tank, is the warmest place in the house.

I think we must have gone soft. When I think of my parents and the house where I was brought up. We had an open fire in the living room and that was all. On a cold winter's night you sat as near as possible and burnt the fronts of your legs, while the backs froze. When you went to bed you took either a hot water bottle or an oven shelf from the side oven, wrapped in a bit of old sheet. And you wrapped up well.

Going back to familiarity - I was ashamed when the aga engineer was here yesterday and he asked me to go and turn the oil off at the tank and I didn't know how to do it. He then found it that neither do I know where the stop tap is to turn the cold water off!

Thursday 9 February 2012


Ah well! The best laid plans......
Today was to be the day when I drove over to see Fiona (Marmalade Rose on my side bar) to take her some beads and a light box I no longer want and to look at what she has been sewing lately. (If you want to know, go to her blog - her sewing skills are fantastic.)

But she has just sent me an e mail to say that her road is icy. The farmer has just come in to tell me that you can hardly stand up outside our own back door and the lane is also icy. So, sadly I have postponed it until a better day.

The trouble is that it has rained overnight onto a very cold road which has made conditions treacherous.

Our Aga is being naughty and we have had the engineer to it this morning. This has meant switching it off. So - in spite of the central heating on and the wood burner on - it is rather chilly everywhere. After lunch I shall settle down with a good book. In this instance it will be
'Letters between six sisters' Edited by Charlotte Mosley - the correspondence between the Mitford sisters. Of course only one, Diana, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, is still alive. But the letters are absolutely fascinating giving, as they do, such an insight into the life of the times.
The book was a Christmas present from my friend M - so thank you M for the hours of pleasure it has given me. And you two keep warm too.

The farmer has just come in and said he thinks he'd better go and fetch fish and chips for lunch. He said this with glee as I usually will not allow him to eat it as I think it is not good for him! So you could say that it is an ill Aga that blows nobody any good.

Also it is my friend, B's, birthday today. If you are reading this dear friend - have a lovely day.

Keep warm everywhere - seems we are all under this enormous cold weather cloud. But before we start saying that surely a cold snap like this means that the idea of Global Warming is nonsense, I read yesterday that a glacier in Antarctica has a huge crack in it and if it breaks off there will be an iceberg the size of New York

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Writers' Group Exercise.

Next month is our Writers' Group AGM, so there will be little time for reading out our contributions. The theme is a very short piece on either fantasy or science fiction. Neither of these appeals to me and they are both things I rarely read. So I am testing this piece on you to see what you think of it. Please be frank and tell me - I have three weeks to perfect it. So if it is rubbish please say so.

The Feather.

It happened one evening in 1974 in the garden of the house of Don Miguel in Santa Rosalia. Over the fence his neighbour, Don Pedrales, was mowing the grass, going up and down with measured tread, intent upon getting dark and light stripes which, at this time of the year - whilst waiting for the rains to come - were of a light and dark brown rather than the desired green.

Don Miguel did not care for such niceties and left his garden to its own devices. He preferred to sit outside in the late evening sun, a glass of good red wine in his hand and his sombrero tipped over his eyes to shade them from the sun.

He watched as the feather came spiralling down from the sky, lower and lower until it landed in his glass. He picked it up and looked carefully at it, glancing up into the clear sky to see what kind of exotic bird had shed it in such an unlikely place. But the sky was quite empty.

It was not any old feather. Think of the tail-spreading peacock and quadruple the effect. That is the kind of feather it was, curling back on itself and glittering with its richness.

Don Miguel laid the feather on the table and went inside to fetch himself some food to eat along with the last of his wine. When he returned the feather was in the wine glass again. Surprised, and not a little puzzled, Don Miguel took it out again and laid it on the table. Maybe he had been mistaken about taking it out of the wineglass in the first place.

Now, thirty five years, two wives and fourteen children later, that same feather lives on the mantelshelf in Don Miguel's house. He thinks of it as his good luck talisman (after all, both of his wives have been quite exceptional women). It lives in the same wineglass.

Sometimes he takes the feather out of the glass and lays it on the mantelshelf. But the moment he goes out of the room the feather returns to the glass. Don Miguel has tried peeping through the crack in the door in an effort to see the feather perform this magic trick. But it is as though the feather knows he is watching it and even after all these years Don Miguel has never seen the feather move.

He keeps the glass topped up with good red wine and has persuaded himself that that is why the feather stays with him. He hopes it will stay with him throughout his life now, for it brings him good fortune, even though it costs him a small fortune in wine.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Stream of Consciousness.

Leaning on a field gate, contemplating - as the sun gradually turns into freezing fog which gets into the bones - and looking at the walls around the fields I thought of how long those walls had been there and wondered what story they would have to tell if they could talk.

They will have seen generations of hard-working men (and women) tilling the land and looking after the animals - this has always been grassland, apart from the war years when some crops were grown - through all weathers and through primitive tools up to the present day labour-saving tools.

Do you remember that old childrens' riddle? Why should you never tell secrets in the countryside? Because potatoes have eyes, corn has ears and beanstalk! That popped into my mind as I looked. And then I thought of the splendid programme last night on HM the Queen and the beginning of her Diamond Jubillee celebrations.

I know that some of the people who read this blog are not royalists - and I respect their opinion. But I really defy anyone not to be full of admiration at the total dedication and mental and physical discipline which the Queen has put into doing what she considers to be her duty.

And then there was the old footage of previous Kings - I think that probably my earliest memory is of the Silver Jubilee of King George Fifth and of going to a Fair in Lincoln, which is my home-town, and remembering my brother winning me a red, white and blue rag doll on the roll-a-penny stall. I think that I remember it, but then memory is a funny thing and it could be that others have just told me the story.

Going further back, my father could remember seeing his first motor car, complete with a man with a flag walking in front of it. And he used to talk of the streets with no lighting other than the lamps which were lit each night. And that reminded me of the lovely TS Eliot Prelude with the lines, which if my memory serves me right go something like:

The lonely cab horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
(If I am misquoting, someone will no doubt point it out to me).

Imagine the smell - of lamps and of horse - and add that to the 'smell of steaks in passageways' earlier in the poem. How evocative smells are.

I was once in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey on TS Eliot's birthday and, while we were there, his widow (who I think was called Valerie) came and laid a bunch of violets on his grave.

Ah, what tricks memory plays on us. Some of the above may be right and some may be wrong. One thing I know for sure - no violets out yet here as that freezing fog closes in and the temperature falls for another bitterly cold night.

Monday 6 February 2012

Going, going........

But not quite gone. The snow is going quite quickly here in the Yorkshire Dales. Where the sun catches the grass it has already gone, but it is hanging about in the shadow of the hedges and walls. The farmhouse basks in the sunshine and the temperature is five degrees. Were it not for the snow lying here and there on the ground you could be forgiven for thinking that Spring was on its way. Then you turn on the news and hear of massive pile ups in the ice on the A1 road, with enormous tail-backs for miles.

Now the the sun has melted the snow in the fields it has revealed a plethora of mole hills. What a fascinating little creature the mole is, with his fur like dark brown velvet, his enormous front feet, fashioned for some serious digging and his tiny eyes, which make him almost blind.

Loved by some and hated by others, he is always going to have a struggle to survive. There was a time when moles, along with carrion crows, rats and stoats and weasels were killed by gamekeepers and their deaths advertised by being strung together on wire fencing in a most macabre way. This practice seems to have died out mostly now, thank goodness, but most farmers hate the mole. For a start he digs up vast quantities of grassland and if the tractor drives over the molehills they are flattened and stop the grass growing; if the molehills are gathered up in the silage then the soil causes the grass to go mouldy.

Moles are loved by all who search the fields for artefacts from a bygone age. It is said that things are often found in this soil which of course comes up for the depths. Gardeners too treasure the fine loam which makes marvellous potting compost.

What a pity we can't all live in harmony together. I love the mole. We often find one dead but rarely a live one above ground. In a few weeks time the farmer will set his mole traps in an effort to keep the population down somewhat. Luckily, he never catches them all and before long those tell-tale heaps will begin to appear again.

On our afternoon walk it amused me to find that, walking down our neighbours lane, I found he had dug little runnels from the enormous potholes full of water, so that the water drained off onto the grass verges. I did wonder whether it would have been better to fill the pot holes with stone chippings before the snow came, so that he didn't have to do this. But there again, maybe that is too easy for a canny farmer.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Footprints in the snow.

A two inch covering of snow is marvellous to discover what has been round the farm. Plenty of pheasant footprints but they are no surprise as the cock pheasants stalk up and down to the bird table every day, taking their time now that the shooting season is over. One of them comes via the top of the garden wall. I watched him this morning. The wall is awkward to walk along I would have thought, but he still prefers that way in.

In the fields there are rabbit prints everywhere. They will need to be finding grass to eat so will be active along the hedgebacks. That explains the other prominent footprints this morning along the hedgebacks - the fox. The only time we really know he has been around is when there is a covering of snow.

Tess refused to come back in after her early morning utility stop. Instead, she stood at the paddock gate and barked...and barked. Going out to look what she was barking at it was easy to see - not the fox but he had left his footprints and his smell. I suppose when you are a little Border Terrier it is only safe to bark when the fox has gone.

He (or she - although I believe that it is around now that the cubs are born) had come along the side of the hedge which borders the farm drive, over the wall into the lane, up the lane and then over the wall again into the pasture - keeping to the hedge side all the way down the field. There were several pheasant's feet lying around, but not a sign of blood or even of feathers.

I wrote a poem a while ago about the fox in the snow. I know I have put it on my blog before, but make no apology for putting it on again. I have a few new readers so hope they enjoy it. If you have read it before then you can always choose not to read it again. That is one of the joys of blogland isn't it?


A fox came round the farm one day
although what time I couldn't say.
He picked his way across the yard
and there he left his calling card.

He sniffed around the chicken coop
(no doubt imagined chicken soup);
he stood upright and looked between
the window bars - took in the scene.

I wonder if the hens took fright,
or, if asleep, they missed the sight.

He sniffed around the barn of hay:
I hope the farm cats were away.
He came right up to the farm back door
and left his footprints on the floor.

I hope he calls again one day
(when hens are safely locked away).
Maybe he often comes and goes -
I only track him when it snows.

He's a handsome chap. Still fears the chase,
although for now he's found his place.
His greatest enemy is man, so
please don't repeal the hunting ban.

For I would miss the splendid sight
of a glimpse of the fox at the end of a night
as he slinks along the hedgerow back
to his earth at the end of the farmyard track.

If there is snow where you live, batten down the hatches, stoke up the fire and get out a good book. Reading Gwilym's comment yesterday - he lives in Vienna - it seems we are very lucky here in the UK - my goodness me, how Europe is suffering. But then my friends in the Netherlands are hoping the freeze can continue for a day or two so that the big cross country race on the canals (I think it is 120 miles in one day) can take place. I read yesterday that the canals have been closed in readiness. If it does take place then I do hope we see something of it on the news. And if my friends F and R are reading this - if you see any of it, please do take a photograph and send it to me, Then I can post it on here for everyone to see.

Saturday 4 February 2012

The weather closes in.

Outside it is bitterly cold; the sky is grey and tiny flakes of snow are falling and look as though they will continue to fall. Maybe winter has come at last although it remains to be seen how long it intends to stay. My hens do not seem fazed by it and are all out in the field scratching for worms. The farm cats are under the pines waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting mouse that comes their way. The feeders are alive with birds stocking up on seeds in this very cold weather. I went for a very short walk - far too cold for me to walk far today.

Yesterday I forgot to take my camera when my friend W and I went to Kirby Lonsdale to meet our friends. Maybe it is just as well as the scenery was so very beautiful that I would have been spoilt for choice. As it was I just sat back and enjoyed it without constantly looking for good photo shots.
The high tops - Ingleborough and Wernside - were covered in snow that sparkled in the sunlight and seemed not to have been disturbed by human foot. The roads were dry and so quite safe and as we approached the Trough of Bowland all snow disappeared and green fields stretched out before us, lit by the hazy sun. Perfect.

Lunch at the new Bistro was absolutely delicious. Home made ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta for me and stuffed with salmon and spring onions for W. For such a small town Kirby Lonsdale has lovely shops. There are two top class Bistros serving very good food, there is a marvellous cheese shop where they sometimes have a pianist playing the piano in the shop, there are even three jewelry shops.

We had a nice mooch after our lunch, met a dear little Lakeland terrier pup who was out with him 'mum' for a spot of socialisation training, had a good look in one of the jeweller's shops in an effort to find me a necklace for a special occasion (no luck), sauntered back to the car to find that we had exactly one minute left on the parking ticket. Neither of us had given it a thought!

Today the farmer is mucking out the cow shed. He has it off to a fine art. One tractor with a bucket on the front is in the shed ready to scoop up the manure. The other tractor stands outside the gates waiting for him to tip the manure in, drive off and dump it in a pile in one of the fields, where it will steam and rot down until such time as it is spread.

I meanwhile have just had a minor panic as he made up the wood burning stove and shut it down before he went out. When I went into the room I found it was roaring away and nearly red hot as something was blocking the door, leaving it open a tiny bit and letting the draught in. I have to admit to the stove being my boss - I am definitely its servant and on this occasion I leapt into action and blocked the farmer's way as he drove out of the yard with another load. Of course he had sorted it in a minute. My hero!

This morning was the village coffee morning. What a splendid idea it is. A pound entrance, which includes unlimited coffee and biscuits (set in flasks on each table), a nice roaring fire, a raffle run by S and M each month and giving lots of prizes; and various bring and buy stalls.
But the nicest thing of all is that a huge number of the village people of all ages go to it, so that you can see and chat to people you would not otherwise see. It is a great coming together of village folk and I really do commend whoever thought it up and those, of course, who run it each month. A brilliant idea.

Two unread magazines await, as does a stove now firmly in check. So time to sign off. If you are living in the UK - keep warm.