Sunday 29 April 2012

Wars and memories of wars.

My morning reading over coffee this morning was Ronald Blythe's report of visiting the First World War battle fields at Passchendaele. He writes of approaching the area and then suddenly seeing the whole of Flanders Fields - twenty miles or more - stretched out in front of him. He calls it "The Terrible Landscape of the First, Second and Third Ypres." Then he goes to the Menin Gate to hear the bugle sounded at 8pm as it does every night in memory of the dead. Half a million young men killed in such a useless war.

He returns home to write an introductory passage to a diary kept by one of these men, Ernest Goodridge. Ernest knew that in the giant scheme of the battles he would not return home and in his diary and letters home he tries to prepare his parents for his inevitable death. He talks about the comradeship, the shocks and the surprises. One which I found amazing is that of a young teenage West Indian Christian who apologises to Ernest for being black. Ernest is appalled - quite rightly so - but it does throw some light on attitudes in those days. He speaks of the man's beautiful eyes. Later a German dog runs between the lines, loved and petted by both sides. He speaks in his diary of the birds and the flowers being exactly the same as at home. His body lay undiscovered for nine days.

When the telegram arrived, as Ernest knew it would one day, his mother (devout Methodist) asked the minister to read David's Lament for Saul and Jonathan in memory of the comradeship.

Wars, wars, wars - is there ever a time when there is not a war, when men are not killing men and women somewhere in the world.

My brother and my late first husband were both in the Second World War (maybe one of the few wars that was justifiable). My brother was at the relief of Belsen, my husband on the Death Railway as a prisoner of the Japanese. In both cases they rarely spoke of it after the war had finished. I suppose you either let it break you completely or you put it to the back of your mind and got on with life. Brave men both.

And when I walk round my local Tesco's every Tuesday morning I pass strapping young men, many of whom will have done at least one tour in Afghanistan and probably Iraq too. Often they are pushing their babies in the trolley, or carrying them on their shoulders - these young men, often barely out of their teens - what sights they have seen, what horrors they have witnessed, yet they appear to be getting on with life too. It may not be the mud of Passchendaele,but the vast seemingly empty, sandy plains of Afghanistan and the majestic mountains in the background - scenes of quite incredible beauty spoiled by a hideous war. Oh yes, when will they ever learn?

Saturday 28 April 2012


Earlier this week my son and his wife had a walk in the Lake District and found a remote cottage which can be rented by the week. The remoteness is wonderful, as is the view of the surrounding lakes and peaks. But there are snags. It is not on mains electricity - the lighting in the house comes from batteries and if they fail, from a generator which kicks in. There is no water laid on in the house - that comes from a bore hole a little way away.

This set me thinking about the way we take such utilities forgranted these days. When I was a child there was no water laid on to our house; there was a stand-pipe in the street for all the houses there. On wash days I used to carry water for my mother, two buckets at a time, before I went off to school. When we finally had water laid on, it only produced cold water, there was no means of heating it until my father bought an electric thing which fitted over the sink and produced instant hot water for washing up - magic to us at the time.

We did have electricity and were rather proud of it. There was no gas in the village and I presume that electricity had only come fairly recently before I was born. My mother didn't cook by electricity, she had a 'side oven' by the open fire. One side was a boiler which she kept full of water so that she could have instant hot water when the fire was lit. But the water was always rusty and only useful for scrubbing the floors. The other side of the fire was an oven in which she cooked all our meals, did all our baking, made her own bread, cooked the Christmas dinner - when the oven got a ''bit slow" she would soak an old rag in paraffin and poke it under the oven with the poker to clean out the flues.

Down the lane where I now live the farmer can well remember when there was no electricity, when every room was lit by calor gas lamps - some of the fittings still remain (or rather remnants of them). When electricity finally came it was quite exciting to be able to get instant light at the flick of a switch. We still heated our central heating with calor gas until last year.

To finish on an amusing story about this. My late father in law, who would have been over 100 had he still been alive, was quite excited when he was able to buy his first electric fence for the farm. The farm opposite was owned by his great friend, Ambrose, who also bought an electric fence at the same time. On the day Ammy put his fence up the farmer's dad went over to help him and Ammy suggested that he would stand at the far end away from the switch and would hold the wire so that when the farmer's dad put the switch down he could see how long it took the electric current to get round to the other side of the field! Need I say any more?

I expect in the future somebody will do a blog saying that it was amazing that there was once a time when some houses didn't have a computer in them.

Friday 27 April 2012

The trial of Anders Brevik.

Reader Wil (see my side bar) sent me a lovely e mail today and I asked her permission (which she gladly gave) to put it on the my blog for today. I think it is very heartening - do hope you agree.

Yesterday 40,000 Norwegians sang this song outside the courthouse where Anders Brevik is being tried. They sang it as a protest as they know Brevik hates this Pete Seeger song - thinking it brain-washes children.

A heaven full of stars,
Blue seas as far as you can see,
A world where flowers grow -
Can you ask for anything more?
We shall live together
Every sister and every brother -
Small children of the rainbow
And a blossoming world.

All that tragic loss of life among young people. And a timely day to remember such tragedy as today HM the Queen has opened the new school which has been built at Aberfan, where in the 1960's well over 100 children were killed when a slag heap slid down the mountain side and engulfed their school.

Thursday 26 April 2012


Remember the old saying'"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but harsh words never hurt me?" Well in long years of teaching I often had cause to recall those words and although long retired, they still apply today.
Whenever I read yet another tirade blaming teachers I get angry - unnecessarily so now that I am no longer involved. But I get angry for those who are.

For years I was a Head of Department in a large Comprehensive School. I had a staff of around eight to ten working in my department and I can honestly say - hand on heart - that in all those years I never had a single teacher who was not totally committed to his/her job; not a single one who did not pull his/her weight; not a single one who did not meet the task with cheerfulness most of the time.

I do agree that there are some idle teachers, some who are not committed, some who are - frankly - pretty useless at the job. But isn't that so in every profession? But I do get angry when teachers en masse are blamed for all the ills of education.

Today there is a letter in the Times, suggesting that if the teaching unions did away with their annual "angerfests" as the writer calls them, the image of teachers would improve. If teaching is anything like when I was in it (and I suspect it is much worse in these days of sticking to a curriculum in such detail), then - believe me - only a fool would be without Union backing at all times. It is not a profession without numerous hazards every day. And getting together with other Union members once a year does give one a feeling of solidarity, a feeling that at least someone else understands the problems.

I have seen teachers reduced to tears on many occasions - by bad behaviour, by parents' comments, and - not least - by the fact that every thing one tries fails to work with some children.

The area of my expertise - Compensatory education - i.e. the teaching of English as a Second Language to children from the Punjab who had come into the country with no English; the teaching of reading skills to children who had come up from Primary School unable to read to anything like their actual age (and before anyone says this is the "fault" of the Primary School - just remember that many of these children would have come into Primary school having never seen or held a book or a pencil and with very poor language skills) -meant that every teacher in my Department had to try as many different methods as he or she could until one was found which touched a nerve in the child. Often it happened and the child raced away - to the delight of everyone. Sometimes it didn't work and we would spend long hours - after school and in that last week of the holidays when most of us would be in school planning the next term's work - working out another strategy.

I go to the supermarket and I pass mums with their toddlers - the toddlers are sitting in pushchairs, their mums are on their mobiles - rarely in the supermarket itself do I see a mum involving the child in the shopping. When I do it is a delight to watch. I saw one the other day -
"Find me a jar of coffee - no not that one, the one next to it." The child found it and put it in the trolley and the mum said, "Well done!" Then they went off to look for biscuits. That's the way to do it! Early language skills are not developed from watching the television or playing with toys, they are developed from talking with mum and dad, looking at things as you go along in your push chair, singing nursery rhymes together.

Sorry about that but the letter in the Times touched a still-raw nerve in me and I needed to get it off my chest. Enjoy your day unless you are swimming in water. Here for a moment the rain stopped and a weak sun came out. It has just disappeared again.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Meeting a Fellow blogger.

Today I had arranged to meet MorningAJ - we have blogged for a long time and she and her partner,K, were on holiday in The Lakes. We arranged to meet for lunch in Kirkby Lonsdale.

Everything went according to plan - we met in the bar of the Royal Hotel, had a coffee and then went on to Plato's Bistro for lunch. We certainly found plenty to talk about - poor old K hardly got a word in edgeways (sorry about that K).

Eventually we got chatting to the couple on the next table only to find that they live very close to where I live and we know people in common. We have promised to look out for one another at the fruit and vegetable stall on our local market on Friday as we both shop there every week. Isn't coincidence an amazing thing?

The weather deteriorated during the day and by the time I came home (a journey of an hour and a half, across the top of the Pennines) there was very heavy rain falling. But I did enjoy the meeting - it is things like this which make the world go round. And, incidentally, many thanks K for insisting on paying the bill and going secretly to pay it without saying a word.

The total of "Bloggers I blog with and have met" now stands at seven. And everyone has been really nice and a kindred spirit. What a difference blogging has made to my life - I hope it has made a difference to your lives too.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

I remember - or do I?

Do you remember that second verse of the Thomas Hood poem?

I remember, I remember
The roses red and white,
The violets and the lily-cups -
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday -
The tree is living yet!

Well I wonder just how much we really do remember accurately about conditions during our childhood - our memories are very selective.

In my memory, all the lanes were thick with cowslips and buttercups and cuckoo flowers; the hedges of the lanes were festooned with wild dog roses and the hedge bottoms with dog violets.
I can both see them and smell them in my memory.

Yet, was it really like that all those years ago or has my memory enhanced it all? Certainly our lane is not like that now, although there are some cuckoo flowers (not out yet) and there will be some dog roses come June.

But what are returning in profusion are the cowslips. Suddenly as we were driving down the lane the other day we began to see cowslips dotted about in the grass at the side of the lane. What a joy to see. I can only surmise that the seeds have been latent in the grass and something in the weather conditions has suddenly spurred them into growth again. Tess and I walked down to the first lot to photograph them.

On my return to the front garden I found that all the forget-me-nots are suddenly in flower and one cheeky seedling has grown in a crack in the wall, producing a fine plant. Equally cheeky are the lily-of-the-valley. I planted some that my sister-in-law threw out (she does not care for plants which do not behave) but have they come up where I planted them? No! They have chosen a spot further up the garden and have popped up there. I love them and as far as I am concerned they may come up wherever they like. I wait for them bursting into flower. We have a bold show of tulips - battered by the gales the other week, we thought it would be a poor show this year, but no - brave as they are, and used to variable spring weather, they are there bold as brass. And for a far shyer plant - the sweet woodruff (asperula odorata) is sending up its neat little whorls and coming into flower. It is also one of my favourites.

Yesterday, sheep and lambs appeared in the field opposite our farm - two lovely little jet black ones amongst all the others- sturdy, I would guess that they are destined for an early market - sad but as a farmer friend says, "a short life but a merry one." And I suppose we must content ourselves with the fact that if we didn't eat them we wouldn't breed them in the first place (I am sure every vegetarian will have an answer to that.)

Sorry, but due to my photo printing problems I cannot let you see the photographs that I have taken for this post - they are stored but somehow will not transfer, so my brain still hurts!!

All is solved, thanks to my friend, S, who came round and printed my photographs for me. For anyone interested in the mechanics, she by-passed my computer and printed from my memory card straight on to the printer - brilliant and a great load off my mind - a thousand thanks S.

Monday 23 April 2012

My brain hurts!

My first husband used to jokingly say that in some areas (particularly in practical areas) I had a Curry's brain. I don't think it was meant as a compliment!

This business of trying to print four different photographs on to one A4 sheet of photographic paper has really taxed me to the limit and I have temporarily given up before I have a nervous breakdown. A friend (thank you S) has sent me step-by-step instructions and, when I have recovered some equilibrium I shall attempt it again.

As to farming matters - for weeks it has been so dry that there has been no point in putting fertiliser on the grass as it would just sit on the surface - the ground was like concrete. Now, after days of heavy rain, the reverse is true. Luckily, in the interim period the farmer got his fertiliser spread. Now it is the rolling that is waiting to be done and the ground is too wet. I don't suppose there is ever a perfect year for weather as far as farming is concerned and farmers through the ages have learned to take what comes, which is one of the farmer's favourite expressions.

In the garden, at last it is in a fit state to do something and this morning beetroot plants and onions have gone in and salad leaf seeds have been sown. If you didn't know that beetroot could be grown from plants rather than sowing the seeds then do try it - we bought some on the offchance last year at the Garden Centre and we had the best beetroot crop we have ever had.

We are eating Swiss chard from our garden - last year's plants which we are cutting regularly to stop them going to seed, which they undoubtedly will now given half a chance. It was so good to eat the chard this lunch time, cut straight from the garden and just wilted in a saucepan. All the vegetables in the greengrocers are so sad and getting 'past it' now aren't they? Roll on the fresh peas and broad beans and those little tender sweetheart cabbages!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Good-bye to Forty-acre woodland.

This morning on his early walk with the two dogs, the farmer saw a female deer in the pasture.   She watched from a distance as they came into the field and then jumped the wall and went off down the fields towards the lane.

The rut takes place around October time and the fawns are born around May, so the females will be beginning to get restless.   Added to that, the place where I suspect many of them give birth has been felled.   Yes Forty-acre wood has been sawn down.

The farmer remembers the trees being planted and thinks it was between forty and fifty years ago, so it is time the trees were felled and the whole area was replanted.  When we passed this morning on our way to the Garden Centre for our vegetable seeds we stopped and saw that all the rubbish which had been left when the trees were felled had been put through a 'chomper' and was now a nice layer of tidy wood chippings.   Now I expect they will replant the whole area.

The woodland on the other side of the lane has been left intact - I suspect for the breeding of the pheasants and also for somewhere for the deer, so it is not all coming down at once.   But I am sure it will have unsettled the deer who spend most of their time in that area.

It's always sad to see trees felled but these pine trees do have a life span and no doubt the money received from the sale of the pine trunks in the photograph will go a long way towards paying for the replanting.

The visit to the Garden Centre is always a pleasure.   This is a family owned and run place and the quality of the plants is superb.   I nipped into the greenhouse to see the tiny seedlings of peppers,, cucumbers, tomatoes etc. just beginning to grow, and as usual the smell was that delightful healthy, damp, growing smell.  I love it.   Every season sets out with hope - then along come the pests - the slugs, the aphids, the mice, the rabbits etc.   Still, you win some, you lose some - but always fun trying.

Tanya of Lovely Greens sent me a handful of red kidney bean seeds to try - I shall put them in when we return from our short holiday in Northumberland and when all danger of frost is past.   Hope springs eternal,

Saturday 21 April 2012

A Busy Saturday

In the end, the rare breed beef I bought was a piece of Shorthorn topside - very large, but fitting nicely into the oven.   Any that is left will make lovely sandwiches and/or go into the freezer.   There is no point in buying a small joint as it always seems to shrivel to almost nothing.   The said joint is now sitting on the worktop getting to room temperature, prior to being put into theAga at around 5pm.  The Yorkshire Pudding mixture is made and is resting and as my cookbook says you can always cook them early and hot them up at the last minute, I shall make the puddings early.   Aga cookers do tend to lose their heat and Yorkshires need a very hot oven.

Meanwhile, outside the sun is shining although there are occasional showers and the birds are really amusing me as they are so busy and active.   Two cock pheasants in the side garden are falling out on opposite sides of the wire fencing.   One is in the paddock and the other is in the garden.   Neither has the sense to fly over so they are fighting through the wire.   Men!

In the marshy field a pair of oystercatchers are very noisily going about their business of finding a nest site.   We get oystercatchers every year and they advertise their presence for weeks before they actually build a nest - as do the countless pairs of curlew who are doing the same in the meadows.

In the Scots pines a collared dove has built her nest and as far as we can tell, a mistle thrush too, although it does seem a precarious place and one open to raiding magpies and jackdaws.   A tree sparrow is nesting in the box put up to attract tree creepers and tree sparrows are also nesting in the blue tit box which had its hole pecked large last year by a greater spotted woodpecker.

In the clematis in the front garden a blackbird seems to have young as it is going in repeatedly with beakfuls of worms and a hedge sparrow must be nesting quite near to it as the clematis is not all that big.  There are countless blackbirds nesting in the holly hedges which surround the vegetable garden and also stretch down the side of the paddock - a pretty good place I would have thought, particularly in the wet weather we have had for the last week.

Last year a pied wagtail nested in the concrete mixer.   I was rather hoping that it would do the same this year, so that I could take photographs, but so far no sign of activity.   There is, however, a robin nesting in the barn, although quite where the farmer has not discovered yet.

Oh yes - it is happening everywhere.   And to add to that all but six of the heifers are now outside.   Those six wait until Thursday because they need freeze branding and that is the earliest the man can come - easier to leave them in than to try and catch them so soon after being let out.   Our neighbour came to walk the last few back across the fields to his farm this morning, let them out and they took off, tails in the air, at a fantastic speed!

On an entirely unrelated subject does anyone use Picasa and an MP510 Canon printer to print off photographs?   And if so, can you print four different ones on to one sheet?   Try as I may, although I put the four photographs into the tray at the bottom of the page, the printer prints them individually, even though I click on the sheet showing four.   It is driving me mad.

Friday 20 April 2012

We say good-bye to the sheep.

The 150 Swaledale sheep which have over-wintered on our relatively low land (700 feet ASL) have gone back 'home'.   There was a lull in the bad weather on Tuesday morning, which gave them a chance to dry out.  Transporting wet sheep is a no-no as they become much too heavy and also, in close proximity to one another they begin to sweat, which is not good for their long-term health.

They were collected during the afternoon and taken back on to the 'tops' - up on the Buttertubs Pass, where the ground is steep and the hills are over a thousand feet high.   In other words where these hefted sheep long to be.

Since then it has rained more or less none stop here, so I am sure it has been much worse up there in the fells.   But they don't seem to mind.   They were certainly getting very restless here, jumping on walls (and fetching them down), pushing through fences, trying to get out.

But of course the real reason the farmer wanted shut of them was that the grass needs to grow before the over-summering cattle come.   Our neighbour has many of our fields for summer grazing for his Holstein dairy herd and our neighbour on the other side puts some of his beef heifers into some of our other fields.

The Holstein heifers who have over-wintered in our loose housing were set to go out into the fields tomorrow.   They are certainly getting restless and sniffing in the air as they begin to smell that gorgeous grass.   But it has been so very wet here for the past few days and it looks like they may be in for a day or two longer.  I am sure they are sick of silage and want some of the real stuff inside them.

I am going to town now - my regular Friday morning routine.   We were due to go out tomorrow night with friends - for dinner with mutual friends.   Sadly they have both got flu, so instead our friends are coming here for a meal in the evening.   We are going to have traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - so my first job this morning is to look in various butchers for a piece of rare breed beef - hopefully Highland, as we like that the best.

For once it is not raining, but the sky is a bit threatening.   Roll on the sunshine.

Thursday 19 April 2012


Does the weather have an effect on your behaviour?   It certainly does on mine.   

The last few days have been appalling here in the Yorkshire Dales.   Thank goodness it waited until after
Saturday's wedding.   If you look at the weather map there seems to be a big swirl directly over us - I presume this to be an anti-cyclone (?)  but whatever it is called, believe me it is pretty awful and it certainly has an
effect on how I feel.

Today there are two sorts of weather - very, very dull or pouring with rain.   We had over an inch yesterday and I guess we have had getting on for that today already.

I have just phoned a friend in the Lake District and the sun is out there, with just occasional showers.   Day after day of this drab weather and I begin to feel drab too.   So I am just going to drive into town to post some letters and to look round for a piece of rare breed beef to cook for friends coming to eat with us on Saturday night.   I would prefer Highland beef, as the last piece we had was superb.   Last time I went to the rare breed butcher, the breed for the week was Dexter and that was nothing like as enjoyable.

Any activity is preferable to sitting here trying to get four of my wedding photographs to print on to the same page - and failing miserably.   Any activity which I do only rarely on the computer I have to approach as though I have never done it before - is this an old age thing?

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Body image.

Oh dear, Google seems to have changed the format of this now and the whole site seems to be unfamiliar.   Still, I will press on and hope that it all comes out on the screen in the end.

In some countries in the world - India springs to mind immediately - to be very thin is probably a sign of hunger and/or poor diet.   The aim there is to put a bit of flesh on the bones.

When my mother was a young woman in the 1920's she wore a tight corset so that she had a slim waist.   As she aged she began to put on weight but I don't remember either her nor anyone else referring to her as being
overweight.   Anyone of her size was usually referred to as 'bonny' in our part of Lincolnshire (and the name
applies to Yorkshire as well).   As she went into her eighties, mainly I suspect because she ate much less, she
began to lose weight and finally was a thin old lady.

What is this obsession with body image these days?   To what do we owe it?   Is it the cult of the movie stars,
the fashion magazines and the like?   Whatever the reason various fad diets seem to have sprung up and everyone seems to be trying to lose weight.

It is one thing to lose weight because of a medical problem (I lost two and a half stone in order to reduce my blood pressure - and it worked), but to frantically try to diet for cosmetic reasons has become altogether too silly for words.

The latest fad in the drive to lose weight for one's wedding (apparently the average bride to be would like to shed 20lbs for her wedding day) is to have a tube poked up your nose.   This is called the KE diet and results in shedding 20lbs in ten days.  The women are fed a slow-drip blend of protein, fat and water through the tube direct into the stomach (800 calories a day).   They say the woman can lead a normal life while all this is going on - normal with a tube sticking out of your nose?   Side effects are constipation, bad breath and dizziness!   Have I mentioned cost?   Just under a thousand pounds for the ten day treatment.   But then, when I think of what people spend on their weddings these days I suppose that is chicken feed.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

The Grand National.

I have very mixed feelings about this Steeplechase, particularly this year when a local horse had to be put down.* The Grand National, like the Boat Race, the Derby, The Cheltenham Gold Cup and the FA Cup Final, is an iconic moment in the sporting calendar and is one of the events which we always try to watch. This year because of the wedding we missed it and I can't say that I am sorry in view of the fatalities.

There has been such a lot of publicity, so many people writing 'for' it and so many 'against' it - that I really don't know which side to come down on. The points the pro people seem to make are:
a) the horses love it. How do we know this? They say that if the horses didn't love it they wouldn't continue to gallop round the course once they had unseated their riders. My answer to this is to think of wild horses in various parts of the world - they are herd animals and when put together they follow one another. Surely the same applies when they are galloping round the course.
b) the runners are chosen by their owners because they are the brave and fearless ones. This I view with suspicion mainly because I think these are human characteristics. Having watched young horses being broken in by the jockeys on our local 'gallops' (we live in a racing area) I think the jockeys do not give up until they totally dominate the horse, in which case they are not so much brave and fearless as under total domination.

Why in all the furore at the moment does no one mention the real reason the race is run - money.

We have to accept that are too many horses, the loose, riderless horses are a real danger, every horse seems to be being steered in the direction of the tightest bend (like racing cars), the jumps are fearsome (I have seen them and believe me, some of them, particularly Bechers Brook are absolutely terrifying). Last but by no means least, every jockey carries a whip and after the last fence there is a frantic race to finish first. Need I say more?

As I say - I love watching it on television, I would be sad to see it go but I do sometimes feel that my reasons are for self-gratification rather than the good of the horse. Can someone please enlighten me?

*According to Pete.

Monday 16 April 2012

Does not make a Summer.

They say 'one swallow does not make a Summer', but how about two swallows? This morning, when the farmer and Tess went out for their morning walk at 8am, not one but two swallows sat on the electric line across the yard.

It is always a very special day when the swallows arrive here on the farm, back to nest in the barns and sheds where they nested last year. It is amazing to think these tiny little birds have been to Africa and back since they left here in early October.

We always note the date of their arrival. The earliest was April 9th, and that was in the days when the farmer was still milking his cows. One flew into the milking parlour one morning as he milked (they always nested in there). It was a fortnight before it was joined by its mate. This time two birds have arrived together, which begs the question - are they a pair or are they just two individual swallows who happened to arrive on the same day?

Whatever the answer, one thing is for sure - they will be finding it jolly cold (8.5 as I write this) after the Sahara Desert.

Thank you for all your kind comments on the wedding. I must say that after approaching the day with some trepidation - the hat, the dress, the speech (to name but three worries) - I enjoyed every single minute of it.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Sorry about the absence - happy day!

There has been no blogging for a few days because I have been away for the very happy occasion of the wedding of my God-daughter. Today - my first day home - I am very tired from all the excitement. It was a super wedding, everything went to plan. I gave the bride away so had quite an important role, which was an emotional drain as well. So today I am just posting a photograph of the bride with her two chief bridesmaids and a photograph that the farmer took of me at the reception - then I am going to put my feet up for the rest of the day.

Sorry about the stole - it means you can't see my dress at all, but believe me I really needed that stole - the temperature was just above freezing. The bride didn't seem to notice the cold at all!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Forgot the camera!

Sod's law, of course, but today I had to go to Ripon to the hairdresser and I forgot to take the camera. Of course, there were so many things I wanted to photograph - so shall have to describe them to you instead.

The Dales is grassland country, just as the 'crop' is sheep, other than a dairy farm here and there. But as soon as one starts off towards Ripon then things change and the land becomes much more arable. Arable land in this area at present, means mostly one thing - Oil Seed Rape. You either love it or you hate it.

On the whole, a bright yellow field (which is how they are at present) is a lovely, sunny sight but you can have too much of a good thing and there is certainly nothing subtle about the colour. As I drove towards Ripon I passed field after field of the stuff and I must say that it did finally become a bit of a strain on the eyes.

But, of course, the bees love it. Coming as it does between the end of the blackthorn and the early blossom and the beginning of the May blossom and the apple blossom this crop provides a real magnet for bees. Some people absolutely love rape honey and others hate it. So the choice is yours.

I came back a different way from Ripon because I suddenly remembered something about this time of the year. In one of the villages my different route passes through, there is a row of bungalows for the elderly and each year the front gardens are a delight.

This year was no exception. There were grape hyacinths, paper-white narcissi, red tulips, forsythia, long-stemmed polyanthus, primroses and best of all - wallflowers - all growing in a mish mash in the gardens. There were old men out in the sunshine with their hoes, dabbling around the plants and loosening the weeds - it was a delight. I couldn't resist stopping at one garden and getting out to tell the old man just how lovely his garden looked. I told him how wallflowers always reminded me of my parents. Wallflowers have such a distinctive smell and the minute I stepped outside the car I could smell them. My mother loved them and at this time of the year she had a glass vase of them on the dining table all the time - an integral part of my childhood and a smell that takes me back instantly and nostalgically.

I arrived home to find a lovely book on the table - a present for Easter from a friend - thank you M for the lovely thought. The book is 'Unwrecked England' by Caandida Lycett Green - looks lovely so I shall post on it in a day or two.

On the journey I passed a field of fascinating and quite foreign sheep, so my next job is to search the internet to see if I can find out what they are. If I am successful I shall be back.

Meanwhile, that beautiful sunshine has given way to a heavy April shower - but then April showers bring forth sweet May flowers - or so they say.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Just when you thought you could identify a Holstein cow.......

....along comes a brown and white one. We have several in fact.

Holsteins are like Friesians (who originated in the Netherlands) but they are on the whole larger and bonier - and their milk yield is better. But they do come in a lovely milk-chocolatey brown as well as black. We have one at the moment but she is rather shy, so this photograph took quite a bit of getting. Every time I pointed the camera at her, she pulled back out of sight.

Today's blog is a kind of displacement therapy as it is our year end and I am doing the company's books - not a job I enjoy but an essential one at this time of the year, and it does give me a certain satisfaction when I close the ledger for the last time. So I am just having a short break.

And while I am on my blog can I just say thank you to John Whiting, who I don't know at all, but who wrote to me via my e mail saying that he read my blog regularly and giving me some information about chocolate and dogs. It is interesting, so I thought I would pass it on to you all.
Apparently dogs do like chocolate (you can say that again) but it is not good for them as it brings on an alkaloid response from their digestive process. It seems therefore that it is important to keep chocolate as far away from dogs as possible.

Isn't blogland wonderful - what communication it generates. Today my son and his wife, who are in the Isle of Man on holiday, are meeting up with Tanya of Lovely Greens (see my side bar) for a coffee and a chat. And in a fortnight or so I am meeting Morning AJ(also on my side bar) in Kirkby Lonsdale for lunch one day when they are up there on holiday. It does go to make the world seem a smaller place.

Incidentally, on the terrier front, sheep poo seems to be the flavour of the month. Try as I may I cannot keep Tess away from the stuff. I did read somewhere that it does contain minerals which dogs find attractive - well each to his own I suppose.

Monday 9 April 2012

Collecting the twigs.

Have you ever wondered why birds - crows, pigeons, magpies and the like - break twigs off the topmost branches of the trees to build their nests at this time of the year, then drop the twigs on the ground and abandon them. Why, after all the effort of breaking the twig off, do they abandon it if they drop it? I suppose that could be the origin of the expression "bird brained"!

Whatever the reason, that combined with the heavy wet snow of last week and several days of sharp wind has resulted in the farmer spending today going round the perimeters of all his fields and collecting twigs and branches to burn on the bonfire.

At the end of the operation the fields will look nice and tidy. The rain and snow has to some extent washed in the 'muck' he spread a couple of weeks ago and has also greened up the grass. The sheep have nibbled the grass nice and short and everywhere is looking very smart.

I am busy assembling all the things I shall need this coming week-end for the wedding of my God-daughter. The farmer will be taking me over to Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria on Friday afternoon so that I can be there for the wedding rehearsal (I am giving her away) in the evening. Then a group of us will be staying in a hotel there ready for the wedding on the Saturday.

Hair, nails, make-up - all being done for us by professionals. I must say that these things do not really go with the role of a farmer's wife, so I shall be wearing rubber gloves for the next few days. Still it will be rather nice to be 'glamoured up'- and, as they say, the older you get, the longer it takes!

Saturday 7 April 2012

Capricious weather.

Traditionally, here in the UK, Easter weather is capricious, regardless of when Easter is. I was surprised to hear our local newreader on TV admit the other day that she had absolutely no idea how they calculated Easter. As I understand it, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. If I have got it wrong then I have no doubt somebody will point it out to me - that is one of the good things about blogland.

We had that one week of absolutely glorious weather with temperatures just creeping into the twenties; now it is not even ten degrees. I think things like this ladybird, that came out in the warm sunshine, will be going back into hybernation - or even dying - in the cold and wet.

Yes, it is very fickle. Our cattle, still indoors, can smell the grass growing and they do get restless. The trouble with letting them out on to the new grass now is that it really has not grown enough, which means they will eat it down quickly and - as the farmer says - they will get on top of it throughout the season and it will never catch up. So they will have to stay in a little longer and eat up more silage. Let's hope that all farmers have enough silage to last them over the next week or two.

I have just watched the Oxford/Cambridge boat race and I must say it really was an absolute farce today. As you probably know by now, somebody swam into the path of the boats and they had to stop the race. Then the current was so strong and the wash of the boats was so high (I have been to see it once and you cannot possibly imagine how high the wash is) that it took them a long time to re-start the race; then Oxford got too near to Cambridge in spite of being warned several times and got an oar broken off for their misdemeanour; finally at the end one of the Oxford crew collapsed from exhaustion. I do hope he is going to be alright - as I write I have not heard an update and both teams were so very subdued at the end.

The Boat Race is one of the big events of the year, along with the Derby, the Grand National and the Masters - all of which we watch avidly. That it should be messed up like this is so sad - I wonder if the chap in the water was trying to protest about something - no doubt we shall hear all about it if he was. One thing is for sure, he messed it up for an awful lot of people.

Enjoy your Easter, wherever you are - and don't eat too many chocolate eggs.

And speaking ofchocolate eggs - at the village coffee morning yesterday morning, I bought a delightful knitted duckling which had a chocolate egg inside it. In romantic fashion I sat the duckling by the farmer's plate at tea time. He said he would eat it during the evening. Somebody had other ideas. I was on my computer in the hall when I heard a clatter - went into the kitchen to investigate. Tess had been up on the table, knocked the duckling off onto the floor, got the egg out of the duckling and half-eaten it! When she saw me she scuttled under the kitchen table, lay on her back and wagged her tail. Well, at least it has cut the calories yesterday for the farmer.

Friday 6 April 2012

A friend, W, and I went yesterday to our nearest shopping complex - Teeside Park - and to Saint Marks and Spencer. I must say that in spite of the North East being such a depressed area as far as work is concerned (and I am sure it is) there was absolutely no shortage of spenders there. The car park was full and the shops were full of people stocking up their trolleys for the Easter break.

In spite of the terrible blizzards of two days ago here in the Dales, there was no sign of snow on the journey and plenty of signs of Spring. The hedges were in full leaf and the blossom was out; the sun was shining and people were in T shirts. It was only when you lifted your eyes to the North York Moors in the distance that you saw the snow gleaming in the sunshine.

Thousands of lambs have perished on the North York Moors and many places there are still without electricity. Even here in our village one local farmer has lost eighty six of his new born lambs. It is such a tragedy as this has so far been a good lambing year and the lambs were out in the sunshine and doing well. Sadly the snow was the wet, heavy kind and it finished many of them off.

W tells me that there is a nesting semi-wild duck in our village - white so hardly camouflaged - which has chosen to nest on top of a garden wall on the side of the road in full view of all passers by. She sounds like a modern-day Jemima Puddleduck of Beatrix Potter fame and I fully expect the outcome to be the same as that of Jemima, for as Potter says, ducks are usually 'bad sitters' and with her farming background she knew what she was talking about.

One last thing before I go today. Has anyone else noticed the over use of two words on television these days? Everything seems to be either fantastic or incredible. According to my dictionary fantastic can mean splendid, excellent, amazing and incredible can mean difficult or impossible to believe, unusually good. Wouldn't it be nice if now and again presenters could use another word instead? I counted the words in a programme the other night and the word 'fantastic' was used fourteen times during the course of the programme. In another programme there were eleven 'incredibles'.

The presenters are obviously not from North Yorkshire, and certainly not from the North Yorkshire Farming community. The farmer, along with others up here, is much more sparing with his praise. Something might be not bad, alright, quite good or quite enjoyable but that is about his limit. The only time I have ever heard him go over the top was when he had a ride in a hot air balloon for his fiftieth birthday - sadly the word he used to describe the experience was, yes - you've guessed it - FANTASTIC!

Wednesday 4 April 2012

What a difference a day makes.

The farmer finally got in from his crisis with the tractor at 5pm. The mechanic arrived at half past one and they managed to get the tractor into the open-fronted barn for repair. By that time it was raining hard and within half an hour the rain had turned to snow and winds of fifty plus miles an hour had risen. They were coming from the North and blowing directly into the barn.

By the time he got in he was freezing cold and wet through but still had to take the dogs out, feed the farm dog, feed the cattle still in their winter housing and bring in the logs. By the time he sat down for his dinner after a hot shower and a thorough change of clothes it was half past six. He had the lasagne, broccoli, cauliflower and leeks I had planned for lunch, so plenty of nice warming food in him,

He sat by the stove all night and made himself a large hot toddy (whisky, lemon juice, honey and hot water) to warm his cockles.

This morning there is four inches of snow. It is still sleeting and there are plenty of branches down on the Scots pines. There is a snow drift at the top of the lane, so I shall not venture out to Writers' Group. But, as I write, the sky is clearing and there are patches of blue here and there. The snow is that really wet stuff, so should go quite quickly.

I took a photograph, through the kitchen window, of the farmer feeding the garden birds. They were all waiting. It must be very hard for them. Nesting last week in temperatures in the late teens and now this. Still, it is set to go today, the barometer is rising and the sun is trying to break through. As Eliot says, "April is the cruelest month."

Which reminds me of something which will make you smile. When I go to the supermarket on a Tuesday morning I always go to the same man on the check-out. We have a mutual friend and it is part of my Tuesday ritual to have a chat with Richard. Yesterday he admired some pears I had bought and I said, "Did you know that Flaubert said that a pear was only perfect for eating for about ten minutes in its entire life - before that it was unripe and after that it was too ripe and almost uneatable"? No, he didn't know that. Later, as I was packing my trolley he remarked what awful weather it was and I said, "Eliot said April is the cruelest month." His reply was, "I must say this is not the normal sort of conversation I get on the checkout."

If you live North of a line from Birmingham to the Wash in the UK - keep well wrapped-up today.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Small crisis.

Well, more of an inconvenience really.
When I returned home from the supermarket and various shopping things this morning, there was a message on my answer-phone from the farmer to say that he had a major tractor breakdown and was stranded in our neighbour's farmyard.

Lunch was already in the oven (here on the farm, meals have to be dead on time) but the farmer asked if I could take him something to eat so that he could hang around and wait for the mechanic to arrive. Out here in the Yorkshire Dales, tractor mechanics are not exactly two a penny and this one had to come from Levens in Cumbria, around fifty miles in fact.

It is a cold, wet day here and the poor old farmer had to wait in dismal conditions. I made him a plate of pate sandwiches, tomatoes, two oat chocolate biscuits and a banana, covered it in cling film and drove round with it. "Have you brought me a drink?" was his first question! I had never thought of making a thermos of coffee.

Luckily, good friends S and M live more or less next door to the farmyard and within five minutes had provided a flask of hot coffee. Now the mechanic is working on the tractor and - hopefully - the farmer will be home for a hot shower before too long.

Monday 2 April 2012

They don't make 'em like that any more.

Are there any female pioneers these days? If there are then I am sure somebody will tell me, but as it sit here typing I can't think of any.

I was five years old at the time of Amelia Earhart - and she was the talk of every household. I don't remember my parents talking about her, but I do remember my sister and her husband being fascinated by the story.

There is an interesting story about her in the Times today - because there is hopefully going to be an expedition in the Summer which will try to establish once and for all what happened to her and her plane.

Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on July 2nd 1937, when they were on their epic journey around the world. There was absolutely no navigational equipment at that time - they navigated by the stars and the sun. Earhart was pretty useless at this, which is why she took Noonan along. She also never managed to learn to perfect her communication skills with the (by our standards) primitive radios of the time.

Her aircraft was called the Electra and she and Noonan took off from New Guinea for the twenty hour flight to the tiny Howland Island (now part of Micronesia). Weather conditions were bad
and her last call told listeners that they were flying low - below 1000 feet - and searching for the island, which is flat and measures only half a mile by a mile. They were running out of fuel.

The crew of the ship Itasca could hear her clearly but she seems not to have heard them at all.. There have been all kinds of theories about her disappearance (aren't there always in these cases), but a lady's powder compact and bits of clothing were found on the island years ago, suggesting that somehow they reached the island but died after getting there - probably of starvation or lack of water.

Now Robert Ballard, the man who found the Titanic in 1985, is advising an expedition in the US which will set off in July to search for the plane. As it says in the Times, the key to this is that in 1937 a military survey photographed something sticking up out of the water near to the island which could be a bit of the undercarriage from the Electra.

That seems to have been the age of pioneers. I find it all so exciting. As I was typing this I was reminded of the moon landing. We were en route to my parents in Lincolnshire for the day with our son, Dominic, and we were hell bent on getting there in time for the televised landing.
We pulled up outside the house, rushed in, expecting my parents to have the TV on. Mother was getting the lunch, Father was out in the garden - 'what would you want to watch that for?' was their comment as we dashed over and switched the TV on.

For someone like me, who has lived through all these amazing changes, things like sat-nav, tele-communications and the like, are just amazing. To those born only, say, twenty years ago - all these things are taken forgranted. I wonder, will the next generation be the same?

Sunday 1 April 2012

Where rivers meet.

I have done this walk many times and posted about it before, but as I really enjoy the walk every Spring I am assuming that you are happy to hear about it again too.

The River Cover flows through Coverdale and the River Ure flows through Wensleydale. The two rivers meet just beyond Coverbridge and from there go on as the River Ure, finally to join the River Ouse, flow through York and into the Humber Estuary before finally joining the North Sea.

From Coverbridge to Jervaulx Abbey there is a footpath along the side of the river and it is here that we walk. What makes it such a lovely walk this time of the year is that it is a sheltered walk and that means that the trees and wild flowers come out early. No orchids or bluebells yet but there are oxalis, cowslips, violets (in abundance) and a host of celandine. The blackthorn is in full bloom and ash and sycamore buds are bursting.

The farmer and I took Tess after lunch today and walked about two miles, which is my limit. The only fly in the ointment was that when I returned home I remembered that I had left a Simnel cake in the oven. The one fault with the Aga is that you can't smell anything cooking. I had looked at the cake before we went and said that it needed another five minutes - then completely forgotten it. Result one charcoal cake. I think even the hens will turn their beaks up at it. Still, it's no use crying over spilt milk (or burnt cake - at least I am in good company as King Alfred did it.)

We parked the car by a field full of sheep and lambs. In the background is Ulshaw Bridge over the Ure and a tiny RC church at the side of it. If you enlarge the picture you will see it more clearly.