Thursday 31 January 2013

Wild weather

It is a day of wild weather today.   One minute brilliant sunshine, the next heavy showers; but always an incredibly strong wind.   I thought I would walk after lunch with the farmer and Tess but after one field I had to turn back as the wind was literally blowing me over.   I suppose the plus side is that it is beginning to dry the fields and the roads after all the snow last week.   But even Tess found it hard going, getting blown along as she sniffed at every rabbit hole.

Yesterday it was our monthly Poetry afternoon and it was at my house this month.  I am sure we all love our Poetry afternoon - it really is a most civilised meeting and we get to hear poetry we know and love as well as poetry we have never heard before. I baked a lemon tray bake, which is good for me to do as I do these things so rarely these days and I am sure I am right when I say that everyone enjoyed the whole afternoon.   There were nine of us and we heard poetry by Christina Rosetti, Charles Causley, Thomas Hood, John Betjamen (Summoned by Bells), Sharon Olds and others.   I must say that after listening to S read from Summoned by Bells, I can only say that anyone who thinks John Betjamen is a second rate poet can't have read the poem S read.   We were enthralled - his knowledge of London and the way he takes us round is just beautiful.   This, added to the fact that S reads so beautifully, was such an experience.

Today I have booked us a week's holiday in Norfolk for May, staying at a lovely hotel which has been highly recommended to us.
Our room  will look out over the sea and we shall have a week of pure luxury - I think the farmer deserves that after all his hard work over the year.

Still reading Roads to Santiago and enjoying every word.   It is so full of brilliant 'mots' that I have begun to keep a notebook and take a note of them all, as there are too many to remember.

If you live in the UK - stay upright.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

A Good Read.

A few days ago I read a book recommendation on Robert's (The Solitary Walker) blog for 'Roads to Santiago' by Cees Nooteboom.  It sounded a good read and at present I am short of reading material, so I sent for it.

I feel guilty every time I do this.   I do agree with those of you who support independent bookshops and I know they have a lean time of it.   But out here in the country with no means of getting into a town with a bookshop (ten miles away) without getting someone to take me now that I cannot drive again, it is so easy to click on Amazon.   If you have an account, as I have, all I have to do is bring up the book and click on that and the deed is done.

I ordered it over the weekend and it came this morning.   Popped through the letter box at 9am and I read the first chapter over my morning coffee. 

And what a book it is.   He has been compared with Patrick Leigh Fermor, Norman Lewis, Jan Morris - he is one of those writers who evokes the soul of a nation in a few words.

Every sentence has a gem in it - they come so thick and fast that it is impossible to remember them all and I suspect it will only be after reading the whole book a few times that they will be committed to memory.   Here are a few examples:-

After leaving the monastery at Venuela he says, "the door of the monastery swings shut behind me. The hollow sound reverberates through an age-old silence and I am out in the world of choices and decisions again"

 He also speaks of the bowl and how, on viewing bowls in a museum which go back for thousands of years, he realises that although we can now put a man on the moon and return him to earth, the early design of the bowl was so perfect that it has never been altered.

He views the tomb of the Lord of Aragon guarded by two griffin-like creatures - their beaks open in soundless fury.  He says 'you see the noise but you don't hear it, but by seeing it you can hear it.'

He says that making time melt is a peculiar Spanish occupation and it certainly gives a whole new meaning to those incredible Dali watches draped over various things.

I am smitten.   Although I am only just starting chapter two, I have an urge to go back to the beginning of chapter one and read it again.  It is not often I get a book to read which has this effect on me. 

Monday 28 January 2013

Scare headlines

We happen to live in an area of hills and dales and the result of this is that the weather varies mile by mile.   Quite often I speak to my friend early in the morning and she comments on the rain pouring down the window, or heavy snow falling, whereas where I am, about three miles away, the sun is shining.   The difference is that her village is considerably higher than ours is.

Walking through our Post Office this afternoon I noticed a newspaper headline in one of today's papers which said something along the lines of the worst storm in fifty years or somesuch was coming our way this afternoon.   At the time it was quite a pleasant sunny though breezy afternoon here.

Then on our evening news I saw where a small child was blown into the sea in his pushchair by a giant freak gust of wind.   Only the incredibly brave actions of a man on the shore, and the wonderful mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of a passer by, saved the life of this little lad.   Fierce storms in one place, quite calm, pleasant conditions in another - and all in what is after all a relatively small island.
 Yesterday our rivers and becks were all in flood following a rapid thaw and sadly a man in his thirties was drowned in a canoeing accident.   And this in a beck which usually is a gentle trickle into the River Swale.

Our fields are soaking wet again after the thaw.   The rooks (one of my favourite birds as my regular readers will know) are blackening over every field in their search of the newly cleared grass - suddenly there are grubs and worms to be had and they are taking full advantage of it.   So are the blackbirds who have deserted my feeders and gone out into the hedgerows to scratch about for bugs - by far their favourite food.

I shall look at the weather forecast, as I do every night.   But I shall also bear in mind that what is happening here is probably quite different from what is happening ten miles up or down the road.


Sunday 27 January 2013

Farewell to the snow....

.....for now at any rate - and in its place a lot of water.   We live at the bottom of the high moor, which has had far more snow than we have, so of course it is all melting and sending its melt water down here.

The temperature is well above freezing and I can't help being pleased that I did my RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch yesterday when there was still a lot of snow, because today all the blackbirds have gone back to their scratching under the hedges in the fields for the worms and bugs they would rather eat.

I must say that I never cease to be amazed at the resilience of nature.   Now that the snow has gone, the aconites are still out and the snowdrops are in bud.   The Christmas roses have reared their heads again, albeit a bit tattered.   They don;t give up easily do they?

I am typing this while listening and half=watching the Andy Murray tennis final = it would be so good if he could win it but it is proving jolly hard.   One set all as I write, so plenty of time to go.

I am having our monthly Poetry meeting here on Wednesday afternoon and, partly inspired by the wonderful poetry George (Transit Notes on my side bar) puts on, I am going to feature American Poets - particularly Maya Angelou whose work I greatly admire.  

It's interesting how some poets touch a chord in our hearts and some don't isn't it?   Anyone touch a particular chord for you?   

Saturday 26 January 2013

Burns Night for the English.

Well folks, we got there!

Although the sky threatened and the six o'clock news bulletin talked of dire threats of heavy blizzards nothing but a faint drizzle of sleet was forthcoming, so we decided to go to our friends J and D for the Burns Night for the English Celebrations.

They hold this every year and J is a fantastic cook, laying out a large cooked meal for however many people turn up - often as many as thirty five ish.   They are lucky in that they have plenty of rooms where tables can be laid out and places set, so that one can choose where to sit and meet new people, as we did last night.

Sadly for J, who had done a lot of cooking, many people - having watched the weather forecast - decided to cancel.  We looked out at the weather - not too bad - and the farmer is an intrepid soul who will go out in any weather, and we went.   I was so pleased that we did as there were only twenty people there and there was a lot of food.

We sat with people we had not met before and had some interesting and enjoyable conversations - that's what it is all about isn't it?

We decided it was time to go at 10pm in case the weather deteriorated.   When we opened their front door it had!!  There was an incredible blizzard blowing and our car was heavily covered in snow.   I would never have dared to drive home, but the farmer calmly got in, cleared the snow off the windscreen and in no time at all we were back home in front of our wood burner with steaming cups of horlicks.

Today it is brilliantly sunny.   It has obviously not been freezing overnight as all the snow which had been covering the trees all week has fallen off on to the floor and the snow is dripping off the roof as I write. 

We were 'advised' by the weather man to make a line of snowmen across our gardens to slow down the thaw and thus prevent flooding in our countryside, where the ground has been water-logged for months.   I understand it was meant as a joke, but was reminded yesterday of how last year somebody cleared the snow off our local market square and piled it into a heap.   The heap got dirtier and dirtier, more covered in rubbish, and took weeks to disappear - so maybe it would not have been a good idea.

Today the farmer is out with the shooting syndicate on the last shoot of the season (Pheasant shooting ends on February 1st), so any pheasants who escape today are safe for another year thank goodness.

If you are interested, I didn't eat haggis last night - I had chicken pie instead with all the vegetables provided.   You ask what is in haggis - I am not entirely sure except I know it is offal of some sort, oatmeal and goodness knows what else.  I had a tiny taste - it was alright but I wouldn't rave about it.   Friends we sat and chatted to all night had recently eaten grey squirrel and said it tasted of very little.  They also regularly ate hare - now that, with my adoration of the hare as a creature of marvel and magic, is something I definitely couldn't stomach.  

Friday 25 January 2013


Here we are all waiting with bated breath for a supposed blizzard of 20cm of snow later on today as a warm front coming in from the West meets a cold front over here.   It is set to meet over the Pennines about four o'clock this afternoon and result in blizzards with strong winds.   We are all becoming so sophisticated in our use of words like 'isobars', 'fronts' and the like aren't we?   My friend lives a couple of miles from me but on much higher ground and she told me five minutes ago that it is now snowing heavily there - so must keep watching out of the hall window as I write this.

Tonight is Burns Night - when the Scots celebrate the life and work of the poet Robert Burns by piping in the haggis, eating large meals, reciting his poetry and drinking vast quantities of whisky before dancing the night away with Strathspeys and the like.   The farmer and I are going - as we do every year - to a 'Burns Night for the English' event at some friends, where they serve haggis but (luckily for me) also an alternative and where we all sit round and chat amicably.   We are just hoping that the snow does not prevent us going.   It is only a mile or so away but we don't want to get snowed in.

Now that I am once more unable to drive and am dependent upon the farmer for every journey I make, as we live so far from any bus route, it is wonderful to meet friends and chat.   Friday mornings of course are always taken up with coffee in The Golden Lion (we have been doing this for years) and a good old chat with a fine group of friends.   This week is our Poetry week and the meeting is at my house on Wednesday afternoon, so that is another day when I shall see people and talk to them.

Although I am busy practising up two Schubert Impromptu and a couple of pieces by Bach on the piano, there is still no substitute for me to chatting to friends.

I shall now go and look out my tartan skirt for tonight - I've got to make an effort haven't I?   Keep warm and keep the spade handy if you are in an area where blizzards are forecast.

Wednesday 23 January 2013


Is anyone out there watching the marvellous Dan Snow programme on BBC2 about the early days of the railway?   The farmer and I are and it is fascinating - there is so much we didn't know about it all.

The fact that Great Britain was  in the forefront of the development of railways for a start.   The fact that Dickens in several of his books spoke of the way whole districts were felled to the ground to make way for the rail tracks to  go through.  The terrible loss of life - I did know of the loss of life by all the 'navvies' who helped to build the viaducts; one of my ancestors was involved in this.

And above all this  terrible greed of people to make enormous sums of money by investing in the projects, only to lose millions and end up in debtors' prisons.  (I thought about this and realised that when I was young you could still go to prison for being in debt!)

Driving a railroad across Canada was a British project which cost far more than intended and ruined a lot of people in the process.

After the programme was over for this week the farmer and I spoke of railways today.   Now, correct me if I am wrong as I have little experience of British Rail over the last year or two, but what experience I have is not brilliant - trains that are late, trains that are sadly lacking in luggage space, trains that are standing room only and trains that are not really all that clean.

A couple of years ago we visited dear friends who live quite close to Amsterdam in The Netherlands.   They gave us a wonderful time, taking us into Amsterdam to the Reichmuseum, the Van Gogh museum and a trip on the canals; taking us to The Hague  to see the beautiful buildings.   And the thing which struck us wherever we went was the cleanliness, the modernity and the punctuality of the trains.

Other friends have spoken about similar stories of the trains in various places on mainland Europe.   If this is all so - then why have we lagged so far behind?   In fact, have we lagged behind or is it just my interpretation of things?

On a different topic entirely - our bad weather continues and the number of birds at our feeders gets larger, particularly the blackbirds.   Friends G and J, who came for coffee this morning, told me why it is that so many of our blackbirds here at the feeders do not have yellow bills.   It is because they are visitors over from Europe.   Our local blackbirds have gone South and the European visitors have come in to take their place.   Our fields are always full of blackbirds - we have many blackbirds' nests in the Spring (probably our most common nests) - and we tend to think of them as 'our birds', but of course this is not so.

Wherever they are from, they are taking full advantage of the food I put out every morning and are sitting in the trees waiting for the tray of goodies to be put out at eight o'clock.   They are brilliant time-keepers!   

Monday 21 January 2013


Three inches of snow here this morning and still snowing.   The snow plough has just been up and down the lane and the farmer has just gone off in his tractor to help our neighbour empty some of his slurry out of the tank and on to the fields.   It is on days like this that he appreciates the outlay and a newer/more powerful tractor at the beginning of Winter.

I put out a tray of bits for the birds at eight o'clock this morning and by ten minutes past it had all disappeared.   They are really desperate for food.  In addition to the tray the farmer refills niger seed, mixed seed, sunflower hearts, peanuts and mealworms every day and by late afternoon they are all empty again.   I suspect all wild animals are suffering, although the fox prints suggest that the foxes are out scouting for rabbits.

We had an old hen die a week ago and we put her out for the fox - she disappeared and on Saturday, when the syndicate were shooting the marshy field, the farmer noticed the remains there, so we assumed that the fox had taken it and had a meal off it (although it was a thin old thing).

Our schools are closed today because of the snow.   Many of our rural schools have closed and children are bussed in to bigger ones which have remained open.   On days like today the buses will be unable to get to the schools so it is best to close them in advance so that parents know.  

On days like today it is a question of filling one's time with useful occupations.   I am compiling another cryptic quiz for our local Nature Reserve, so there is that to type up trying various formats (knowing my computer skills that should take up a bit of time!) and there is always my Afghan blanket to crochet - that keeps me warm while I am doing it as well.

Poor Tess has such a job to walk in this depth of snow, she has to do it in leaps and bounds, but she doesn't seem to mind and comes in wet through but happy.   What it is to be young!

I have to say that looking out of the window on to a white and silent world - it is very beautiful.   The trouble is when it begins to go then it is just a mess.   Keep warm.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Warming Food. Result

It is a bitterly cold day here with snow on the ground and a biting East wind blowing - a day that calls for good, warming comfort food.   

Yesterday's Cream of Onion Soup was a great success and there was enough left for today.  To make it, soften a heap of onions (I used all that we had left from our garden - maybe about a pound) in a bit of butter - add one chopped potato, then add half a pint of good stock, a pint of semi-skimmed milk and seasoning - bring to a simmer and pop in the bottom Aga oven for a couple of hours. Then liquidise. Result is bliss.

Today I flung browned sausages (Debbie and Andrew's Harrogate since you ask), parsnips, carrots, potatoes, peppers, tinned tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, lentils, herbs and seasoning into a casserole and popped it in the oven for an hour.   Result delicious with little or no effort.  Meanwhile I sat by the stove and began to compile the next - Grand Easter - cryptic quiz sheet for my friend, G, proceeds in aid of our local Nature Reserve.

Speaking of Nature - twenty blackbirds, plus robins, tits (great, coal, blue and long-tailed) house and tree sparrows, chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, mistle thrushes, pheasants - all have congregated round our feeders today.   Sadly there is one house sparrow less as Blackie, the farm cat, caught one this morning.  I instinctively said - rather a sparrow than a blue tit.  But that is hardly fair is it?   Does it matter what kind of bird the cat catches?  Why should the life of a blue tit be more precious than that of a sparrow?

Keep warm.

Saturday 19 January 2013

A Country Outing

Well, dear readers, I went with friends to see Goldilocks and the Three Bears in our local little town last night.  It was a terrible night with snow underfoot and snow falling and yet every seat in the Methodist Hall was taken - no-one had chickened out because of the bad weather.

It brought back such memories of my own childhood.   There was not a vestige of sophistication about it; all ages performed from very young to middle-aged and I am sure that a lot of the audience knew most of the players.   The whole thing is very amateur and is done for charity.

The audience responded by singing when asked, by responding when asked and by lots of "it's behind you" and "oh yes you did" kind of thing.  It was a jolly evening.

One thing struck me and really left me thinking.   We were on the third row from the front.  The two front rows were largely taken up by teenagers (I suspect still at secondary school),  We started the proceedings by singing the National Anthem and although they stood they seemed hugely embarrassed by the whole thing and either they didn't know the words or they chose not to sing them.
Correct me if I am wrong but don't children in America sing their National Anthem each morning in school?   And if so, is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Food for thought there.

Snow is falling as I write.   There is a couple of inches of snow on the ground and the temperature is below freezing.   The farmer has gone out with his shooting syndicate in spite of the weather.   I have put a good slug of Highland Park single malt into his coffee flask and he has wrapped up well, but still rather him than me.

The furthest I shall venture from our log burner is into my kitchen
(photo below) to make cream of onion soup with croutons and grated cheese for when he returns.

Meanwhile the number of birds at our feeders grows daily - however much we put out it has all gone by lunchtime.   Yesterday friends G and J saw Redpolls and Siskins in our little wood - now I am hoping they make an appearance at the feeders soon.   Keep warm.     

Friday 18 January 2013

Great News!

Much to Dominic's absolute joy (anyone who reads his blog as well as mine will know what I mean), the stage of the Tour de France in this country is going to be round the Yorkshire Dales.   It is actually going to come through our little market town of Leyburn.  Yes, I know, it will be whoosh and gone, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that Dominic will be there to see them streak past.   Like all these events seeing it in the flesh is so much more exciting than seeing it on television.

There is, for local people, another reason why it is a good thing.  In our local weekly paper, The Darlington and Stockton Times (published every Friday) one of our local traders is complaining about how our little town is dying on its feet.   Because tourism was so very bad last year (bad weather for a start) businesses are having to close down because they are not making enough to survive.   The trouble is that many local shops cater for tourists - in other aspects they cannot compete with the supermarkets anyway - or (in the case of our up-market grocers) for the top end of the population in terms of disposable income.   Tourist shops selling knick-knackery to passing trade do very badly in wet weather or when there are no tourists about.   Well, the Tour de France will at least give them a week of saturation tourists I would have thought.

So the poor farmer and I have now to suffer six months of waiting for the Tour de France and hearing a lot of commentary about it!  Dominic rang last night to tell us and the farmer took the wind out of his sails by telling him that we already knew.   Rather cruel of him I thought - he should have expressed surprise.   But that is not the way of North Yorkshire farmers I'm afraid.

On another topic entirely, there are about six or seven serious gas leaks along our Lane and most of them have been there for two or three years in spite of constant reminders being telephoned to the appropriate gas authority.   In this wet weather you can hear the gas bubbling up and see the bubbles in the puddles.   The smell as you walk past is very strong.   Friend, S, mentioned them to me in The Golden Lion this morning as she had walked past and that prompted me to telephone once more and report them.   If nothing is done this time, on the advice of another friend, N, I shall ring the Health and Safety Executive and report it to them.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears tonight in our local hall - weather permitting.   No snow yet although the sky looks full of the stuff.  Keep warm. 


Thursday 17 January 2013

It's a monochrome world...

.....and other thoughts on a cold morning (minus 6).

I was persuaded to walk with the farmer and Tess after lunch yesterday.   I didn't really want to go but how pleased I was that I did.   It was very still and very quiet - not a bird to be seen and, although walking in the pasture was quite hard, I felt so much better for my half hour in the fresh air.

I took the picture from just above the holly and hawthorn cam (a local word meaning old hedge that has half-disappeared!) and apart from a streak of ice-blue in that sky, the world is in monochrome.   I think it is Nature's way of emphasising the colour when it does arrive - think daffodils, tulips, lilac, anemones - need I go on?  Actually, if you looked closely at the hazel in the hedge, it was just beginning to show yellow on the catkins.   But this morning there is almost a hoar frost and everythings is white.

Thirteen blackbirds were waiting by the bird feeders and every vestige of food we put out yesterday had disappeared - mixed seed, sunflower hearts, niger seed, peanuts, chopped apple, suet, raisins, fat balls - all gone.   But it is satisfying to know that we are sustaining so many of our garden birds through this cold snap.

What a to do (and rightly so) about horsemeat being found in the cheapest burgers in our supermarkets?   I suspect that if we knew half of what goes on with the production of our food we would be very wary of what we buy.

I have eaten horsemeat once (to my knowledge) and I can tell you that it tastes very similar to beef.   It was in Khazakstan about twenty five years ago.   We had dinner in a local restaurant and the meat was served, sliced, on the plate.   It was in thin, very lean slices and was quite like beef to look out but perhaps a little darker in colour.   It was served with a help-yourself wine sauce and was delicious.   Afterwards, somebody asked our guide (in those days there was no way you could walk round places in what was then the Soviet Union without a minder) and she went and asked and told us it was "mare".   There was a bit of a stunned silence but then everyone agreed it was tasty.

I do remember a horse meat butchers in Lincoln during the war.   It was on a street where we walked regularly and the window was full of cuts of meat.   My mother would avert her eyes but as a small child I was always fascinated by it - mainly because the fat was such a bright yellow.

That story reminds me of another holiday in China and Mongolia, when we went on two successive nights to the same restaurant.   The first night a group of local men were gathered round a large pot of something which smelt lovely, while we had what passed for Westernised food (usually pretty awful).   We asked if we could have what these men were having the next night and it was duly served up and really enjoyed.   When we asked Mr Yuan our guide what was in the dish he answered (in his very strongly accented English) with a word which sounded like "eyeballs" - we all visibly paled until we were made to understand that he was saying "apples".

We are just off to Tesco to stock up again as heavy snow is forecast for tomorrow -must watch out what I buy and steer clear of the 'beefburgers'! Keep snug and warm.   

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Footprints in the snow.

It is at times like this that the farmer really gets to know exactly what has been round his farm and where.   Of course we know roughly what animals visit us, but once there is snow on the ground then they leave tell-tale prints behind.

There has been a deer in the bottom field.   It has jumped over from the marshy field of our neighbour (this field is very neglected and occasionally deer have had their young in the long grass) and has scratched away the snow to get at the grass.   There is a rack of silage in the field and also a long trough which the farmer keeps full of sheep nuts - it has visited these too, so will have gone away with a full belly.

Rabbit tracks criss-cross the fields from hedge to hedge.   The poor rabbits will have been having a tough time lately.   In the floods of September many of their burrows were flooded and their young drowned.   Now the grass is covered with snow and living will be hard.   There is just a smattering of myxamatosis around too.   But, as with all things in Nature - it is the survival of the fittest, and the hardiest will get through this cold spell while the weak will go under and thus provide food for another of our visitors - the fox.

His tracks cross diagonally across the paddock and end up in the yard, where he has gone up on his hind legs to look in the chicken house windows.   A chicken died (of old age?) last week and the farmer put the body out for the fox.   It went by the next morning, although as there were no telltale feathers left anywhere the farmer thought it was more likely to have been taken by a badger.   Then the fox has criss crossed the yard, leaving his mark -a tell tale patch of yellow snow - here and there.   It must have driven the farm dog into a frenzy as it went up to the big shed door.   But we heard nothing.  

A hare has been across one of the fields.   I have not seen my favourite animal on the farm for a long time, so it is good to know there is one around.

And then, of course, there are that scourge of all farmers, the rats.  One rat has scavenged around the straw barn, leaving his long tail track in the snow.   We do keep a trap set permanently under the chicken hut and we catch about one rat a month in it.   But every farm has its share of rats and it will always be so - we shall never catch them all; they are far too clever for that.

Pheasant tracks are everywhere - telltale three pronged feet, there is no mistaking them.   And then there are all the garden birds who walk or hop around.   However much food I put out birds like the little wren never visit the bird feeders, they prefer to scratch about in the bottom of the hedge.   I can see them from my kitchen window and occasionally I scatter seed under the hedge for them.

Being able to sustain so many wild things in such harsh weather as we have here this week (minus 6 this morning) is one of the good aspects of farming.   And finding all these footprints in the snow is just confirmation that they are taking advantage of it.

##The latest photograph of Tess, taken at lunch time, sitting astride rabbit tracks in the bottom pasture, is there on my side bar.    

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Winter watching.

Last evening saw the first of a week's programmes called "Winterwatch".   These programmes come from the Inverness area of Scotland and are really set to show us how animals and birds cope with the wintry conditions.   The answer is, of course, that they cope very well by and large, although extreme weather does tend to wipe out the weaklings.   We don't like that but really Nature is all about the survival of the fittest - as it was with man too before the days of modern medicine.

We do give a helping hand, here on the farm, as far as we can.   And this does not just apply to the birds.   Hedgehogs hibernate in the hay in our hay barn and the mice have a jolly time with our various sacks of feed (sheep feed, hen pellets, corn etc.)   Wherever we put the sacks seems to make no difference - they find it.

But it is the birds that we help the most.   You ask how we put out the food I make.   I purchased a cone-shaped basket full of fat some weeks ago and when it became empty I saw it was lined with plastic, so I brought it in and every time it is empty I re-use it to pour in a mixture of melted fat mixed with seeds, grated cheese, suet, chopped apple and anything else I can think of.   We all need to do our bit to help wild things I think, although I know the birds will not repay me on Bird Garden Bird Watch day (the end of January) when we count the birds in our gardens for an hour for the R S P B.   I lay a pound to a penny that they desert me on that day, as they usually do, so that I get a feeble list to send in.   Here in the U K it is called Sod's Law.

Here is an up date!   At 4 this afternoon the farmer was in our fields walking the dogs on their last walk of the day, when he saw a dozen or so waxwings in the ash tree in the pasture.   How I wish I had been with him.   I have scattered chopped up fruit round the bird table so that if they are still around in the morning they might drop in and give me a sighting too. 

Monday 14 January 2013


Snow has been falling for much of today.   Then at lunch time it cleared up and the sun came out.   The temperature is hovering around freezing and the roads are quite bad, so the farmer and I went into our little neighbouring town to go to the Bank and to stock up on food in case the weather got worse.

Mondays is usually a very quiet day in our little town and our good Supermarket decided that today was the day to completely reorganise all the shelves, moving some pieces of shelving altogether to make more gangways.   Unfortunately this coincided with the snow and herds of folk from 'up dale' came in to stock up in case of worse to come.   There was chaos in the aisles as we all hunted with our shopping lists and everything had been moved.

However, we are home again, unpacked, stocked up as though for a siege  and now concentrating on the wild birds.   We always support a goodly throng but today they have come in in their dozens.   In addition to our usual throng we have also had mistle thrushes, long-tailed tits and twenty or so blackbirds.   One stock dove had a narrow escape early this morning, when the black farm cat, who was hiding under a holly bush, sprang out and grabbed it by the tail.   It escaped, but only at the expense of a large mouthful of tail feathers, which the cat spat out in disgust.

I have been filling containers with melted animal fat (dripping from the Christmas turkey) laced with suet, chopped apple, mealworms, grated cheese and assorted seeds.   They have descended on it like manna from heaven.

Two photographs for you today - one showing our Lane at eleven o'clock this morning and the other showing the daffodils friend, W, bought for me on Friday.    You need to look at the latter to remind yourself that this weather does not last for ever and that Spring is lurking just under the surface ready to push through in a few weeks time.

Keep warm! 

Sunday 13 January 2013

Lovely Day

Well readers, the forecast is terrible but looking out of the window you would never know it.  It is still, the sun is shining and there is a white frost on the fields.  I suppose it could be the calm before the storm, but I shall make the most of a good day if worse is to come.   I have a stack of wool waiting to crochet more squares for my Afghan rug if I can't go out  and several jobs lined up to do.

Now that I find I can't drive any more I have determined to practise up several pieces on the piano.   I used to be able to play three Schubert Impromptu from D 899 and have even played them in concerts, but I am very rusty - so I shall go through them carefully, practising the very difficult parts, and get them up to scratch again.

Also the end of the VAT quarter looms (31st of this month) so I need to get the farm books up to date.   I always put it off until the last minute I am ashamed to say.

Our Swaledale sheep have decided to give the farmer the run-around.   Somewhere they have found a spot where they can jump on to and over the stone wall and run off down the lane.   Half an hour ago I saw five of them with a car behind them!   Now the farmer and his dog have just gone out to get them back.  No doubt the farmer will be 'spitting blacking' as they say in the Midlands (where I spent many years). 

I have decided, as it is a cold day, that we can have a pudding today.   Usually puddings are forbidden but I know how much the farmer loves a rice pudding cooked in the Aga, so I have made him one - the timer is sitting beside me as I type, so that I can transfer it from one oven to the other at the correct time (i.e. when a golden skin has formed and the milk has boiled).   First of all we shall have chicken hash - like corned beef hash but with roast chicken substitute.

On the subject of reading and good books - my son and I are both Fred Vargas fans (we rarely agree on a good read) and he has passed three on to me.   Once I start reading one, it is difficult to put down.   If you like murder/mystery with a touch of the weird then Fred is the author for you.   She is French (born 1957) and her stories are amazing.   Do try one.

Sad to relate, finally, that Araucaria, the master crossword setter of the Guardian newspaper,  is terminally ill with cancer of the oesophagus.   He informed his followers by compiling a crossword with all the clues in it.   He is into his nineties and has given generations of crossword fanatics something to get their teeth into, particularly at every Bank Holiday when he has produced amazingly complicated ones, which have occupied hours of my time.  I am sad about it, but he is a good age and is still compiling them and says he will go on as long as he can - so here's hoping that he has the care he needs and that he leaves this world gradually and peacefully, knowing what joy he has given to so many.

Saturday 12 January 2013


The first snows of Winter are forecast for tonight and tomorrow here along the Eastern side of the country.   Certainly the temperature has dropped - it is only just above freezing.   The sky has been leaden all day but now, as evening approaches, it has cleared and there is a watery sunset.

I love to look out on snow - don't we all - but really as one gets older it is a real nuisance.   Walking in it is difficult and the intense cold is harder to bear.

This morning the farmer and I have been down to our Feed Merchants in Masham, ten miles away, to stock up in case there is a real spell of truly bad weather.   The first thing we bought was a 25kg sack of potatoes for ourselves - jacket potatoes done in the Aga, swathed in butter and served with plenty of salt, is my idea of heaven on a cold day.   Then we stocked up on hen food, food for the farm cats and dogs and plenty of wild bird food.   Now, whatever the weather throws at us, we are prepared.

I read in the Times that the owls in the West Country are dying because the flood water has made it impossible for them to find enough to eat.   The same thing will happen all down the East of the country if this forecast snow moves in.    Life can be so cruel and wildlife has really had to struggle for the last year.   Let's hope that 2013 is a year of better weather.

Tess and I went for our usual walk.   The farmer has spent the afternoon gathering up the briars he has been cutting off the hedges all week and at the beginning of next week he will burn them on a bonfire.   He has always been one for keeping the farm neat and tidy I am pleased to say.

If you are in a cold area, keep snug and warm.   Have a good week-end.  

Friday 11 January 2013

Does it all have to be doom and gloom?

Why is it that the newspapers - the Tabloids in particular (yes I am prejudiced) - always have to hit on a doom and gloom headline rather than choosing something cheery?   This is especially true in mid-Winter.   As I queued at the checkout of our local supermarket this morning with my top up groceries for the week-end, I was facing the newspaper racks and every paper had something along the lines of "The Big Freeze is Coming!!" or "Ice and Snow set to hit the UK by the Week-end".   Outside the sun shone as it has been doing all the week and the weather was really lovely for early January.  Tess and I have enjoyed some of the best walks for a long time in almost perfect conditions.   Alright, maybe things will change by tomorrow and the world will be white, but we shall know that when we open the curtains in the morning, without being forwarned by the newspapers.

Having our coffee in The Golden Lion brought a much happier touch to the morning.   One friend, E, who happens to be allergic to chocolate, brought some of her Christmas chocolates to share as we had our coffee.   And another friend, W, bought us all a bunch of daffodil buds - that real harbinger of Spring to come, even if it is a long way off.    Which made us feel better - the newspaper headlines or the chocolates and daffodils?   Do I need to even ask the question?

We need to keep a positive outlook on life to get us through the Winter and even a small amount of doom and gloom can plunge some folk into the slough of despond - so I for one am making a determined effort to keep cheerful - especially after my visit to the Specialist yesterday.   He was very hopeful and has referred me to a Cardiologist to look into having a 24 hour heart monitor as a start to the investigations.   Other than that I shall continue as normal apart from no longer being able to drive.   But the farmer is wonderful for ferrying me around, bless his heart.

He took me to see friend M this afternoon.   M has been recently widowed and her family have been absolutely wonderful to her.   She should be very proud of the way they have all rallied round and given her their support.   Now, after a month, she is on her own during the week and is doing very well, with lots of friends and neighbours calling in to see how she is.   If you are reading this M - well done - it was lovely to see you looking so well.

On the way back from my walk with Tess I found that the aconites in my garden are out now, as is the bush (I have forgotten its name) by the front door - two more signs of Spring to come.  

Wednesday 9 January 2013

A Doggy Tale

Today's theme at our Writers' Group Meeting was 'A Doggy Tale'.
I thought it was a rotten topic and I just could not think of anything to write.   I could not have been more wrong.

There were eleven of us at the meeting.   Only two people had no piece to read and there were some excellent pieces and some really good, constructive discussion.  I honestly can't remember a meeting when things went better.

For me the best piece was my friend, S's, piece - this was written with apologies to Andrew Marvell using To His Coy Mistress as a framework and calling it 'To Her Tardy Labrador'.   It was excellent stuff - and there were plenty of other pieces which were so well done.

I give you my piece here - not up to my usual standard I felt.   

When I listen to my human owners talking it always amuses me to hear them discussing me with their friends - how I am not as clever 
as their previous dog,  how daft dogs can be, or how I am always on the wrong side of the door.

Well, let me tell you dear readers, that I am a much more capable dog than they give me credit for.   The only thing that I lack (and I have found this out from listening to so-called learned  conversations between my owner and his friend) seems to be a thumb.    If I had a thumb  apparently there are so many things I would have been able to achieve - like writing this for example.

But that does not mean it is all bad news.   I can't read aloud (although you would be amazed how much I have learned to read from lying on the settee next to my owner when he reads bedtime stories to his children), I can't speak 'human', I can't write.   But there is one way in which I can beat all humans a thousand times over; one way in which my head can become full of incredible information that is a totally closed book to any human and always will be.   And that is through my nose. 

My favourite food is cheese - Wensleydale, Cheddar, even a bit of Blue Stilton at a pinch  - my mouth is watering at the very thought.  Every Tuesday morning my owner visits the Supermarket and stocks up on the week's supplies.   This includes my dog tins, my biscuits and - most important of all - a new batch of cheese for their fridge.

I know to a rind exactly how much cheese is left in the fridge and if I sit and stare at the fridge door when my female owner is around, she sometimes takes pity on me and gives me a bit.   So this has become my morning habit.

On Tuesday morning last week as I went into the kitchen to take up position, there was another, stronger smelll.   There was no mistaking what it was - it was mouse!   Now dog versus mouse in the battle for cheese is no contest.   Cheese baits the trap and I have  learned from bitter experience that once a trap is set there is no way in which I can retrieve the cheese.

So, here is my ploy.   First of all, tell the farm cat and get him into position.  Secondly divert attention from the door as she comes out to get into the car to go to the Supermarket (I do this by barking at the barn door so that she thinks something is amiss).   With any luck all this commotion will make her forget to lock the back door.

Once she had driven off it was easy to open the kitchen door (oh yes, that kind of thing is a doddle) and let in the cat.   I did the sniffing around, the cat did the stalking and in no time at all the mouse was up and running, the cat was down and pouncing, and it was all over.   Job done and no-one any the wiser.

By the time my owner came back, boxes ready to be unpacked , I was sitting on the back step guarding the unlocked door.   Butter would not have melted in my mouth as I smiled to myself and heard her say:

"Oh, you good dog.   I forgot to lock the door and here you are guarding it for me.   I'll go and get you a piece of cheese".

We're not daft us dogs.   We might be short in the thumb department, but by golly we make up for it in other ways.

Tuesday 8 January 2013


At a time like this, when I am waiting to see the specialist again about my tendency to slip into unconsciousness at the drop of a hat, I really need my friends.   And by this I mean both all my blog friends and my friends near at hand 'in the flesh' so to speak.

Today a very old friend who lives in Kent and who is up here for a few days staying with her son and his family has spent the day with us - and what a lovely day it has been.  I can assure you that there have been very few breaks in the conversation.   Once I knew she was coming I hurriedly put together a chicken and sausage casserole with peppers and mushrooms so that it could be popped into the Aga without interrupting our chatting.

A whole day without once thinking about how suddenly my condition has worsened after more than two years of good health - that has bee very comforting.   In addition my specialist rang and I am to see him on Thursday afternoon, less than a week after the incident occurred.    So at least I can talk to someone about it.

My son has also lent me a Fred Vargas novel - 'Wash this blood clean from my hand.'   Do you like detective novels?   If so, then do try the Fred Vargas ones. 

My friend and I walked down the Lane with Tess after lunch today and I saw that the gorse was in bloom.   I looked at the bush yesterday and there was no sign of blossom.   One warm day and it has come into flower - always early to bloom and always a welcome sight.

It is set to get colder as the week goes on, but we have appreciated the few days of warm weather.   Spare a thought for those terrible bush fires on the other side of the world in Australia and Tasmania.
Even as I write people are losing their property and in some cases even their lives.   Maybe our climate is not so bad after all.  

Monday 7 January 2013

A Quiet Day.

Today is what the farmer would call a 'quiet day'.   There is not a breath of wind, the sky is a uniform grey, the temperature is warm for the time of year, and nothing much is moving here in the depths of the country.   Virtually the only sound is that of the male robin - one every hundred yards or so, singing its beak off with what sounds like a song of joy but is actually an agressive song saying 'get off my patch.'

There is no sign of activity in the fields as Tess and I walk down the lane.   But then, there wouldn't be - the fields are so wet that any vehicle that ventured on to the soil would be instantly bogged down.   Early last week the farmer was able to pull a friend's tractor out of the mire with his new, bigger version.   Dare I say, naughtily, the first time he has actually been able to boast 'mine's bigger than yours!'

Although it is warm there are only minimal signs of any growth.   Buds on some of the trees are quite fat but a long way from beginning to actually grow.   The stretch of alders by the beckside - alder is one of my favourite trees - is showing a faint tinge of red in the tops and the alder catkins hang dark and hard, waiting for warmer days to make them break out.

There are a few berries left here and there but they are almost rotten and look most unappetizing.   I really wonder what our birds find to eat away from the bird table, although the farmer says that with the fields being so wet there will be plenty of grubs for them to search for.   Also because this is a pheasant-rearing area, I suspect that a lot of wild birds frequent the pheasant pens in an effort to share some of the spoils.

Speaking of pheasants, this morning I have been to the Physiotherapist for my six-weekly visit (the farmer had to drive me there as I am again unable to drive) and on the way back - only a distance of around ten miles - we were conscious of just how many dead cock pheasants there were on the road.   The farmer says they have already started to fight over the hen pheasants (men never learn do they?) and get so involved in a fight on the grass verge that they just don't notice the oncoming traffic.   I suppose the only good thing about it is that these dead bodies are instant food for the hundreds of crows that fly around.   Every carcase is surrounded by pecking crows and they only rise up when the car is almost on top of them.   By tomorrow there will be no trace left, apart from a few feathers that will blow away in the wind.

A friend is up in the Dales from Kent and I am hoping to see her within the next day or two - it is quite a long time since we met, so it will be lovely to see her and catch up on all the news.   She is a much travelled lady and has not been back from Australia for all that long.   And all this in spite of sadness in her life.   It makes my silly little black-out such a petty thing when I think of the things that others have to put up with, so I am determined not to let it get me down.   Keep on blogging - that's what I intend to do.  

And to cheer me up even further, I came back into the house through the front garden and saw that the Winter Aconites are already up - their little green frills are already showing so now they just have to turn their little yellow faces to the sun (if it doesn't snow first). 


Sunday 6 January 2013

How times have changed.

This morning, while searching for something, I came across this photograph and it took me back to those days for so many reasons.
In the photograph my parents are second and third from the left and they are on holiday in Skegness (Lincolnshire and our nearest seaside place - 30 miles away although in those days it seemed a long journey).   They had gone on holiday - the year was 1946, so only one year after the end of the Second World War - to the YMCA Holiday Camp with their best friends.   And here they all are on what is obviously a pleasant day, on their walk down to the Promenade.

The first thing that struck me was that I knew everyone's Christian name except for the lady in the hat.   She was the Postmistress in our little village and very formidable.  Everyone called her Mrs Applewhite and I never knew her first name - my parents always called her 'Mrs Jack' (her husband was Jack.)  Along with Alf and Edna, the other couple in the photograph, they spent hours together - all were keen crown-green bowlers, all went to chapel (Methodist) on Sundays and they holidayed together for several years.

The other thing that struck me was that this was the period when dress code began to change.   Alf is already in shirt sleeves but is still wearing his braces - belts were too modern.  Father and Jack are still wearing their ties (they are on holiday for goodness sake) and jackets.   Mrs Applewhite is still wearing a hat!

It made me think of the time when shirts with attached collars came in (my father had always worn loose collars with collar studs back and front and a clean starched collar every morning, even if he wore the same shirt for two days).   Someone - probably my sister, who tried desperately to get them up-dated for many years - bought Dad a couple of short sleeved shirts with attached collars for his birthday and he swore he would never wear them.   Of course, the first hot day that came (yes, we actually got hot days in 1946) he tried one out and was instantly converted.

Jack is wearing a cap and I was about to say how old fashioned that was when I realised how difficult it is to separate the farmer from his cap!   The fact is that he is bald and a hot sunny day makes life unbearable.   I don't remember ever seeing Jack Applewhite without his cap, but maybe he was bald too and needed it for protection.

But it is one of my favourite photographs because it shows friendship at its very best.   All are long dead now of course.   But this was only just after the War; my brother would not have been home from his soldiering all that long.   But already there is an air of relaxation in the photograph - it is all over and now we can begin to pick up the pieces kind of thing.   And we are determined to enjoy ourselves for every single minute of this holiday, come rain or shine.

Thank you all for your kind comments about the recurrence of my irritating medical condition - blogging friendships are so important to me and I do appreciate your concern.    

Saturday 5 January 2013

A Walk Down the Lane.

It is a long time since Tess and I walked down the Lane to Forty-Acre Wood.   It is a mile each way and two miles is going it a bit for me these days.   But yesterday I had a slight attack of the condition which stopped me driving for sixth months.   I went immediately to the doctor and am to see the neurologist in about ten days but it is pretty depressing news.   I thought the walk might help me to sort things out in my mind, and of course it has done so.   Many people of my age have such awful illnesses to contend with, I should be grateful that it is something so slight, albeit a nuisance.

Returning from the two mile walk I was just about all in - as was Tess i think.   But what a lovely walk it was, and a ten minute sit down has restored me to normal, whatever that is.

I started in the front garden and was amazed to find things still out.
Primroses, a rose (Dark Lady) and a Christmas Rose (helleborus niger), and the daffodils (tete-a-tete) were poking through the gravel - can't be bad.

One side of the Lane, Forty acre wood has all but disappeared.   I do hope that in the Spring they might plant it up again because it looks so sad and deserted,   The other side is as it has always been with a ride down to the pheasant huts.

Water is standing everywhere and the reflections in the pools are absolutely lovely.   The gateways to every field have deep ruts filled with water.   The sheep stand and watch us as we pass.

The beck is still very full and where there are wire fences across the debris caught in the fence shows just how high the water has been in our recent floods.   We have now had several days without rain and some of the puddles have begun to drain, but the farmer says we need several months of dry weather for the land to become workable again.

On both sides of the Lane there were shooting parties at work, and Tess put up several cock pheasants hiding in the hedge.   I do hope they escaped the carnage - they are far too beautiful to appear, featherless on the dining table in my view.

The temperature here today is eleven degrees Celsius, quite mild for January; the sky is fairly clear and there are glimpses of the sun now and then.   We have to soak up every fine day whilst we get it, so that if/when 'real' Winter arrives we have something in reserve.

Enjoy the weekend.