Tuesday 30 April 2013

Happy Memories.

Poet in residence (on my side bar), Gwilym, reminded me in his comment, about a lovely cafe in Morecambe.   That jogged my memory on another lovely cafe and I have been sitting here at the computer day dreaming about a lovely day about thirty years ago - so I thought I would share it with you.

We had dear friends who lived at Chorley in Lancashire and we spent weekends with one another over the years.   One weekend when we arrived F had a list of all the possible places to go for the day on the Saturday.   One of these places was Blackpool and in passing I said I had not been  there since I was a small child and I wondered if it had changed.   So to Blackpool we went.

If you are a U S reader you will probably never have heard of Blackpool but it is an "in-your-face" seaside resort on the West Coast, noted for its Tower,  its brashness and its illuminations.   It was illuminations time.

The place was crowded and we struggled to find a Parking Place, but eventually we found one and we had the most wonderful day.
First of all we went into a really old-fashioned cafe where the waitresses were all middle-aged, rather stout ladies and all dressed in black dresses and white frilly aprons and caps.   Every table had a starched white cloth on it and all they served was fish and chips; but what fantastic fish and chips - freshly caught, crisply battered and served with plates of white bread and butter and a pot of good, strong tea.

Then we walked along the beach, picking up sea shells, looking at the children building sand-castles, waiting for the light to fade so that the illuminations would come on - and then we returned the other way in a horse-drawn carriage so that we could look at the illuminations.   What a splendid day that was.

It is a poignant memory now because F has been dead for many years and his wife, C, has lost her memory and will remember none of it.   Incidentally F's favourite word was 'splendid' and I used it here without thinking - I never use the word without thinking of him either.

This is how people live on isn't it?  My husband at the time has been dead for  twenty two years too, so I am the only one carrying a memory of that super day out.   And when I die, so will the memory but for now I have to say that every time I think of it I get a feeling of great pleasure.   So thank you Gwilym for jogging my memory.

On a completely different topic - the farmer is busy mending fences.   For the time being the weather is quite clement and the floods at the end of last year, coupled with several severe gales over the Winter, have played havoc with some of the wooden fences - so it is time to mend them before any of the animals go out.

PS   I have updated by profile picture so you have one taken only about two years ago when I am looking more my age!  

Monday 29 April 2013

The Call of the curlew.

One of the most evocative sounds here at this time of the year is the call of the Curlew.   The largest of our native waders, you are likely to see it on any beach after the tide has gone out.   But when it comes to nesting time a lot of curlew like to nest in our fields and they are already beginning to stake their claims.   That 'coorwee, coorwee sound echoes round the fields as I walk round with the farmer.

The trouble is that this year the grass is very slow to grow and is nowhere near ready for a curlew to build a nest, so I do hope they have the sense to wait a bit longer.   The chicks are so vulnerable when they first hatch out and are the size of a large bumble bee on long legs - one heavy rain storm and they are suffering, so they really need the shelter of the long grass to survive.   There have been times when the farmer has discovered a nest just as he was about to begin silaging and has fenced the nest off with an electric wire to give the birds a chance.

Another bird which nests in the grass is the lapwing with its distinctive 'peewit' call.   It is such a beautiful bird and apart from its high-pitched 'pee-wit' call we hardly notice it but a few usually nest in our marshy field.

Lapwings are a bird of lowland and marsh and are a common bird in Lincolnshire, where I originate.   There they are coloqually called either tyrrwhit or pyewipe and in both cases have an inn named after them.

Birds are an important part of our lives here on the farm and we watch for them coming at their time each year.  This year we still have only two swallows in the barn - most years we have twenty or thirty by now.   And as yet there are no house martins in the eaves of the farmhouse - if they don't arrive I shall miss them greatly.  

Sunday 28 April 2013

Nature Diary 3

By definition, a weed is any plant which is growing in the wrong place; although I would qualify this by saying that any Viola Labradorica or Asperula Odorata which chooses to seed itself between the flags on my patio is made very welcome.

Perhaps the commonest and certainly the most disliked among these weeds is the Dandelion.   I have always thought it a pity that the Dandelion is seen as a weed, because if you look closely at it , it really is the most beautiful flower.  And at around this time of year it borders almost every road and lane in the country.   But, sadly, it is also one of the cleverest at spreading its seed.   By making that pretty pom-pom head and waiting for a breezy day, it ensures that its offspring float over a wide area and mostly take root.   One of its favourite rooting places seems to be in my lawn, where it pushes down its tap root far too deep to be persuaded to come out and I have to resort to a tiny spot of weedkiller in the crown.

But that is an easy job compared with getting rid of those two other weeds which RS Fitter in his wild flower book calls 'unauthorised wanderers.'

How I welcome the Celandine when it first opens its shiny yellow face to the sun.   And I continue to enjoy it when it grows along a bank or a hedge-side out in the fields.   But when it takes up residence in my tulip bed, making a delightful yellow carpet for the bright red tulips, I draw the line.  'Enjoy it while it lasts and then when I lift the bulbs I will get rid of it,' I think.

Ha!  'You and whose army'? I hear my father saying.   It is quite shallow rooted but each root has hundreds of follicles and leave one in the ground and that is quite enough to get it going again for next year.   Yes, I am afraid the message is that if you have Celandines then enjoy them and make the best of it.

And please.......don't get me started on Ground Elder. 

Saturday 27 April 2013

Nature Diary

April 27th

A male pheasant has become the avian equivalent of a Property Tycoon here on the farm.   He has taken over the garden, the lawn
under the Scots pines and the back patio and would like to take over the house as well if he could.

He is not friendly.   If we go outside into the garden he demands an explanation for our conduct.   I hear his raucous voice almost immediately; in fact I hear it dozens of times a day.   

He is fat, sleek and in full breeding colours and has a harem of six ladies who are gradually disappearing, presumably to make nests in the bedgeback.

It doesn't seem to occur to him that he has us to thank for his appearance.   He has scavenged under our bird feeder all Winter long and spends most of the day there, eating the corn the farmer puts down for him and then waiting for the birds at the feeders to drop various seeds for his delectation.

Should another cock pheasant dare to land on the grass he is totally unforgiving.   One fight resulted in the other pheasant being lamed badly.   He is slowly recovering and tries to sneak in for a feed if the boss is out of sight - but he never succeeds.   There is a furious shriek and he takes flight and is gone.

The dogs and cats give him a wide berth.  In fact, the only thing that could bring about his downfall is a vehicle of some kind.   He spends a lot of his day strutting his stuff up and down the lane and I fear that one day he might pay too much attention to vanity and not enough to listen out for a car coming. 

Friday 26 April 2013

A Possible Article for a Newspaper.

Taking your advice to heart I have written about what is familiar to me; what I know most about.   I have written a Nature Diary entry.  It is one of the first things I read in the newpaper every day.   In the days when I took the Guardian it was always William Condry I enjoyed reading.   In the Times it is Derwent May.   So here is one possibility for Wednesday's Writers' Meeting.   I may well write several more before the day and choose that I like the most.   By the very nature of the entry it has to be short - so this one is under three hundred words.  What do you think?

Winter pays an unwelcome visit this morning, and - like an uninvited guest who turns up at a party- we try to include it in whatever we are doing and pretend we don't mind.

The blackbird continues to forage on the lawn and in the hedge back for the final touches to the nest; the weeping cherry, whose blossoms are just emerging, looks as though it wishes it had waited for another week; I put on a couple of extra layers and venture out into the garden to replant a stone trough I emptied yesterday.

Just to emphasise its arrival, Winter chooses this moment to throw down a sharp, sleety shower and I hasten indoors, preceded by the black farm cat who does his level best to trip me up and reminds me that he has just eaten a baby rabbit and that eating rabbits is thirsty work.   His friend, the cream farm cat, who is far too shy to show himself, waits round the corner to share the saucer of milk they know I will put out.

Once again Spring is on hold.   Not for the first time this year the sheep shelter with their new-born lambs up against the stone walls.   Once they get a good feed of their mother's milk these hardy fell lambs will stand everything that Winter throws at them now that April is here and it is not long before the lambs can't resist a dash up the field.   They run in a flock to the far side, stand a minute and then run back - just for the sheer joy of it.

Yes, Winter has returned and the North wind has picked up - but surely this is its dying gasp - the sun is high and it has some warmth in it and sure as night follows day the Spring will win in the end.   

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Newspaper article.

The topic for our Writers' Group next week is "An Article suitable for a newspaper".  Here is a dilemma.

The farmer and I take two newspapers.   He takes the Yorkshire Post and I take the Times.   His choice is because a) they have always taken it and b) it features local news (if it happens further away than thirty miles it is difficult to capture the farmer's interest.)
My choice is because I really admire the quality of the writing.  I particularly enjoy Matthew Parris, Robert Crampton, Caitlin Moran and Simon Barnes.   But I never come across an article - whether I agree with it or not - that I don't consider very well-written.  Sometimes - maybe as often as once a week - I read something which I think is so well written that I need to read it again and again.

Now here is the dilemma.  Do I dash off an article which would do for the Yorkshire Post (I am not suggesting that the articles are badly written, just that on the whole they are less so than the Times, both in content and in style), or do I struggle to try and emulate my favourite writers?   I know that if I do the latter then I shall fail - but surely it is worth a try.  

Then there is the subject matter.   Would anyone out there like to suggest a subject I might choose to write about - it needs to be about 250 words and suitable for publication in a newspaper. 

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Goodbye for another year.

The sheep from the fells, which over-winter here, went 'home' yesterday evening.  They would have had a very lean time if they had stayed on the fells, in fact most of them would have died in the snow.  As it is, they all went home fit and healthy and ready to be back on their beloved Buttertubs fell.   For the last few weeks they have been frisky and restless, so not a moment too soon.

Soon we shall have ewes and lambs on our fields but not for a week or two because the grass needs a chance to grow - it is about a month to six weeks behind normal because of the bad weather.

One local farmer fared very badly during the heavy snow and lost a great quantity of ewes and lambs - it is heart-breaking.  The trouble is that on these high fells farmers have often not got enough buildings to bring in all their flocks - and in any case, under normal conditions, it is not healthy for the sheep to be inside.  They are definitely an outside animal - but cannot cope with deep snowdrifts.

Weather is such a relative thing though.   A friend has just been to Scotland for a week on holiday and the weather was atrociously wet and cold.   Here it has been cold and windy but dry.   The farmer who collected his sheep from here yesterday expressed a wish that he lived on our farm, which is about six hundred feet lower than his - he said it was wet and windy up there yesterday.  I read Bovey Belle's blog yesterday, on which she posted wonderful Spring photographs - oh yes - Spring is in full flow down there.  For a moment I wished I lived there.

On an entirely different note, and to end my blog today, I really did experiment yesterday with the soup for lunch.   The farmer collected a bag full of young nettle tops and I made Nettle Soup.  It was quite a fiddly job as they needed a lot of washing and they also needed a lot of added vegetables, but the result was delicious and I leave you with a photograph to tempt you to have a go at making it before the nettles get too high.  The garnish was goat's yoghourt and a sprinkling of chives - one of the few things which are growing well in our vegetable garden.

Monday 22 April 2013

Moments of Glory.

We all have our moments of glory I suppose - the one point in our lives when we feel really proud of something we have done.  In can be something as ordinary and matter of fact as having a child and rearing it successfully - no mean feat these days.

It can be something like Matthew Parris wrote about in the Times on Saturday, when he said his proudest moment was when he finally ran the London Marathon in the fastest time for any M.P. after trying to break the record for several years.

Some are in a situation, or make a situation, where their moment of glory is of so much more significance; where their achievements make a difference to a huge chunk of society.

Such a one is Azzam Alwash - there was also an article in the Times about him on Saturday.  Some people become so driven by an idea, by a cause, by the feeling that they must do something, that they abandon their present life and forge ahead in a new direction.   He was such a one.

His boyhood was spent in the region between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates - an area some think was the original Garden of Eden.  It was a place cut off from the rest of the world and he had an idyllic boyhood.   I remember in my teens reading a book about the marsh arabs and indeed seeing a film about them on television - their way of life was unique, the wildlife of the area was unique too.  Azzam's father was responsible for irrigation in the area.  With the advent of Saddam Hussein the family had to flee and went to America where Azzam married, raised a family, but longed to see those marshes again.

Saddam - driven by power and the urge to destroy an area where rebels to his regime could hide and where no tanks could go to get at them - systematically spent three years and huge amounts of money turning that Garden of Eden into a Waste Land.  And when Azzam went back after Saddam's fall he found total devastation.

Now (sacrificing his job and his marriage in the process) he has spent the last ten years mending the broken area.   When asked about it he says that the marsh arabs were already at work mending the sluices and getting things going.  But there is no doubt he was their driving force and although many experts said it could never be restored, he has proved them wrong and already the area is healing itself

Now that is some massive moment of glory.  

As Shakespeare said in Twelfth Night 'some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.'  I think we all saw examples of the latter in the folk who rushed to the aid of the victims of the Boston bombing last week.

I suppose we never know when our moment of glory is going to be - or if it will ever arrive at all.   If we can look back and think of something we have done of which we are proud - then I think we can put that as top of our list.  We can't all be great - and most of us wouldn't wish to be anyway - but we can do our bit one way or another.   

Sunday 21 April 2013

Jobs done.

It has been the morning I predicted - an hour in the garden, this time I tackled the fernery, cutting off last year's dead foliage and generally tidying up the plants before feeding them.   The Irish Tatting Fern, which is my favourite (it was bought for me by friend G) shows no sign of growth at all, but I know it is always like that and one day will burst into frond.

The farmer has spent the morning cleaning up  pine cones and needles from our Scots pines.  We do value them for the way they encourage the owls at night and for the shelter they give us from the prevailing wind.   But really, the mess they make when they shed their cones and their needles means a lot of hard work.

Then I came indoors to tackle Lyndsey Bareham's Almond Pilaf with Cumin Chicken for lunch.   It was a bit of a fiddle to make (but then, so would roast beef and Yorkshire pud be if you had never done it before) but it was delicious.   If you fancy trying it, go to
thetim.es/foodflickr - I think the recipe is there.   It was published in the Times on April 18th.

Now, in five minutes or so, I am going to our neighbouring village with a group of friends for afternoon tea in the Village Hall.   Must resist more than one piece of cake.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Gardening aches and pains.

Do they get easier as the season wears on, or am I going to have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous garden fatigue throughout the summer?

An hour spent yesterday in replenishing the pots outside the back door means that today you walk into the utility room through bright, crystal clear violas in full bloom and a basket of golden pansies on the wall.   Today after my walk, I planted more violas in a stone trough and clipped my box bird, then tidied about a yard of footpath and straightened out a few more pots - three quarters of an hour at most.   The result is I feel as though I have gone ten rounds with that lovely lady boxer who won us a gold at the Olympics.

There will be no gardening tomorrow because in the morning I am attempting a completely new recipe for lunch, which will take up all my time.  In the afternoon a group of us are going out to afternoon tea in a local village hall - they run these teas every month in the Summer and they are lovely occcasions.  So hopefully by Monday I shall be fighting fit again.

I have just spent two hours doing my first supermarket grocery shop on line.   I had to keep telling myself that it was still taking me less time than if I had gone to the store, but really it was very laborious - not least because I still think in pounds and ounces and the shopping basket really wanted kilograms.   As farming is coming up to its busy time and I cannot drive at the moment, it should save the farmer some valuable time in ferrying me around.

It is a lovely warm day here in the Dales and the grass is almost growing as you look at it.   It is now billiard-table green after looking so very pale and shrivelled for months. The hawthorn hedges are just beginning to break into leaf and the fields are full of baby rabbits.   A pair of black-caps were at our bird table this morning and my son and his wife saw an osprey looking for nest material in Wales last week.   However slow it is in coming, then Spring always arrives sooner or later and when it does, there is an uplifting of the hearts all round. I hope it is a lovely day wherever you live.  

Friday 19 April 2013

Short and Sweet.

One of my father's favourite sayings.

I have been busy compiling and running off a hundred quiz papers for our local Nature Reserve.  That coupled with buying the wrong ink cartridge for my computer has made me running late and rather frustrated.   And I do want to watch 'Have I got News for You' in a quarter of an hour (one of my favourite programmes).

However, I do want to just say that Richard Morrison in today's Times says that very few folk under the age of 35 have ever heard of Thomas Gray and heard Gray's Elegy.   My father could recite it from beginning to end, having learned it at school.   And the fact that several famous writers chose lines from it as titles of their books (Far from the Madding Crowd for example) suggests that Gray was very much read until fairly recently.

I am not sure whether I learned about it at school or at my father's knee - I suspect the latter as he was a great reader and reciter of poetry.   But Elegy is such a beautiful poem and such a picture of village life in those times and it does seem a shame that poems like that are no longer part of our heritage unless we happen to come from a family where poetry is deemed important. 

In fact, when I think about it, is poetry important in schools at all these days?  I understand that even Nursery Rhymes are discouraged in many schools now, whereas I was taught at Teacher Training College of their importance in the teaching of rhyming words.  I suppose that unless a child is studying English Literature in General and Poetry in particular then no poetry will appear in the curriculum.  Oh dear, that makes me despair of the way education is going.  Everyone  needs some poetry in their life. 

Thursday 18 April 2013

Too much information?

I need you to help me here by putting the case for or against this  craze for what so often seems to me to be too much information.  Maybe my views are old-fashioned.   I try to keep up to date by chatting to younger people, by reading the newspaper from cover to cover (The Times since you ask), by listening at least once a day to the television news (any more than once a day means that you get the same story repeated over and over again).  But sometimes I am appalled by some of things I see and hear.

At yesterday's funeral of Mrs. Thatcher - and whether you agreed or disagreed with the amount of money spent on it, her politics or any other aspect of the funeral had nothing to do with it - I just do not think it was appropriate to show George Osbourne in tears.   I hastily add that I am not - repeat not - a Conservative and do not agree with the present government over anything that I can think of.   But one's feelings and one's ability to control them should not be a matter for millions of people around the world to speculate upon.

And then we come to the terrible Boston bombs.   The image of that lovely family and the knowledge that it had quite literally been blown apart by the bomb simply because of where they had been standing was an image that will stay in my mind and I think was quite rightly published.   But as for the images shown on television and as for the thousands of spectators who took photographs of the carnage on their mobile phones I really do not know what to think.

Could you stand and take a photograph of somebody bleeding to death and lying in the road?   And yet - and yet - maybe some of the photographs will prove useful in identifying the criminal or criminals who did it.   And as is quite rightly pointed out in The Times this morning, these photographs and film footage also show dozens of ordinary citizens running to help rather than running away.

A couple of days ago there was a photograph of a man standing helplessly by the bodies of his wife and child, killed by a passing vehicle in India - and nobody coming to his aid.  It does rather beg the question - did the photographer go to his aid after taking the photograph?

I know there are arguments for and against - and I know that all the imagination in the world can't possibly bring up the image of the terrible slaughter of terrorism or warfare.  Maybe photographs help - but there is such a thing as overkill and I wonder whether perhaps the whole thing has got out of hand.  At the beginning of the conflict in Syria we saw miles of footage of the suffering of innocent women and children in their towns and villages and in their refugee camps.   Now we rarely see one.   Maybe we saw so many in the beginning that we began to stop looking at them.   For whatever reason the cameramen have moved on - they seemed to gather like crows round the dead rabbit - now they have found another 'kill'.

One of the most poignant photographs in The Times today - for me at any rate - is the photograph of Simon Weston on his way to Mrs Thatcher's funeral.   Simon Weston - the man whose face had to be literally rebuilt after the terrible fire on the Sir Galahad during the Falklands War.  A small photograph saying a lot.  Maybe we are often bombarded with so much information that we become
impervious to it.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Thorpe Perrow Gardens.

My first visit of the year to Thorpe Perrow Gardens in Bedale, North Yorkshire, with friend W and her dog, Sophie.   At first we feared we would be unable to go as it was a wet morning but by eleven o'clock the sun had poked through and we decided to chance it.

This is the time of year to go in order to see the Spring flowers - in fact the King Alfred daffodils, the large, yellow, showy ones are not quite out yet.  But there was plenty to see and what a joy it was to see it.

The bog garden had a mass of marsh marigolds, which made my one solitary one on our beck seem rather feeble.   The skunk cabbage was also in bloom in the bog.  By the side of the bog two nice young men (young men get nicer when you get to our age!) were building a new climbing frame in the childrens' play area.

The witch-hazel was in full flower and there were patches of blue scilla everywhere.   On the lake two pairs of ducks were courting rather loudly while a quiet coot pecked along the grass and took absolutely no notice of us as we passed.

After an hour's gentle walk we went into the restaurant and had lunch of a bowl of soup (butternut squash and carrot) a plate of sandwiches and a piece of apple cake - together with two cups of coffee.   A lovely journey home as we noted how quickly the hawthorn hedges are coming into leaf.

At home the farmer was eager to tell me that the first swallow has arrived on the farm and that a pair of little owls look as though they are nesting in one of our barns.   It's all happening folks.  And thanks to W for taking me along.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Beau Brummel.

I am beginning to suspect that a hen pheasant is looking for a nest site in our front garden.   She seems to spend all day there.   It is a walled garden and quite sheltered so a perfect spot once the plants grow a bit more.   There is a down side of course, but as the farmer says - it would be exactly the same if she nested in any hedge near to the farm.   That down side is the farm cats - would they go after the chicks?  

The moment all the chicks are hatched she takes them well away from the nest so that they learn quickly how to hide from any predators.   Of course, as it is a walled garden with a couple of gates in it, she wouldn't be able to get them out when they were very small unless we anticipated the day and left the gates open.  We shall see.

In the meantime we are amused to see the cock pheasant (he appears to have around half a dozen 'ladies') strutting his stuff.   He sticks his long tail high in the air, ruffles is feathers to perfection and marches up and down the garden path.   He has no fear of me as I watch him from a landing window - he fixes me with his beady eye and says 'look at me in all my finery'.   His little brown, rather dowdy partner scratches around his feet.   But of course, when you see her close up she is not dowdy at all, her feathers are beautifully patterned - she is just not such a show off.

And I am reminded of Beau Brummel and Burlington Bertie and all the other famous characters through the ages who have strutted their stuff with their powdered wigs and their fancy velvet trousers which left little to the imagination.   And then I think of the whole animal world - of the lion with his enormous mane gathering his pride of less spectacular wives around him. (and who does the work when it comes to a kill I hear you ask?)

Has it changed today with Homo Sapiens?   Well I suspect it has.  When I look around amongst the younger women they do seem to be the most show-off sex these days while the lads seem to go around in jeans and trainers.   And in my age group, while most of the women 'make an effort' as they say, the men tend to be a very conservative lot - in fact any man who 'dares' to be a bit of a show-off dress-wise is viewed with amusement.

I will try to get a photograph of the pair of them some time today if I can.   In the meantime - use your imagination and let it run riot.    

Monday 15 April 2013

She is here.

At last!   For the first time up here in North Yorkshire - for the first time since last September - we have had a couple of fine and warm days.   Already the farmer says that the grass is "greening up" and the cows are getting restless as they smell it growing.

On Saturday, to celebrate Spring's arrival, I walked a mile over our fields to visit my friend, M, who lives in the village.   She has been away for a few weeks in London, but is back now so I decided to walk over.   The farmer did offer to drive me there round by the road, but I felt like walking (the physiotherapist cautions me to be careful how far I walk because of an arthritic knee and ankle (sadly not on the same leg.)

Tess and I really enjoyed the walk and we noted the first signs of Spring.   My first marsh marigold - sorry it is such a rotten photograph but it is impossible to get any nearer and that is always the first clump to flower.  I also saw the first daisy, the first celandine and the first dandelion.   Isn't it odd how in a few weeks time we shall be moaning about the number of dandelions and daisies there are about and about the celandines in our front garden.
They are the first flowers of Spring and as such I welcome them.

Today, for the first time since the beginning of October, I was able to put my washing out on the washing line and I can see as I look through the hall window that it is dry.   So my next job will be ironing it - while the smell of Spring is still on it.

I sat for a couple of hours with M chatting about this and that.   Old friends are the very best sort aren't they?   I don't know what I would do without my friends.

Do you remember doing Venn diagrams at school (or teaching them, or even doing them for fun!)?   Well I just thought of my friends in terms of Venn diagrams.   There is my Friday morning coffee group of friends, my group of friends who meet for Poetry afternoons, my writing group friends, my socialising group of friends, my farming friends.   They all overlap - some are in just one circle, others are in several circles - some are in them all.  Thinks:  I'll abandon the venn diagram idea, it is getting too complicated.

After two hours chat I walked back - and no ill effects on the knee and ankle - lovely day.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Another review!

  Three reviews in one week - what is my blog coming to?   On Monday it was a review of our writers' group book, on Wednesday it was Robert Wilkinson's Poetry book and today - you can't say that I stick to one subject - it is Tanya's soap.

Tanya of Lovely Greens (see my side bar), who lives and runs her business from the Isle of Man, chose me and two other bloggers and has sent us all a present.   I chose to have a tablet of her hand-made soap (I already have a pot of her lip balm, which is excellent).  It arrived this morning and is called 'Sunshine' - well that in itself is enough to make it a joy to open the envelope.

It contains citronella, that wizard at deterring midgies (of which there will be plenty now that the temperature is rising), so I have already put it on the farm wash basin so that the farmer can use it to wash his hands before coming in to lunch.

So thank you Tanya - I am delighted with my present.  If it is as good as the lip balm then I shall be buying more.   I am all in favour of these small enterprises selling hand made goods - in fact I am all in favour of any independent businesses.   When we read of another so many thousand tons of meat being withdrawn from circulation in the light of the horse meat scandal it does make me want to stick with independent traders where I can.

We are lucky enough to have an excellent independent grocer/wine merchant/butcher/deli in our little market town.   It is a long-established business and is always crowded with shoppers.  They sell everything from the humble carrot through olives and various appetisers, a whole shelf of cheeses from at home and around Europe to rare breed beef, pork and lamb (this week Highland cattle, Gloucester Old Spot Pig and Jacob lamb).

Outside it is hazy but the sun is trying to shine.  I am about to make a coconut cake for the week-end but shall then don my gardening togs and take the wheelbarrow into the front garden for a spot of tidying up.  There is nothing like a spot of sunshine - be it in soap or in the outdoors - to perk one up.   So thank you Tanya - and thank you weather.  Maybe is shall need some form of liniment tonight for a bad gardening back.

Friday 12 April 2013


Friend W and I, along with dog Sophie, have been over to the edge of The Lakes today to meet our friends P and D in Kirby Lonsdale.   What a transformation in temperature.   We left here at a quarter to eleven this morning in fog and slight drizzle and with a temperature of 2.5 Celsius.   We went over the top of the Pennines - Ingleborough (one of the three peaks in the Pennines and no stranger on this site) still had snow here and there and the top was covered in cloud, but already - as we went Westward - the temperature at ground level had risen to around 8.   By the time we reached Kirby Lonsdale the temperature was 11.5Celsius, the sun was shining, the daffodils were in full bloom and even the lilac bush we passed on our walk to the Italian Restaurant where we meet, was showing big, fat buds.

Kirby Lonsdale is a delightful little town and the restaurant, Avanti, has the most delicious Italian food.   We both wished we had such a restaurant here in our little town.   We had a mooch round the shops, called into Booth's supermarket to top up on weekend shopping and then returned via Sedbergh, which meant going up towards the Howgill Fells - in full sunlight and looking so elegant, as they always do- crossing the River Rawthey, immortalised by the poet Basil Bunting and then home, crossing the watershed of the Pennines and coming back into a misty,  rather dismal 4.5. here back in Wensleydale.   A lovely day out.

Thursday 11 April 2013

A Veritable Feast.

I have bought myself a book of Poetry from Amazon (what's new, I hear you ask - I seem to be buying a book from Amazon most weeks and am in urgent need of another bookcase).  The book is 'Raining Quinces' by Robert Wilkinson.   Robert is my nephew by marriage and blogs under the name of Solitary Walker (see my side bar).

I love it!   There is something on every page - I hardly know which ones to mention.   In the poem from which the book takes its title, he has some superb similes and metaphors - apples like rosy pink lanterns; pumpkins like pregnant farmgirls; grapes are purple chandeliers and (my favourite) figs so wickedly feminine they seem barely legal.   There is plenty of imagery throughout the book.

There is pain too, particularly in the Section Blue Fruit, where Robert speaks of members of his family in a most moving way.

And there are poems which paint wonderful pictures of Spain - one of my favourites being Vie de la Plata.  And there is humour.  I am sure Robert will not mind me giving you one example of his humour in one of three limericks:

A winter Camino pilgrim
Abandoned the trail on a whim.
He boarded a train
And was not seen again
So his chance of redemption is slim.

There really is something for everyone in this volume.  I find it quite delightful and urge you to put in on your Birthday list or something.

The price is £6.26 plus postage.   

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Weather Lore

I understand from the weather man on television that our weather is at long last set to change at the week-end into something warmer, though wetter.  This cannot come soon enough for me as I do feel the cold greatly and as I look out of the window here in North Yorkshire all the stone walls have still got their lining of snow.   On Friday friend W and I are hoping to go over to Kirby Lonsdale to meet friends; this means driving over the Pennines watershed and past one of the three peaks, Ingleborough, and I fully expect that there will still be snow on the peaks over that way.

How much more knowledgeable we are (or think we are) these days when talking about the weather.   We glibly speak of cold fronts, warm fronts, isobars and the position of the gulf stream.  Obviously all this information has built up in our heads through years of watching the weather forecast on the television.   In the days of radio it was just that wonderful Shipping Forecast which went round the coasts of the British Isles in such a poetic way and then a forecast for the land, which added an air of mystery to the whole thing.   Now the weather is laid bare so to speak - even if it is not always an accurate forecast.

Looking at the weather last night the weather man showed an area of yellow pushing away the blue that has blanketed the UK for the past few weeks.  It looks as though that yellow will be over here by the week-end, all being well.   It has already reached mainland Europe, where my God-daughter goes today to celebrate her first wedding anniversary with a trip to Paris for a few days - it should be lovely and warm as they step out of Eurostar.  (unlike her wedding this time last year when it was bitterly cold).

I'm afraid that the farmer, and most of his friends, take only scant notice of the weather forecast - they do seem to rely on weather lore.   The one I have heard repeatedly over the last few weeks is that the weather will not get warmer until the wind direction changes - it has been in the East for weeks and our warm wind is the West wind.   Mrs Nesbitt (Denise - see my side bar) must have been suffering even worse than us as she lives so near that bitterly cold North Sea.

But all the farmers round here are avid sky watchers - there are clouds coming in from a certain direction;  they don't like the look of that haze over the moor;  there still feels to be a frosty nip in the air at night.  I suppose years of working the land in all weathers makes them all into realists.  In the days when tractors were open to the elements (and before that when you walked up and down with horses) wet weather gear (or old sacks) was essential.   Now the farmer has heat, air-conditioning and radio in his tractor cab and the only complaint this week as he begins harrowing his fields is that the radio station keeps slipping off channel when he turns at the end of the field! 

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Every dog has his day.

Or in this particular case 'her day'.    The death of Mrs Thatcher yesterday brought to a complete end the Thatcher era, although her 'reign' had been over for some years.   Love her or hate her (and there were plenty in both camps) I don't think there was a person in the whole country who had not been affected one way or the other by her policies.

But her end came - as it does to us all sooner or later - after years of extreme fragility.   None of us know how our lives will end and it seems reading today's papers (blanket coverage as you would expect) that her final years were not altogether happy ones.

When anyone famous dies I always think of the phrase 'every dog has his day' and I had no idea where it came from, so decided to spend a few minutes this morning looking it up.  If you know the following then ignore the next paragraph!

It comes from the book 'Lavengro' by George Borrow, who lived from 1803 to 1881.  The complete quotation reads:  'Youth will be served, every dog has his day, and mine has been a fine one.'  Borrow was a bit of a maverick figure it seems, travelling through many countries and studying their languages, although it also seems that he did tend to embroider the truth, so we don't really know where he did go.   He finally married a well to do widow and settled in Oulton Broad in Suffolk.   'Lavengro' is a book which mixes fact and fiction - he called it ' a dream, partly of study, partly of adventure' - seems he was a mystery fellow and he suffered from bouts of manic depression.   But this phrase above all others seems to have stood the test of time and is a perfect one I think to describe Mrs. Thatcher's life.

I expect there will be blanket coverage in blogland too of Mrs Thatcher's life and times, so enough said.

Our book launch went very well last night.   There were thirty people there and we sold a good number of books - the proceeds are for the Air Ambulance services in the area.  We held the launch in Wensley Village Hall, where there was a super buffet supper and it was a jolly evening.   The book is available by post for £6 if anyone is interested in buying one.

Monday 8 April 2013

Flights of Fancy.

Tonight sees the launch of Wensleydale Writers' new book, called
'Flights of Fancy' written by members and sold in aid of Great North and Yorkshire Air Ambulance Service. 

We are launching it in a local village hall.   The farmer is in charge of the wine and we have just been to collect it from our local, excellent wine shop - on sale or return.   We are very lucky to have in our little market town an absolutely excellent independent grocer who also deals in first class wines.

There will be a nice spread of food prepared by two local ladies, so it should be a splendid evening - and we do hope to sell a lot of books.   The Air Ambulance service is important round here when some places are quite remote.   It certainly helped me when I was suddenly ill two and a half years ago - the only trouble was I had an exciting ride in a helicopter and knew nothing about it.

Our pleasant, almost Spring weather of the weekend has disappeared once more and today there is a sharp Easterly wind blowing and the temperature is only four degrees Celsius.   Will that elusive Spring ever turn up?

Off to bed for an hour now.   About three times a year I have a very bad night - for no reason I can put my finger on.   Last night was just such a night and I only had about three hours sleep, so a couple of hours now should make me more able to face the celebrations tonight.  

Sunday 7 April 2013

The Games People Play.

At the coffee morning yesterday, friend W and I sat drinking our coffee and chatting about things.   Usually there are a lot of people there and we tend to circulate, but at least seven regulars were away so folk were a bit thin on the ground.

We were watching two little brothers, aged about two and three.  The village hall is used for Mother and Toddler Groups during the week and there is a goodly stock of very smart toys - large plastic lorries, diggers, trains etc., little bikes with pedals on the wheels, sets of bricks - all kinds of things.  They must come to the Mother and Toddler group because they knew exactly where to go to get access to the toys and in no time at all they had the big plastic boxes dragged out and all the toys laid out on the floor.   They completely emptied the box before deciding which one to choose - then scooted round the hall playing with it before coming back and choosing a different one.

We began to reminisce about when we were children and how few toys we had then.   Not that we missed them - all our contemporaries were the same - maybe two presents at Christmas and maybe one at birthday.   But my goodness me, did we enjoy our pressies.

Friend W made me laugh when telling me about her presents and the favourite games she played with her brother and sister.  They usually had a stock of marbles, with at least one large one.   They also had a set of wooden building blocks.   They would lay the blocks out on the table and put a small marble at each block - these were the pupils; then they would sit the large marble at a large block at the front of the 'class' and then they could play schools!

Another favourite game was to 'borrow' their Dad's date stamp and ink pad and play Libraries, using their books - so that all their books ended up with a series of dates stamped in the front.

The only present I remember was an orange coloured Tansad doll's pram one Christmas - I do remember pushing it up and down the main street on Christmas morning, hoping that someone would ask to see my doll. (I don't think anyone else was up and about at that time).

By the time my son came along children had far more presents and I seem to remember he had a great pile every year.   But I do also remember when he was very small - around two maybe - that he would take his presents out of their wrappers/boxes and then play with those rather than the presents. And there was a long time when his favourite toys were the baking tins I kept in the bottom oven of the Rayburn cooker!.

But the point I wanted to make about all these things (apart from my pram, which I remember I rapidly went off and returned to my pencil and paper) is that they were inventive.

Are today's toys as inventive?   I am not suggesting they are not - I don't know enough about them to make a judgement - but perhaps someone could enlighten me.  Do today's electronic things (which are largely a mystery to me) encourage that inventive spirit?

On a closing note, my mother, who was a child at the turn of the 19th century and who came from a poor family, used to speak of how her mother would make each of the girls (she was one of eight - three boys and five girls) a new doll from a clothes peg, dressed in scraps of fabric she had kept all year.   The dolls would have dresses, knickers and little hats and they would just about last up to the next Christmas.   The boys would have little wooden boats made by their father.   And that was it apart from an orange and a brazil nut.

Saturday 6 April 2013


A huge welcome to a visitor today - the sun!  And farewell (and good riddance) to that terrible East wind which has been cutting through our Yorkshire Dales all the way from Scandinavia for the last fortnight.

Today the sun is shining, the wind has disappeared and the temperature is 10 degrees Celsius as I write.   Tess and I have just
had a wander round the fields, looking at the sheep - or rather they have been looking at us - and looking for signs of Spring buds (none).   We were accompanied the whole way by the evocative sound of the curlew calling and the lapwing giving his 'peewit' call.

Although it is Saturday afternoon the farmer is busy.   He is spending the day draining away some of the water in the fields.  This morning he dug down to a drain and cleaned it out so that it was running again efficiently.   This afternoon he is laying a new drain in a very wet spot - well he is digging the channel and will then lay the drain in the bottom.   We walked down to have a look at him - Tess more interested in looking for rabbits.

The sheep are getting itchy and if you look round you can see plenty of wool hanging in the bottom branches of the bushes where they have pushed underneath.   It makes everywhere look so messy but of course, if this weather continues there will soon be leaves on the bushes to hide it.   I really do believe that the buds wait, ready to burst, and that two or three days of warm weather bring them out quickly.   The trouble is that the weather is only set to last a couple of days before it turns mild and wet.

This morning was our village's monthly coffee morning and look at what I won in the Treasure Island competition!   This beautiful bowl of fruit, freshly arranged by L, so thanks if you are reading this!  There were not so many people there this morning because it is also the Wensleydale Wander - an annual walk in the Dale organised by our local Round Table - and some villagers had gone on that.   Also it is the Easter holidays from school and that took care of a few more.   But W and I enjoyed it, as usual.   W calls for me in her car as I am unable to drive at the moment - I am very grateful for her help.  And there ae always folk to chat with - and that is what village life is all about isn't it?   Enjoy your weekend.



Thursday 4 April 2013


I promised that I would show you some of the things which have been found on the farm within easy distance of our beck - thus suggesting that they were dropped by people over the ages who were using the beck as a path for getting from A to B (this is obviously the lowest point and therefore the most sensible place to walk).

I am never sure which order the photographs are going to come up in, but if I just give you a description of each one, they are all so different that they will be easy to identify anyway.

The first, and definitely the most exciting, is this Neolithic stone
polished axe, circa 3000 BC most likely for cutting trees.   The source of the stone has not been determined but the museum which
identified the axe head said that the nearest stone like this was in the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District, which is a good seventy miles away from here.   There is a suggestion that it would have been much bigger and would have been strapped to a wooden handle and that it may have been thrown away because it had become too small.   But I find it fits beautifully into the hand, so I doubt that.  I like to think that when my father in law found it after he had ploughed the field, his was the first hand to touch it after that Neolithic Man.

The round lead whorl weight is a common find round here - we find them all the time.   I have seen these still being used in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco and in the Taurus mountains of Turkey.  They weigh down the wool as someone spins.

The horse bells date from the seventeenth century to Victorian times and would have been used for decorative purposes on horses working in the fields.

The clay pipe is another common find, but this one is interesting because it has a heart on the side.   I thought it was probably a love token to somebody's sweetheart, but there is a good clay pipe site on the internet and I find that the heart is a symbol of one of the early Farmworkers' Trade Unions.

The tiny flint knife was found in the front garden of my house where my son now lives (which is itself on the edge of the beck).  It has a very sharp edge and these are often found around our village. There is a 'but' though as all the walls surrounding the cottages here are dry stone walls, so the knife could have come in with a load of stone from somewhere else.

The coin, which is very corroded and difficult to see properly is most likely George IV judging from the hairstyle of the monarch.

Finally the carnelian necklace.   The farmer bought me the silver chain but the fob on it was found near to the beck in one of our fields.   It is silver and is hallmarked 1826 and the stone is a carnelian.   It was most likely from a watch chain.   There is a space at the back where there could have been a compass or even a lock of hair, but whatever was there has rotted away.  

I often wonder what else lies there waiting to be discovered - valuable or not.   There is just something exciting in picking up an object that was dropped all that time ago isn't there?



Wednesday 3 April 2013

Essential Farm Work.

The farmer is getting worried because we already have our holiday
booked and the essential work is piling up with little hope of getting on to the land.  (we do get this kind of thing every year I have to say and it always works out alright in the end.)

To this end he made a start today although the land is really not hard enough to be working on.   He has hired the massive muck-spreader from friend and farmer M, and is as I write spreading the enormous heap of manure which has stood in the pasture since the cattle were cleaned out.   It is well-matured and has served as a playground for a flock of sheep for the last two months - they seem to spend all day dashing up and down it (and these are not lambs!) not to speak of laying on it (it will be nice and warm as it ferments I suppose).

By lunch time he had completed two fields and he intends to work until it gets dark, just breaking off long enough for his tea.   I am never happy when he works hard like this - but I have to grin and bear it.   At least when he finishes it will be one thing to tick off his list. (and his tractor has a warm cab and a radio so he is quite comfortable).

On another topic - I have completed my notes for my Friday evening talk and practised it to make sure that it takes up the correct amount of time (40 minutes); I have sorted out quite a few artefacts which we have found on the edges of the beck over the years and I shall take these along for folk to look at too.   Now that the panic of preparation is over I am indeed looking forward to the whole thing.   If I find time tomorrow I will photograph some of the artefacts and put them on this blog.   None of them are valuable but they are an interesting look at life through the ages in this part of the world.

Keep warm out there.   It is still bitterly cold, although I did notice some daffodils out on my afternoon walk with Tess.   Spring will out even if the temperature tells it otherwise.