Friday 31 August 2012

Wet, wet, wet.

We get one fine day and then a wet one on the whole, so that the land never has a real chance to dry up. This is quite worrying for farmers as they do need to make second, or even third, crop silage for winter feed. Judging by the way things are going weather-wise, animals may well be brought in early this year (there was ice on our car this morning) and this will mean that unless extra silage is able to be brought in there will be a shortage of winter feed before the end of winter and the price will rocket up.

Gateways in particular are very wet. Why is it always the gateways where it is wettest? But in our fields set aside of silage making, everywhere is wet and any machinery that ventured on to the field would be quickly bogged down.

So let's hope for some fine September weather. We have several ancient horses in the field next to ours. One is a retired racehorse in his twenties (in the photograph) with a naughty habit of chewing the wood off the top of the fence. The other two are mares, one in her twenties and the other well into her teens - both have been brood mares in their younger days. And one has a condition called 'mud fever', which means she has to have her leg dressed and bandaged every day. Amazingly, she gets her head into a bucket of oats and lets the stable girls get on with the bandaging without even looking in their direction.

I love these horses when they come. They are so tame that they come to the fence at a call. The girls say it is because they hope to be fed, but they come every day when I am on my walk and I certainly dare not feed them as I am quite scared of horses. But we have nice conversations.

On an entirely different subject, a friend J came into the Golden Lion when we were all having coffee this morning and told me that she almost always reads my blog. It is always good when somebody tells me they read it (it makes me try a bit harder). She says she is disappointed that I never mention that our little town, Leyburn, has a very thriving Band, in which she plays. So here you are J - a mention of Leyburn Band and if you send me a photograph of them then I will put it on to my blog one day!

Thursday 30 August 2012

Ducks and water.

Where there are ducks there has to be water. Well this was certainly true today when the farmer and I went to Northallerton to get a spare part for his grass-cutter. Our lane was flooded where the beck had come over the road (we had more than half an inch of rain overnight) and when we reached that part it was covered in swimming ducks!

The farmer drove through the water very slowly so that I could take these photographs and also, of course, to give the ducks time to get out of the way.

These ducks are bred for the shooting season. Yes, I know, it is hard to imagine that anyone could be daft enough to shoot a "wild" duck -because they are lovely creatures and apart from that they take an awful lot of plucking and you are left with something that is so small it is hardly worth putting on your plate. I feel like that about shooting, full stop. But sadly, it is big business round here - so let these lovely little ducks enjoy their swim in the puddle before the shooting season starts. The more they sit on water the less likely they are to fly when the shooters approach and if they don't take off and fly then they can't be shot. I wish I could tell them this.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

They start tonight.

Yes, the Paralympics are here and the opening ceremony is tonight, and we shall be watching it avidly. I do hope it is as great a success as the Olympics was, not least because it forces us to get up close to the Paralympians and see them as normal people.

Surely, gone are the days when anyone sees disabled people as a race apart. But, no, of course the days have not gone and every thing which happens to reinforce the positive view has got to be good.

One of the best advocates in the UK, and one who has done her very best to make us all face up to our prejudices, is Dame Tanni Grey Thompson, the spin bifida wheelchair user. I heard her speak on radio the other week when she said that when she was born with the condition her father refused to have the house adapted to her needs and insisted that she was the one who had to adapt - and what sound advice that had been in making her determined to succeed.

Another person here in the UK who has widened our horizons over the last couple of years is Melanie Reid, the Times journalist, who broke her neck and back in a riding accident in April 2010 and has since been a tetraplegic. She writes a weekly column in the Saturday Times called Spinal Column, which charts her weekly progress. She will be reporting at the games and is a perfect example to make us realise that life need not be over when something like this happens.

I read somewhere about soldiers in the first world war who returned terribly injured and were shut away in institutions. The writer said - if they had died they would have been seen as heroes. As it was they were shut away until they conveniently died. Surely we have moved well on from those days.

Our rehabilitation unit on the Garrison here at Catterick puts young men around us in the supermarket every day, so that we become used to seeing them. Everything that can be done to move forward this attitude is a plus.

Oscar Pistorius, that running miracle on two blades, says the best thing that could happen is that we stop calling people disabled and start calling them differently abled. Maybe we should all try that. In the meantime - enjoy the paralympics.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Progress notes on the sick heifer.

Last week I wrote of a sick heifer who seemed to be about to abort her calf. The vet gave her various injections and told us to keep her in the barn. Well we have done so but after a week there is really no improvement in her condition and she certainly has not aborted the calf. So this afternoon the vet called again.

She became very distressed and really very dangerous too as they attempted to get a halter on to her so that the vet could examine her more closely. At one point I retreated to the safety of outside and took photographs through a crack in the door. The vet had a trainee vet with him - a lovely young lady who must have weighed all of eight stone and was very slightly built too. It didn't seem to put her off!

The vet is still unsure what ails the heifer. Her temperature is now normal and the calf seems to have settled down again - so now he is investigating infection as the cause and has pumped her full of antibiotics. We shall have to await developments now but I must say that she was quite terrifying when she panicked and roared and I was glad to be outside looking in.

On a more peaceful note - yesterday my daughter in law and I paid a visit to Norton Conyers garden, which was open to the public for a couple of hours in aid of the local hospice. The weather was not the sort to encourage people to go because it was pouring with rain. But around twenty hardy souls turned up to wander round the garden and take tea and cake in the lovely orangery. It was very enjoyable - the garden was lovely and there was a kind of Dunkirk spirit amongst the viewers.

We treated ourselves to an ice cream on the return journey - a reward for being stoical.

Monday 27 August 2012

Mining Lead in the Dales.

Lead mining used to be one of the main industries in the Dales and evidence of many of the mines still remains - spoil heaps, remains of chimneys and buildings - and they are always in spots which are really so picturesque now.

But conditions for those miners through the centuries must have been appalling. Men lived in pooraccommodation, usually miles from civilisation, worked long hours in cold and wet conditions and earned a pittance.

At the early part of the twentieth century the mines closed when it suddenly became cheaper to import lead from Europe and many miners were left penniless, workless and virtually homeless.
The young, strong men often managed to get their meagre possessions to Liverpool where they set sail for America and what they hoped would be a better life. (There are parts of the States where Yorkshire names remain as a link - e.g. Richmond), others stayed behind and of course many of them would lose their lives in the Great War. As it has always been throughout history - the poor are expendable.

Yesterday afternoon we decided to have a drive to Surrender Bridge and walk along the track to the remains of the Sir Francis mine. The afternoon was glorious; the heather was out; the grouse were calling from the sides of the track and Tess was in her element. She was on the lead as we passed an ominous sign which said "Please keep tight control of children and pets as venomous snakes are active at this time of the year."

Sadly we never reached the mine workings as great black clouds threatened and we only just got back to the car before it rained. But it was a lovely walk and the beauty somehow intensified the feeling of what awful lives these men must have lead.

The stream in the valley bottom was so pretty and there were mosses and wild flowers growing along its banks. But its remoteness of course seems just an attraction in these days of cars. This would not have been so when walking out of the area meant a walk of maybe fifteen miles to get to Richmond, the nearest town.

I wonder what people will be visiting of ours in two hundred years time and marvelling at our old ways.

On a similar subject, there was a brilliant programme on BBC2 last night about a ferryman from the Thames spending a week with a ferryman in Dhaka in Bangladesh - in conditions so indescribable and with a lavatory (if you could call it that) shared by forty people. The dignity and friendliness of the family he stayed with was humbling.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Wensleydale Show part two.

There were too many photos for yesterday so here are a few more.

For the first time there was a "Food in Yorkshire" tent featuring only food produced and made in Yorkshire. Cup cakes seemed very popular, as did home made bread, which all looked so good. I bought a honey and sunflower loaf and presented it to the farmer for breakfast this morning. When I asked him if he had enjoyed it he remarked that it was alright for birds he supposed! (we buy sunflower hearts for our wild birds).

I didn't show you all of the cattle. There was a section for Highland Cattle; always a poplar class with visitors. They always seem so docile, although I understand that cows can be very nasty when they have a calf. There was also a section for beef breed bulls. The one in the photograph - a Belgian Blue (yes, I know it is cream) has such a large back end that he is almost deformed. I can only image what his progeny would be like, although it is a fact that many Belgian blue cows have to have calves delivered by caesarean section. However, he won his class. He looked quite docile as he was walked round the ring on a rope through his nose but it did occur to me that if he wished to break loose the farmer would have been quite unable to hold on to him.

The other photograph is of a really good example of a Swaledale sheep - showing the white ring around the eye and the good white nose. The horns are so curly that quite often the horn has to be sawn off to prevent it growing into the side of the animals face - or even its eye.

Today they have begun to clear the show field (it is only at the top of our lane). I can only imagine the state of the ground as there was half an inch of rain yesterday evening. Then the farmer who owns the fields has to try and get them back into some sort of shape before the winter. Good luck to him.

Saturday 25 August 2012

The Wensleydale Show.

Always on the last Saturday in August, our local show was held today. The weather forecast was not promising and the field was a bit of a quagmire once all the exhibitors had driven in and out. But all in all, the weather held off until mid-afternoon and the ground was just about navigable, although the car park was a bit slippery as it is on a slope.

There was no drop in numbers and by the time we arrived at 11.30 there were hundreds there and it was all in full swing. The cattle tent is always our first port of call as our friend and neighbour always shows his Holstein cattle. He got the Supreme Championship this time with the one in the photograph and the little Jersey calf in the background, which is also his, won a first prize - so he was well-satisfied.

The heavy horse classes are always fun to watch as these large Shire horses are so magnificent. Also in the ring at the same time were the carriage ponies, including a lovely little cart pulled by a very perky and obedient donkey.

In the produce and handicraft marquee there was a distinct shortage of vegetables as this has been such a very bad year for vegetables up here. But there was no shortage of cakes and pastries in the competition and the same goes for the flowers - glorious sweet peas.

In the handicrafts there was a stand celebrating the Queen's Jubilee where every exhibit was knitted. There is a photograph of it above. Even the cup cakes were quite convincing.

One of my favourite tents is always the Poultry tent and I have added one or two photographs from that exhibition to show you. There are so many photographs that I am putting half on today and the other half tomorrow.

We arrived home at 3.30, just as it began to rain heavily - but by then the show was winding down and at least the crowds had gone, so that the show would not lose an enormous amount of money. They rely on their gate money to keep them going and I would think that numbers were well up this year. There are always a lot of holidaymakers and visitors to the Dales there too. Enjoy the photographs. I am off to put my feet up!

Friday 24 August 2012

Surprise, surprise.

A lovely surprise through the post this morning when a parcel arrived from Fiona (Marmalade Rose on my side bar). I have long admired her workmanship - she is so accurate and neat with her sewing. When I opened the parcel it was a lovely peg bag with a hanger so that it can hang on the washing line (yes, we still peg our washing out on the line up here in the Dales).

I have attached a photograph to this post so that everyone can admire it. What I like about Fi's work is that she chooses colours which enhance one another, her sewing is absolutely accurate and she has such lovely ideas. So thank you so much Fiona - it is much appreciated.

I had another surprise earlier in the week when a card I entered into John's (Going Gently) village show won second prize. Two nice surprises in one week - lovely.

Tomorrow is the annual Wensleydale Show in the fields at the top of our lane. All the marquees are up and cattle are beginning to arrive. Produce etc. will arrive early in the morning and the farmer and I will be going, regardless of the weather. The forecast is for torrential rain for part of the day, which may well turn the show field into a quagmire. But we Dales folk are not put off by such things, so there will be a report tomorrow evening on my blog.

Before we go to the Wensleydale Show the farmer has to go to the West Witton village show where he judges the hay, fruit and vegetable classes every year - so it will be quite a busy day for him.

Reports tomorrow, providing I have an internet connection- I found it hard to get one today - so fingers crossed.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Hectic after all.

After a string of rather hectic days, today was meant to be a quiet day. Apart from a manicure in Bedale (12 miles away) at half-past ten and a visit from the chiropodist at four-thirty the day was free. Cook the lunch, take Tess for her stroll, put my feet up and have a read.

But of course, life on a farm is never like that. Things happen when you least expect them. Suddenly a heifer was obviously unwell. The vet was called and the farmer and the builder, who happened to be here finishing off a job, tried to get her into the barn before the vet came. No such luck. Three times they got her as far as the gate - her 'friends' following inquisitively at a safe distance - three times she took off at the last minute to join them again.

By the time Michael, the vet, arrived, they were no nearer to having her inside. So he joined in the fun and eventually, reluctantly she came in and promptly collapsed from sheer exhaustion. The trouble was quickly diagnosed - she was aborting her calf, due in January.

Now she lies inside, in clean straw, a bucket of water and a rack of hay within easy distance. The vet has given her several injections and we now await the abortion. At least she is clean, comfortable and quiet. The only thing to disturb her peace are the swallows who are nesting in the barn.

And speaking of birds, yet another bird has hit the window full on, broken its neck and died. It looks like a young chaffinch. It keeps happening and it is so sad to see these beautifully marked young birds lying dead. Rather gruesomely - if my hens get a whiff of a dead bird they are there in a moment and make very short work of it for a snack. Similarly with any mice the cats leave lying around. Hens, however much we love them, are really quite savage creatures at heart.

Wednesday 22 August 2012


This is the theme for our next writers' meeting and I am attempting to write a poem. I have a friend, G, who has the most marvellous eye for spotting little 'treasures' and when she has found one she will then devote her time to researching what it is.

She photographed some of them and printed them off on one sheet, with a description of where she found each one and from that I have written a poem. This is the first draft of the poem. Writers' Group is not until the first Wednesday of September so I have plenty of time to revise. In the meantime I shall be interested to hear what you think.

A friend.

Wandering through the woods she finds
an owl pellet,
the brilliant feather of the jay,
the perfect skeleton of the wood mouse -
washed clean by the Summer's rain -
its tail stretched out like a string
of tiny beads.

Along the Thames foreshore,
gleaning at low tide -
a Jacobean wool seal,
bearing the king's crown.
And by the River Swale
a silver sixpence and
a silver thimble,
both shining in the mud.

Fossils, ammonites, sea urchins,
a message in a bottle,
all seem to fall into her lap.
Molehills, middens and rockfalls
draw her like iron to a magnet,
to find clay pipes, ink bottles,
flint scrapers, spindle whorls.

On drives in the country it is she
who spots
the long-tailed tit's nest in a winter tree.
A young dead badger by the road,
a buzzard hovering overhead,
a blackcock in a silver birch,
all draw her eye.

What makes her see these things
that I pass by?
Not serendipity,
but her keen eye.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

The unexpected.

Isn't it lovely when someone calls unexpectedly?

This afternoon, just as we were finishing lunch, friend M came down the drive with a present for our wedding anniversary (a lovely bird bath since you are wondering). The farmer went off to do what farmers do and left us, table still set from lunch, to chat.

Three hours later we were still there, still chatting and putting the world to rights. The table still held the lunch plates and Tess had a quizzical look on her face which said, "Why haven't you taken me for my after-lunch walk?"

Oh I do love people calling unannounced. There is not a tradition of doing this up here in the Dales. Both M and I are incomers, and have probably done this all our adult lives - it is so lovely to chat and have a laugh when I was expecting to do one or two laborious jobs which will easily wait until morning.

Monday 20 August 2012

Two days out!

Another anniversary week-end day out - this time without the farmer as it was his walking day.
A friend and I went to Shandy Hall at Coxwold - once the home of Laurence Sterne the writer of Tristram Shandy - the novel which is widely thought to be the progenitor of the stream of consciousness novels of the twentieth century.

Sterne lived from 1713 to 1768 and did not have an altogether happy life. His marriage was not happy and apart from one daughter all his children were stillborn. This indirectly resulted in his wife having a major breakdown in mental health.

Shandy Hall in Coxwold stands next to the church and has tremendous atmosphere, particularly in the garden where one really feels one is walking in Sterne's footsteps. There is a peace and tranquility to it and the ancient house in the background adds to this.

We looked round the garden but our real reason for going was the exhibition in one of the barns of the lithographs of Carry Akroyd (go to her website to see her superb work), all of them linked to the poetry of John Clare and also owing a lot to the writing of Ronald Blythe. All three live or lived in the same area - that fenland corner of Suffolk/Essex/Northamptonshire. Her work is both inspired and inspiring.

I was prompted into buying John Clare's 'Shepherd's Calendar' in the latest edition. We emerged from Shandy Hall punch drunk with the effects of the exhibition and sat in a forested area with a cup of tea and a piece of cake for an hour (until it started to rain) just discussing the lithographs and the writing. Today I am still on a high as a result - long may it last. I find that rarely do exhibitions move me as much as this one did - and coupled with that wonderful feeling of walking in Sterne's footsteps it was a day to remember.

##Akroyd's website is

Sunday 19 August 2012


Yesterday was the nineteenth anniversary of our wedding day and - by tradition - the farmer always takes me out for the day (to say thank-you for looking after him ((not sure what I do to say thank you to him!!))

We usually go North into the wild country or East towards the east coast. But for a complete change we decided to go West - not into the Lakes, which is quite near but which we visit fairly often but on to Morecambe Bay.

We intended to have lunch in the super Art Deco Midland Hotel in Morecambe, which has been completely renovated. But as we climbed to the top of the Pennines we climbed into cloud and rain and had to make a decision what to do. Finally we decided to stop off and eat in my favourite Italian restaurant in Kirkby Lonsdale and then make a decision after lunch. The lunch was delicious, as always and as it was a special day we allowed ourselves Eton Mess as well as a chicken dish with risotto to start with.

By the time we came out of Avanti the sun was shining so off we went to Morecambe Bay. We haven't been to Morecambe before and we parked up at the posh end (why do all these seaside places have a posh end and a 'kiss-me-quick' end?) There was hardly anyone about in spite of it being mid-season. The tide was in and we walked along the Promenade with Tess for about a mile, then back to the car and a drive to look at the hotel. We would have gone in for a look, but the car park was full.

Coming back we called in the splendid Country Harvest shop for a cup of tea (mainly to wake me up as I had had a poor night the previous night and was beginning to droop by this time) and then by the time we reached the Ribblehead Viaduct we were able to call in and have a quick look at the Nature Reserve by Ingleton station on the Settle - Carlisle railway and the viaduct. It was only a quick look as it was five o'clock by this time and various animals were waiting but we saw enough to make us want to return. There are excavations of a Viking longhouse and a farmstead up on the top of the old quarry, so we shall go back to have a look at those soon.

The rain had completely disappeared on the tops and the skies were beautiful.

We always enjoy out anniversary day out - it has become quite a tradition. Today I am going out with a friend and David is walking - more about that tomorrow.

Friday 17 August 2012

The Sound of Silence

My favourite song of all time. All right, tell me I am a boring old f*** but I still love that Simon and Garfunkel song best of all. There was a time when I knew all the words - that time is long gone but whenever I hear it now I stand and listen. As to what it means - well I just went on line to find out and there are so many interpretations that I came away thinking that as far as I am concerned it means whatever I want it to mean.

I once wrote to R S Thomas, the Welsh Poet, asking him what one of his poems meant and he replied, saying it meant whatever I wanted it to mean and that that was the essence of all good poetry - it spoke to the individual.

But - silence - we so rarely 'hear' it, even out here in the countryside. We are near to Leeming airfield, so often there are jets flying over; we are near to Catterick Garrison so often there are helicopters flying over; the main road is probably a quarter of a mile up the lane and in the Summer the Dales are full of motor-cyclists, so there are often motor-cycles roaring past on the main road, particularly at the weekend. Then there are the natural sounds - the wind whistling through the trees, the songs of birds, the sound of rain on the window-pane.

But one place you can more or less guarantee silence in a real sense is inside a church. The church in the photograph is the 11th century church at Edlingham in Northumberland. It is one of the most peaceful, quiet places I have ever been to. If you go there when there is no-one else there (and it seems to be little-visited) the sense of peace and quiet is amazing.

Is it because the walls are thick and the place is insulated against outside sounds? Well, yes to some extent. But I like to think that these thick walls have absorbed the silence of generations of worshippers, that what you are homing in on is that all-pervading sense of peace and continuity.

A friend, W, is visiting that part of the world next week. I hope W and her friend find time to visit Edlingham, to sit awhile in its peace and quiet and absorb the beauty of the ancient place.

Thursday 16 August 2012

All is safely gathered in.

Friends from Essex write to say that they have almost finished harvesting. Their barley is all in, as is their rape and they are well on with the wheat. These same friends were so hit by drought early in the year that they doubted their crops would survive - but of course they have, and flourished.

Gone are the days when the life of the village depended on the harvest; when most of the men in the village worked on the farms and at harvest time roped in wives and children too in order to get in the crops. If they didn't then there would be a shortage of bread in the Winter and starvation was a real possibility.

I can remember the days when stooks stood in the fields to dry - they were lovely places to hide - and when men fashioned stacks with intricately patterned and thatched 'roofs' designed to keep the rain out. The farmer, who is considerably younger than I am, can remember them too. Now, of course, behemoths course up and down the wheat fields at a great speed, almost without the intervention of man at all. And they do this unless it is raining or has recently rained, because the wheat can be quickly transported to the drier and dried.

Now they are even breeding varieties of wheat with shorter and shorter stalks. As I said on Morning A J's blog the other day - this will make corn dollies, once such a potent symbol at harvest time, much harder to make.

And now we import wheat from the prairies of America and the giant fields of Russia and none of us gives a thought to where the grain in our bread comes from. We may still go to the Harvest Festival in our local church, decorate the windows with Michaelmas daisies, lay fruit and vegetables around the altar and sing 'All is Safely Gathered In' and 'We Plough the Fields and
Scatter'. But its meaning is more symbolic than it is a reality.

But of course there are many places throughout the world where it is still very much a reality, where failure of crops through the weather or through awful senseless warfare has meant pictures on the television screen in our living room as we are eating from a loaded table; pictures of wide-eyed children with bloated stomachs, held by skeletal mothers, while their menfolk are off fighting some senseless war or other. And the children are almost exhibited to the camera in a desperate effort to persuade viewers eating their Greek Salad and drinking their glass of chilled white wine, to part with some of their money.

The world has never been a fair place to live. Our accident of birth dictates the kind of life we are destined to live to some extent. But it does us no harm at all to reflect on how lucky we are as we gather in this year's produce and store it in our barns and fill our freezers, and sing our harvest songs.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

First signs.

Four crane flies (Daddy-long-legs) have been on the kitchen window - the outside I hasten to add - all day. There were almost two hundred swallows on the wires this morning. The rowan berries outside the kitchen window have turned orange and, as happens every year, the pesky blackbirds have not given them a chance to ripen, They are almost all gone already.

After a spell of fine, warm, sunny weather it broke again today and in the two hours between three o'clock and five o'clock, two inches of rain fell here on the farm and the yard and the field opposite flooded. Now the sky is clear and the water is going down, but these are all signs that Autumn is almost with us.

I have been with friends today across the Pennines to Farfield Mill Craft Centre to look at a few exhibitions and to eat lunch in the cafe. Lunch was somewhat livened up when someone left the tap running in a room above the cafe and water started pouring through the ceiling. I love the exhibitions in these places - shows which showcase work (paintings, textiles, jewellery etc) - because they show us people who have the ability to be really creative, to get on with the work, to put an exhibition together and to mount it on time. These are all skills to be admired. I know some of the work involved as my previous husband was a water colourist. It is not just the painting of the watercolours, it is also the mounting, the framing, the choosing of the right pictures for the exhibition, the carting of said pictures miles to the venue, the mounting in the exhibition hall. It all takes time and perseverance over and above the creative ability to do the work in the first place.

I left the farmer holding the fort - getting his own lunch once I had started it all off, walking the dog, loading the dishwasher etc.- he seems to have managed very well without me. Perhaps I am surplus to requirements.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Legacies of the Olympic Games.

Watching that old film of the two black men who gave the Black Power salute at their medal ceremony and the brave man who joined them by wearing a badge although he was white, it struck me that one legacy of the Olympic Games per se, is how much easier we find it to accept people regardless of their colour. I spent my teaching days in the midlands in a very mixed community. When I started teaching the vast majority of our pupils were fairly recently in from Jamaica and the Caribbean. Later on there was an influx of children from the Punjab - in the case of my school, almost entirely Sikh. So I came up here to North Yorkshire on retirement to find that a lot of country people had hardly seen a black face in reality and I found this quite a shock. And how the Games, particularly when they are in London, has changed all that. Who could fail to be inspired by the three Jamaicans who won the sprint races, or the Ugandan and the Kenyans who won the Marathon. Colour makes no difference at all in theory, although I think a lot of black people would say there is still a fair way to go. But we are becoming a much more multi-racial society and long may that continue. I suppose it won't be fully achieved until we no longer find it necessary to mention a person's colour when we speak of them.

That wonderful woman, Camila Batmanghelidjh, of Kids Company ( writes about the Games in today's Times, about how it is still divisive in that the deprived children of London were taken by busload to see the Olympic Park and were inspired and yet when the tickets came on the market they were just too expensive for these children to consider (apart from one or two Corporations who generously handed over spare tickets for them to use). As she says'the Olympics were a party to which yet again, they were not invited'. She says the real legacy is that we have been inspired by the extraordinary potential to be found in the human form. If you wish to read to whole article, do read it in the Times - it is quite inspiring.

The Paralympics will be with us shortly and yet again, that is another area where prejudice is beginning to fade at long last, where young people can face the world without the risk of being stared at for being 'different'. I live near to Catterick Garrison and they have recently opened a unit for those brave young men who have been badly injured in Afghanistan. This morning in my weekly visit to Tesco, I was inspired to see a couple of young men with prosthetic legs shopping in the aisles, laughing and joking. No-one took the slightest bit of notice of them. I felt like going up and giving them both a hug and then I thought that they would be embarrassed and of course, it would show that I was not accepting them for what they were - just two young men shopping in Tesco.

It's a funny old world.

##Camila's article concludes by asking if Kids Company could have the beds and other goods from the Olympic Village. Hundreds of their children have no bed to sleep on. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Monday 13 August 2012

The Recorder as a Musical Instrument.

Tom's comment on my blog yesterday (about my playing the recorder at the party) made me smile, but it also made me think. Children are taught recorder in junior school and are usually taught on cheap descant instruments - shrill, out of tune and quite unbearable to listen to. Sadly, this gets the recorder a bad name and that is a shame.

The recorder was at one time a serious instrument. Early music uses it a lot and I played, along with my first husband in an Early Music Group. I played Harpsichord and between us we played all the recorders - descant, treble, tenor, bass and great bass - crumhorns, gemshorns, tabors - anything we could afford. It is quite possible to pay hundreds of pounds for a recorder - many of the good ones are made of woods like grenadilla. I had a Moeck Grenadilla treble recorder which cost several hundred pounds thirty years ago. We had a great bass specially made - I think the wood was sycamore - and the cost was certainly more than a month's salary.

So before you shudder at the very name recorder I do suggest that you listen to some early music played by some of the virtuoso recorder players - I think you will be surprised at its beauty as an instrument in its own right. Good listening!

Sunday 12 August 2012


I have been lucky enough to have two happy marriages. The first one lasted thirty-nine years, until my husband died in 1991 and the second one has lasted nineteen years in a week's time and is just as happy in a completely different kind of way. This is probably a good thing as there are few, if any, points of comparison, which is good all round for everyone concerned.

Of course I have many memories and I often try to keep them alive, if only for the sake of my son and his memories of his father. But every now and then I get a nudge of a memory about which I haven't thought for years, and I had just such a memory yesterday when my son and his wife returned from a day out with the Solitary Walker and his wife. (Dominic and Mrs Solitary Walker are cousins).

He brought back an envelope of old photographs for me and looking through them was really strange. I have printed one for you above. In those days we used to have quite mad parties at the house of my sister-in-law. There was never a shortage of drink going round and there waa always, always, music as most of my brothers-in-law (my husband was one of twelve!) were very musical and played various instruments - flute, clarinet and/or guitar. At these parties the guitar came top and the players had a fund of old songs which they knew and which they could play for the whole night. We all knew the words and we all sang and played.

My instrument is piano and that was not possible but I also played in an early music group and had a stack of recorders from very high to very low and I used to love playing an obligato above the guitars on these occasions. Here I am, about thirty-five or forty years ago, playing at just such a party. You can see it is in the days of those fine cotton long Indian style dresses - I really thought I was the bees knees in it and wore it with long boots!

The parties were legendary within the family. Of course they are no more - many of them have passed away and the others are pretty dispersed. But it was lovely to be reminded of those days - I haven't thought of them for ages. All these memories, tucked into niches in our brains, just waiting to pop out on the right occasion eh?

Saturday 11 August 2012

Another sad death.

Why do blackbirds fly so low over the road? It happens all the time. They fly out of the hedgerow at the side of the lane and across in front of the cars.

Today I found my fourth female blackbird dead in the lane. She was still warm and totally unmarked but had flown across so low that she had been hit by a passing car. And somewhere, in some nearby hedge, a brood of second-nestlings will be waiting for mum to return with a mouthful of food for them. And somewhere a poor, overworked dad will be struggling to maintain life for them all on his own. Let's hope he succeeds.

If you want a good read and enjoy travel books, do look out for "The Hungry Cyclist" by Tom Kevill-Davies, which is about a young man 'pedalling across the Americas in search of the perfect meal'. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and it has taken me through America, to some places where I have been (Icefields Parkway, Athabasca Glacier, Great Divide) and to others (Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil) where I have always wanted to go but now know I never will. And I have read of his eating guinea-pig, armadillo, and the unspeakable insides of various other animals.
Not one for the squeamish though.

Friday 10 August 2012


What a boring subject I hear you say. We take grass so forgranted don't we? In fact we get annoyed when it grows anywhere we don't want it.

But today I had to have several walks with Tess because the farmer was away to his hay. The above two photographs are the six different varieties of grass I found just walking down one side of the paddock. At one time there used to be a large patch of what I call quaking grass, but this seems to have disappeared now. But really these grasses are so pretty and each stem seems to have thousands of seeds, which is, I suppose, the reason they are so invasive. So I shall enjoy the grass while it lasts because before long it will be dying down and then we shall be facing another Winter. And of course, grass makes hay and that is what we are busy doing at the moment!

Thursday 9 August 2012


You would hardly believe we are in the same country as we were at the weekend, when the surrounding villages were all flooded and the rain fell in buckets from morning until night. This week it is hot and sunny with just the kind of breeze which (hopefully) dries the cut grass enough to make hay rather than haylage or silage.

The farmer has cut the grass and has shaken it up several times in an effort to dry it as quickly as possible and keep it brittle andd dry rather than soft. When he went this afternoon to shake it up again a whirlwind went in front of him into the field, lifted a lot of the grass up and transported it almost into the next field. If this sharp weather holds there could be some hay before the weather begins to break up over the weekend. If the clouds form more quickly than expected then it will quickly be baled and wrapped and will become haylage or silage depending how dry it is.

I have had the piano tuner today so I had to stay in until he had been and gone, and then I had to go down to our feed merchants in Masham, ten miles away, to collect hen food, cat and dog food and wild bird food. As the farm pays this bill and there was a smart new dog bed near to the counter where I booked all the stuff out, Tess now now has a smart new bed. She sniffed all round it and then went and sat in it to claim possession.

Before he went off this morning (while the dew was going off the grass) the farmer picked a bucket full of peas, our first produce from the garden other than soft fruit and salad greens. I podded enough for tea tonight and they were delicious. But is there a task more boring than shelling peas other than watching paint dry?

Wednesday 8 August 2012

The Olympic Games

I wonder what the lasting effect of these Games will be on all of us. I think, without a doubt, that we were all in a pretty dismal mood - financial crises throughout the world, terrible, terrible bloodshed in so many places, famine in parts of Africa, all in all a general mood of despondency had settled in before the abject misery of the very wet 'Summer' and the constant flooding in one place or another.

Now, it seems to me when watching the television coverage of the games, that a kind of Dunkirk spirit has descended into all aspects of our lives. We have become intensely patriotic, cheering on Team GB and going absolutely wild when they win, singing the National Anthem as loud as we can(what have they done to the harmonies and that interrupted cadence in the middle?) and adding up the medals as they come in, our chests bursting with pride.

The lady who drives our local Post Office van and comes to the village once a week, expressed a wish on Monday that this state of euphoria would last after the Games and carry on into the Winter, so that we go into December on a high rather than an all time low. I can only agree with that.

On a lighter note and on the subject of the Games, Carole Midgely in The Times, expressed a wish that something different from Lycra be invented before the next Olympics because (I am afraid I agree with her here) it leaves so little to the imagination. This was particularly true I thought of the Australian cycling team, when I could hardly watch them cycling because my eye was drawn to that part of the anatomy which is best left to the imagination. It might be good for aerodynamics but do spare a thought for all us ladies of a certain age who feel compelled to open our eyes wide and stare in amazement at what appears to be on offer - and clad in bright yellow too.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

The Blue Flower

In between watching various bits of the Olympics (three golds and two silvers today as I write), I have read several really good books this week. The one I am reading at the moment is 'the blue flower' by Penelope Fitzgerald, who died in 2000 at the age of eighty-three, having not started her literary career until the age of sixty.

The novel is based on the life of the poet Novalis who only lived to be 28 and died of tuberculosis, that killer disease which lasted well into the twentieth century. What is fascinating about Fitzgerald's book is that the work is based on his surviving works, letters, diaries and official and private documents - so it is a pretty authentic view of what life was like in the late eighteenth century.

The book opens with the yearly wash day at the house he is visiting. His own household manages to wash three times a year, so that the household only has linen and white underwear for four months. But here, in the house he is visiting, everything is washed once a year - he talks of "great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow cases, bolster cases, vests, bodices, drawers" - all hanging from windows or being carried out into the garden in giant baskets by the servants.

Later on we learn that the family sleep in their clothes and only wash under the pump in cold water. And this is only the first chapter! And these are relatively rich people!!

I have looked up Novalis's poetry - I had never hear of him. Of course, poetry always loses something in translation doesn't it, but even allowing for that, it seems very dated to me. But the book 'the blue flower' is fascinating stuff and I do recommend it if you want a good read.

And speaking of poetry, another poem which I found this week, is 'The Sunlight on the Garden' by Louis McNiece, the Irish poet who died at the relatively young age of 56 in 1963. I came across a mention of the poem and looked it up on line. It's a poem about betrayal and its after effects. After several readings I began to really love it. If you have a minute go on line and have a look at that too.