Friday 31 January 2014

Days pass

It is now ten days since my daughter in law had her new hip and she gets more mobile by the day.   She is still on crutches but can move more freely about the house and has had a walk out most days over the last few, apart from today when it has poured with rain all day.
The forecast for the weekend here in the Yorkshire Dales is appalling - rain and snow over six hundred feet (we are six hundred feet so I expect we shall get a mixture of both).  I have been out of the house each morning to sit with her and do odd jobs - most of the time we have just chatted and made a fuss of her two very affectionate cats who are happy to just sit around our feet on days like today.

I managed to fit in my poetry afternoon on Wednesday - as usual at friend W's house - and a lovely mix as ever.   We had bits of Tennyson's Mort d'Arthur, Shelley, Keats, The Jackdaw of Rheims,
Carol Ann Duffy.   Listening to poetry is so much more enjoyable than reading it isn't it?   It really is meant to be read aloud.

Again it seems as though the South West is going to suffer this weekend and Aberystwyth's students have been moved out of their seafront accommodation for the third or fourth time since  Christmas because of the expected tidal surge accompanied by high winds.   February is certainly coming in fiercely.

If you live in the South of the UK then take care this weekend - everyone else keep warm.   I'll be back soon to my daily blog - I really do miss it.   I shall now go off and read yours.

Monday 27 January 2014

Bird count.

My duties with my daughter in law don't begin until tomorrow, so there is time to put on a post and read others today.

Yesterday, the day of the Big Garden Bird Watch was cold and snowy so there were quite a lot of birds about at the bird table.   Our table has various hanging tubes - peanuts, niger seed, mixed seed, sunflower hearts, fat balls plus scraps on the bird table itself and coconut hanging in the rowan tree.  The table is separated from the paddock and the farmland by a holly hedge  which was full of sparrows - we could hear them making a racket but never saw one in the whole hour.

When I registered the results this morning the RSPB seemed astonished that I registered twenty chaffinches!   I could have told them, had there been a column for it, that we often have forty plus, the reason being that they gather beneath the mixed seed container.   Tits, goldfinches and the like feed on the mixed seed and for every seed they extract about a hundred fall to the ground, there to be snapped up by the waiting chaffinches.

We had a covering of snow yesterday and higher up - maybe a hundred feet or so - was the snow line.   We notice it every year, it runs straight through the middle of a friend's field - above the line the snow stays and below it (where we are) the snow goes.  In The Times this morning there is a photograph of the snow plough working in Reeth in Swaledale, which is all of seven miles from our farm, but importantly those seven miles are largely up.   It is probably three hundred feet higher than we are.

Today I am sure it will all be gone as it is rather a nice day with a gentle breeze and a weak sunshine.   But it is so very wet everywhere and we must all spare a thought for those poor people living on the Somerset levels, who have been flooded for weeks and look likely to be flooded for some time to come.  Driving through the Levels in the summer, every lane lined with willows, every field full of grazing cattle, it is easy to envy folk who are living in such picturesque surroundings.   No one envies them now.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Hens and other matters.

No new hens until the middle of February.   Friend S, who has been researching the possibility, rang me to say that her supplier has not P O L pullets ready until then.    As it happens, this is a good thing because from today I shall probably not find much time to blog in the coming week.

My daughter in law has had a new hip and came out of hospital yesterday (she only had the op on Wednesday), so I am going to be involved in keeping her company while my son goes to work.   Luckily we live close by and the farmer will drive me there each morning.  Since my black-out I am unable to drive and probably will not ever drive again.

Changing the subject slightly (although still involving feathers!) we seem to have a cock and two hen pheasants who have taken up permanent residence in our front, walled garden.   They have breakfast, lunch and supper at our bird table (and will be included in the Big Garden Bird Watch count this morning) and roost in the Scots pins at night.   They are scratching the soil all over and I am quite pleased about this as they should be working it over well.

Last year a hen pheasant nested just under the landing window in the same garden, hatched off a dozen chicks, took them out under the front gate into the field and (we hope) reared most of them.   The farmer saw her once or twice (he thought it was her anyway) shepherding her brood about.   I hope it is the same hen now and that she has survived the guns and will breed there again - so watch this space.

The day is horrible - windy, dark and wet.   Seems to me that there will be few birds around for the big bird count today.

Friday 24 January 2014


We are about to get some new hens.   The youngest of our hens is four years old and some of them are as old as ten.   Goldie, my favourite, I bred myself at least ten years ago.   She is not the farmer's favourite.

Here on a farm everything has to earn its keep and to the farmer Goldie certainly doesn't do that.   She tends to lay four or five eggs (which he gathers in every day) and then choose a nest where three or four eggs are awaiting collection and sit on those, with the idea of hatching them. I hear a loud squawking and know that he has discovered Goldie covering a few eggs and has thrown her off with suitable curses.

Once she disappeared for three weeks and he expressed a wish that she never return and that perhaps a fox had got her (oh yes, he can be pretty hard hearted where non-earners are concerned).   Then one lunchtime he called me out into the yard and there she was, clucking in a motherly fashion, with one sturdy chick in her wake.   And it turned out to be a cockerel!  The farmer searched the hedge bottom and found Goldie's nest site where there were thirteen unhatched eggs and one broken eggshell.

Our hens are now all past their laying best.   Our local hen producer advertises hens who lay all kinds of coloured eggs; we don't care what colour the shells are, we just want sturdy egg layers.   So we have feelers out and friend S is also on the lookout - so watch this space.   I have actually had to buy six eggs today and then when I use them, although they are advertised as 'free range' I find their yolks to be a pale yellow.   Our hens lay eggs with golden yolks because they roam the fields and eat the grass.  And the taste is far superior.

In anticipation the farmer is, as I write, cleaning out the hen hut.   I offered to help, or even do it myself.   He said I would be more of a hindrance than a help and I would be best out of the way.   I have made him promise 5 star accommodation rather than hostel - so we shall see.

Thursday 23 January 2014


We British are obsessed with the weather, but that is hardly surprising as it is so unpredictable.   We don't have set patterns like so many other parts of the world.   If the weathermen are to be believed, this is largely due to the positioning of the jet stream, which this year has chosen to swoop down South of the country (so far).

This week, so far, has been really Spring-like, warm hazy sun clearing mist, then the mist winning, then a reversal - all day; and not a breath of wind.   Friends P and D who live in the Lakes, only perhaps thirty five miles away (and less as the crow, or weather, flies) have had more or less continuous rain.

Now this morning we have a sharp wind blowing.   Five minutes ago it was raining slightly, now the sun is shining.

Unlike the States, where they are again experiencing extreme weather along that East Coast (they so often send it over here so please don't do it this time).  This morning's Times has a beautiful
Breughelesque picture of ten thousand competitors ice fishing on a frozen Lake Gull in Minnesota.   Schools and offices are shut and flights are cancelled as that East Coast faces its second big snowstorm of the year.   One wonders how thick the ice must be to support that number of people

I am reminded of a visit to China many years ago when the ice was a metre thick on the lake and cyclists and buses were taking a short cut across rather than going round.   Only once in my entire life can I remember the river in our village (the slow flowing Witham in Lincolnshire) freezing over so that us kids could play on it.   What excitement that caused.

If you live on that East coast - keep snug and warm - or get ice fishing - your choice.


Wednesday 22 January 2014

Harbingers of Spring.

Wherever we live in the Northern Hemisphere it is Winter and certainly this side of the Mediterranean it is more likely to be on the chilly side than the warm side.   Although compared with last Winter we are all enjoying a spell of warmish weather, it is also a very wet Winter and even the most optimistic of us knows that there is still February to get through before signs of Spring arrive.

Or is this so?   I went for my after-lunch walk today with Tess and my camera and I was surprised how many signs of the coming of Spring that I saw.

The ground in the paddock is very wet and the grass is growing.   When I went up into the bathroom the paddock was full of rooks.  I knew that if I tried going outside to photograph them they would all fly away, so I took the snap through the window - and caught only a fraction of them - all searching in the damp grass of the field for the larva of the crane fly - their favourite Winter food.

The pyracantha is still heavy with little red beads of berries - the favourite food of the many blackbirds around at present - and the birds have no need to eat them  .   Come a cold spell and I am sure they will disappear in the blink of an eye, but meanwhile they do look cheerful don't they?

The primroses are coming out in the garden, the winter aconites are out and there is even a rose coming into flower in the tub on the step (Gloire de Dijon I think).   Violas, winter jasmine and snowdrops complete the picture.

How can anyone feel anything but cheerful when the sun is shining and there is all this to see in just one garden?

Monday 20 January 2014

Two outings.

Now that I can no longer drive, any little outing is good for me as it stops me getting cabin fever.   Various friends are really good at ferrying me from A to B and also going with me to various places - particularly friend W, without whom life would often be very dull - so thank you W.   W had another miraculous cataract operation on Friday and is seeing much more clearly.   Isn't it wonderful what modern medicine can do these days?

Yesterday the farmer and I took Tess for a new smells walk - not far away from home but just a new walk.   By the time we got there it was raining on one side of the Dale and bright sunshine on the other.   The farmer walked at his pace with Tess and I walked behind at my pace - and when I spotted them in the distance on their way back I turned and retraced my footsteps.

We went into Swaledale and the little town of Reeth lay in that halfway house between the sun and the showers which served to intensify the colours.   Driving back along the moor after our walk, the farmer spotted two grouse standing on top of the heather on the skyline - I hope you can spot them too in the photograph.   Finally we came out into the village of Redmire with its lovely old tree on the village green - and then home again.

This morning we had to go into Hawes, which means a drive through Wensleydale on the most beautiful morning.   Penn Hill stood out through the mist against a blue sky but by the time we got to Lady Hill and the pines on top of the mound the sun was clearly
out and the Dale had put on its best bib and tucker.   Aren't we lucky to live in such a beautiful place?


Sunday 19 January 2014

Fergie tractors

Our farm got its first tractor in 1947.   As the farmer was only three at the time he obviously doesn't remember, but he does remember that horses were also used for long after that and I have a lovely photograph somewhere of him on their horse.   I will look for it and post it if I find it.

I managed a rotten photograph this morning of him on the Fergie after it had gone past where I was standing (he is not keen on having his photograph taken and I don't like to invade his privacy) - so you can only see it in the distance, but this is the tractor which was bought in 1947 and has been going strong ever since.   In fact we have two but at present the other one is not going (it seems to be either one or the other but never both.   But as we have two other tractors - a Same and a Massey which is almost new, these little runabouts are only used for little jobs like feeding the sheep).   He is very fond of his Fergies - and I think all Fergie owners feel the same.

Very dismal day here, grey, damp and rather warm but certainly there is no inspiration to do anything or go anywhere, so it looks as though it will be hunker down by the wood burner and read/crochet.   The snooker final tonight - I am not really a fan, although the farmer is, but I must say that last night's semi-final between McGuire and O'Sullivan was fast-moving and good to watch.

More snowdrops coming into bud by the day.  Fingers crossed for good weather.

Saturday 18 January 2014

While the cat's away...

The farmer is shooting today and has taken a packed lunch of ham sandwiches, pork pie, date and walnut cake and an orange, plus a flask of coffee and whisky (not in equal quantities).   It is a horrible day - hardly light and drizzling - but at least it is reasonably warm and the sort of weather where the pheasants might easily escape the guns (only one more shoot after today and then they will be safe for another year).

I spent an hour chatting on the telephone to a niece who lives in Derby - lovely chatty hour, then showered and dressed and it was lunch time.   For lunch I had the farmer's worst nightmare lunch - breaded tiger prawns cooked for ten minutes in a hot oven, with a bowl of ante-pasta from our lovely local deli.  Sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and stuffed black olives - all in flavoured olive oil.    It was heaven, washed down with a glass of white wine.

We have had our walk, Tess and I, and I have just lit the wood-burner.   The farmer will be in shortly and this evening it is the semi final of the snooker, so no prizes for guessing what he will be doing - and my crochet blanket should grow by a few squares too.

If I can manage to catch him unawares I shall post a photograph tomorrow of the farmer, who has started going to feed the sheep, on his beloved little grey Fergie .   He will try his best to evade capture, so don't bank on it.

Friday 17 January 2014


- a busy day.   Hospital (20 miles away) for a consultant's appointment at 9.50am.   We were there early and were seen early, and the outcome was that there has been an improvement in my ankle since the cortisone injection and the orthotics and we shall leave things as they are for six months before deciding about an operation.  We were on our way back home before my appointment time.

Hairdresser at lunch time, as always on Thursdays, blog and various jobs in the afternoon and then the local panto in the evening.   Our local amateur dramatics company - The Wensleydale Troupers put on a Panto every year around this time.   This year it was Robin Hood and we all (our Friday morning coffee group all went together) enjoyed it very much.   It is helped by the fact that everyone knows everyone.   But it is also good for the young people who want to get involved and who were all very good.   It takes some courage to stand up on stage and sing in front of a sell-out audience of around 150 folk every night, but if any of them were nervous I can assure them it didn't show.

Talking about it over our coffee this morning though, we had all been struck by the same thing.  H, the lady who introduced the Panto, asked that we stand for the Queen.   We were on the second row; the row in front was all youngsters of school age and they looked astonished and obviously didn't quite know what was going on.   When everyone else stood, they did too, but none of them sang and all of them looked acutely embarrassed.

When we were young it was a regular occurrence to sing The National Anthem before any such gathering and no-one had to introduce it - a roll on the piano and everyone stood up.   This happened at the end of a film in the cinema too and at virtually any public gathering.   Does this not happen any more?   Was singing it unusual - and, more importantly - does it matter?

But it was a fun evening.   They even handed out woolly pom-poms for us to throw on to the stage at the end.   And one young lady had reached her teenage years yesterday.   At the end 'King Richard'
announced this and we all sang Happy Birthday (all the youngsters knew that) - the young lady in question came to the front and clearly enjoyed every minute of it - no embarassment at all.   It was a pleasure to see her - she had already been noticeable by her acting ability - I shall keep my eye open for her name in lights one day!!

Thursday 16 January 2014

When does a virtue become a vice?

Ronald Blythe asks this question in his wonderful book "Borderland" .   Readers of my blog will know that I am a great fan of all his books, and in particular of the Wormingford Trilogy= a book to pick up and put down when you have just a couple of minutes reading time.   Not just one book actually, but as the name suggests a collection of three books, all articles reprinted from the back page of The Church Times to which he has been a contributor for many years.

So when does a virtue become a vice?   The instance he gives is when does being sensible and careful with money become being stingy?   He speaks of an old lady who still uses a conventional typewriter to write her letters - the tape is so old that the print is barely legible = and all for the price of a new reel.   Even when he gives her beautiful notepaper and envelopes as a present she doesn't use them, preferring to keep them for something special and still using scraps of paper to send notes.

I suppose another virtue/vice example is that of cleanliness.   Many folk like to keep their homes clean and tidy but there is a limit and going beyond it does tend to dissuade folk from calling.   Also where children are concerned it can be particularly damaging.   I remember going regularly on business to one house where there were children - three of just about school age - and there was never a toy or a toy box or any evidence of children about anywhere.   It never seemed natural to me.

Trying to keep clean and tidy is always a problem on the farm.   At any time of the year there will be something set to drive you crazy.
At haymaking it will be hayseeds, which get into the tiniest crevices in clothing, only to pop out as soon as the wearer steps indoors.   The same is true of straw and chaff at harvest.    And this time of the year it is mud.

The farm is very wet at the moment.   The grass has never stopped growing and the farmer moves the sheep around to keep it down.   Yesterday the sheep got out (as sheep do) and the neighbouring farmer rang to tell him.   That meant moving all the sheep to a new set of fields - give them plenty of grass to go at, says the farmer, and they might not stray for a day or two.

Now, this afternoon, the fog has come down and the farmer is staying in and finishing off one of his Christmas jig saw puzzles.  When I expressed surprise that he was in he said that it was so wet underfoot that there was nothing to do that wouldn't make the farm or the fields worse than they already were, so he was best off them and indoors.   Can't say I blame him.

So there is no chance of my being too super clean and tidy here at the moment - dogs and farmers both combine to make a muddy floor.   As for the virtue/vice of carefulness with money and stinginess - never enters my head I'm afraid.   What is money for if not to spend - save a bit for a rainy day by all means but don't go without one or two of life's little luxuries.

My first step in my campaign to update my image and make myself feel less of an old fogey began today with a new hairstyle - watch this space.

Incidentally, on the subject of farming, if you want to read an enthralling account of lambing go to Homestead Hill Farm on my side bar - they are in the throes of lambing and each post is absolutely fascinating.   How poor Barbara finds time to blog beats me.

Wednesday 15 January 2014


Half way through today we will be half way through January.   We are also, according to the news this morning, half way through Winter.   Farmers usually say that the end of January marks half way through the time when they might need silage to feed their herd indoors.   If they are lucky then the ground is dry enough for the cattle to go out towards the end of April, but often it is far too wet.   When it is wet, to use the farmer's expression, the cows waste more than they eat by trampling the grass down.   All I know is that at present the cows in our loose housing seem to be going through the silage at quite a rate of knots.

So far this Winter we have been very lucky up here in North Yorkshire  as far as the weather is concerned.   I keep saying that we are getting through the Winter very nicely (I have not had my heavy Winter coat on once yet) but the farmer is much more cautious, insisting that we shouldn't count our chickens until they are hatched.

Certainly the birds are in no doubt about the state of things.   The temperature is forecast to reach ten degrees up here today and in the two and a half hours I have been up a robin outside the window has never stopped singing.   Blackbirds, European and British, are foraging in the hedge bottom and will soon begin to think about nesting if this weather continues.   Here is a question for you?  Do European blackbirds recognise the difference between themselves and their British cousins?   Might they pair up if the warm weather continues - and if they do, then when the European ones begin to go home, what happens to the pair that already have eggs if one is British and one European?   You see our so-called problems with Europeans coming here to work are not just limited to human beings are they?

My dear sister-in-law, the widow of my beloved brother, is 92 tomorrow and although suffering from dementia is happily living in a retirement home.  It is many years since I saw her but I always send her flowers on her birthday.   She may not know who they are from but I am sure they will give her pleasure.   Surely that is the case with all present giving - the pleasure the present gives to the recipient is the important thing.

Monday 13 January 2014

"The gate hangs well...

My father had a good collection of 'bon mots' including this one.   He could never resist quoting it if we saw anyone hanging a new gate.   He always used to say, "The gate hangs well and hinders none, refresh and pay and travel on."   I looked it up on the internet a few minutes ago and it seems as though it is the name of a pub.   That figures as he was a great one for going for a long walk and calling half way round for a pint.

You will see from today's photograph that the farmer is taking advantage of a relatively warm, sunny day to re-hang a gate into his new field.   Tess and I walked round after lunch to photograph him.   I daren't let her off the lead as there are so many feisty rabbits around in this weather and I would have been calling her all the way home.   As it was we had a pleasant walk apart from my arm being almost pulled out of its socket once or twice.   I quoted my father's saying when I saw the farmer though.

On an entirely different subject I must tell you about an amusing story I read in the farmer's week end paper.   Mobile phones drive him mad at the best of times and he is totally unable to understand this constant need to communicate with one another.   If he ever gets to live alone I am afraid he will live a very solitary life apart from his outing to the cattle market every Friday!

So, back to mobile phones, and heckling as it happens.   Let's take the heckling first.   There is an article in the paper about Alfie Boe the singer.  He is poking about back stage and comes across an article about a singer who was on stage singing when someone at the back started to heckle him.   He tried to ignore it but he couldn't and finally got down off the stage, marched up to the heckler and punched him on the nose.   The man fell, hit his head and died.   The actor got back on the stage and finished his act!   He was of course arrested and taken to court but got off with a sentence of only a fortnight because the judge said he had been 'unnecessarily provoked!"

Boe himself also had an experience - this time involving a mobile phone.   He was singing in Cardiff and in between songs somebody;s mobile phone went off in the audience.   He walked off the stage, went up to her, took the phone and answered it - it was the woman's mother.   Boe told her that her daughter was in the theatre and that he was Alfie Boe - she didn't believe him so he turned to the audience and go them all to shout out his name to convince her - he said they had a nice conversation but that the woman whose phone it was was so embarrassed he is sure that she will never do it again.

All this reminded me that I once went to Stratford to see Coriolanus - I went with a friend and her boyfriend (who wasn't backward at coming forward).   He was having difficulty hearing and at one particularly quiet part shouted out "Pardon ?" - the cast on stage froze for a minute and then carried on - a little louder this time.

Sunday 12 January 2014

What is your opinion?

I was castigated by my son last night for always putting on posts which went on about the past.  It began when I put on a post about our writers' meeting, where we all wrote about going up into the loft, and all of us - without exception - wrote about finding things up there which brought back past memories.   In reply (you can read it in the comments a few posts back if you haven't already done so) he wrote a short (very short) story about finding a skeleton in his loft.

Now he says I write about childhood and the "suffering" of no central heating, water freezing in bedrooms etc. far too much.   Do you think this is true?   Do folk want to read about what life was like in 'the old days' or do we all want to look only forward and forget?

I feel it is important for these memories to be passed down the generations, but perhaps I am completely wrong.   Perhaps 'the past is the past' is the right way to go.

Certainly young folk today have so much more opportunity than we did (apart from the area of getting a job) - the world is their oyster.  I know of so many young folk who have gone off backpacking for a year - what a marvellous experience - or gone off to be an au-pair for a year before University as friend M's grand-daughter has just done.

I suppose each age is content with what it has - we can't possibly imagine what the next generation will have can we?   But please tell me - should I stop going on about the past and get 'modern'?

Have a good Sunday.    It was thick fog here but it is gradually clearing and I suspect the weak, watery sun may well get out for a while at least before the expected rain arrives.

You will see I did get my photographs on from yesterday - hope you enjoy them.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Glorious day.

Today the weather is glorious - bright sunshine, strong chilly breeze and wonderful for a walk if you wrap up well.

It is a long time since I walked round the fields as my bad ankle makes walking so difficult, but I couldn't resist giving it a go this afternoon with the farmer in attendance - and it was absolutely lovely.

I have taken a few photographs just to show you the farm in Winter.   As we set out, the farmer opened the door of the loose housing so that I could photograph the in-calf cows and heifers snug and warm and well-fed.

We passed the hen house and it was empty; instead the cockerel and all the hens were huddled in the chilly tractor shed looking thoroughly miserable.   I will never understand the mind of a hen (can you enlighten me here, John?) - why stand huddled in a cold, draughty shed when you could be in a snug, warm, strawed hen hut with plenty of food on hand?

Once in the pasture there was certainly a lot of water but on the whole it was not as wet as I expected it to be.   I took a long vista for you to where the sheep are grazing in the big Mill lane field and also a photograph of our beck, which is very high and fast-flowing, although nowhere near the top of the bank.

The wood was still and devoid of life of any kind and looked a cold, uninviting place, although I am sure there are plenty of rabbits over-wintering in there somewhere.

Half way up the big pasture we came to a long line of crab apple trees.  The wind has blown all the apples off and the water has washed them all into the gulley by the hedge.   They are indescribably sour, but if really cold weather comes then the hungry fieldfares and redwings will come in and finish them off, along with the dotting of solitary holly berries here and there.   Almost all of the Winter food has long gone - rosehips remain, but they are always the last to go.

**Sorry - blogger is not coming out to play today and I just can't show you my photographs - maybe tomorrow.  Thank you blogger - I managed to put these on effortlessly at eight o'clock this morning.

Friday 10 January 2014

What is to come?

I daren't say that there is a hint of Spring in the air today as so many of you in your comments yesterday remarked that Winter is on its way.   But it is certainly mild and there is no wind, so that it is a pleasure to walk about - as Tess and I did after my morning trip to market with the farmer and meeting with nine other friends for our morning coffee.   Friend W gave us all a bunch of daffodils as heralds of Spring - so thank you dear W - they are cheering up my kitchen.   Because the Aga is always on and it is warm in there flowers don't last all that long - but I can't bear to be parted from my favourite harbingers of Spring.   The buds are bursting already.

The birds are definitely behaving as though Spring is here; blackbirds are pairing up in the hedge bottom and the males are falling out like mad.   The farmer reminded me that one year, when there was a mild spell after Christmas, a pair of blackbirds built a nest and laid eggs in the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

The pheasants are also getting a bit fruity - males are fighting duels in the middle of the lane.   Why they can't settle their quarrels in the field I will never know, but there they are - mid road - flying up, pecking and squawking and not noticing when a vehicle comes along.   Our lane is always much more busy on market days as the local farmers take their stock to market - today is a particularly busy day with a sale of bulls, of heifers, calves - over forty in one class alone so that the market is very busy indeed.  It will be no surprise tomorrow if there are dead pheasants  on the side - falling out over a mate is far more important than getting out of the way of a vehicle.  The females have seen it all before and continue to scratch away on the grass verges, looking for grubs and seeds.   They seem to be saying, "let them fight it out amongst themselves, stupid things."

I think the farmer must have had a bit of a wood search since yesterday, just to catch me out.   For the last few weeks I have been lighting the woodburner after he has laid it with laths taken from the old parlour roof, which was replaced a few weeks ago - and boy were they slow to catch.   Today he had laid it with twigs gleaned from somewhere and it went up like a little bomb, roaring up the chimney.   I am sure he is somewhere having a good laugh at my expense.

I have booked our holiday today in Northumberland.   Neither of us wishes to go all that far; we would rather enjoy the scenery of a leisurely drive to our destination than push through heavily populated areas.   To get to Northumberland we can actually set off cross-country from our doorstep, calling in all our favourite places on the way.   You would think that as we are not going until May there would still be plenty of accommodation in the hotels up there, but they are in rather short supply and more than half of the rooms were already booked in the hotel of our choice  so we were right to book early.   Now I have four months to look forward to it.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Winter cold.

Looking out of the sitting room window this morning on to my garden, I see that I still have some flowers - schizostyllus, Christmas roses, roses both in my tubs by the door and on the climber on the wall, Winter jasmine, violas and a few bedraggled primroses.   I look at them and feast on the sight.

I think this is because I need an assurance that, however much the calendar tells me otherwise, Spring is not all that far away.

I look out of the bedroom window before I get up in the mornings at this time of year and search for signs that the mornings are getting just a little bit lighter - two and a half weeks since the shortest day so I should soon be able to detect something.   The same thing happens in the evenings, when the farmer is out giving the dogs their last walk of the day.   He has begun to comment, if the sky is clear, that the days are lengthening (he usually adds that old adage from round here 'as the days lengthen the storms strengthen').

Has it always been thus?   As a small child I lived in a house where central heating had not been heard of; we had electric light but that was all.   My mother cooked on an open range with a side oven, and when we went to bed we took a stone hot water bottle or an oven shelf wrapped in a bit of old sheeting.  To wash in the morning we had a jug and bowl in the bedroom on a washstand.   The jug was filled with warm water at night and if it had a film of ice on it in the morning then we would use the still slightly warm water from our hot water bottle for washing.

So I ask you - have we got soft?   Did Stone Age people long for the warmer, lighter days - or did they take Winter in their stride and just add another couple of layers of furs?   Do we just turn up the central heating rather than add another layer of clothing?

The farmer is very philosophical about the weather - his stock comment is "we 've just got to take what comes."   I shiver and freeze and chicken out of taking the dog for a walk if the weather is really bad.

Up here in the Yorkshire Dales we have got off lightly so far - no flooding, nowhere near tidal surges, as yet no snow (touch wood) and I feel for those folk who are living in flooded areas.

I for one will continue to search the garden for the first snowdrops.   They are beginning to push through their tiny blue/green spears and one or two are showing  white buds, their flowers as yet only hinted at.

I shall not buy any more Winter woollies - my eyes are firmly fixed on Spring.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Writers' club

This morning it was our monthly writers' meeting.   We meet in the Quaker Meeting House in our little town.   It is a lovely, peaceful, simple room and very conducive to writing.

There were ten of us this morning and the theme was 'I hadn't been up into the loft for ages'.  Almost all of us had managed something.
The ideas were really all the same - going up into the loft, looking at old things, reviving memories - and yet everyone managed to find a different angle of approach.   Interestingly, our chairman had written an eight-line poem and really it completely summed up all that had been said by everyone else.   A case of 'less is more' if ever there was one - it was such a clever poem.

Lofts are funny things aren't they?   We do not have one here on the farm.   Because our house has a sharp gable on the front I think it does not leave room for a loft, so we have a box room instead.   It houses the farm accounts for the last ten years, all stacked on shelves, the Christmas decorations put away in boxes each year, all the suitcases and the cleaning implements for my cleaner who comes each week.  In addition there are numerous boxes - we all agreed that men do tend to keep boxes in which things have been delivered (in case they need to go back?).  

So my 'loft material' - photographs, old letters, knick-knacks - all have to be kept in various places around the house.   All the photographs are kept in an old tin and I know if I lift the lid I am lost for the afternoon as I browse through my childhood and that of my son.

I wonder how folk kept memories alive before the days of photographs.   Sadly, I suspect that memories of those days are largely lost.  All I can urge is that if you have a collection of old photographs, now is the time to write on the back of every one - the rough date it was taken, the occasion, the people in the photograph and any other relevant information.   I did this when I first put them into the tin and any I find and add are written up before they go in.   I know that many of them will be completely unintelligible to folk who come after me without a few pointers in the right direction.

Tuesday 7 January 2014


Yesterday - January 6th - was epiphany, the day on which, in the Western Christian calendar, the Christchild was shown to the three wise men; the day on which I am always reminded of the TS Eliot poem      'A cold coming they had of it'.   The journey of the magi is always depicted as the three, all of differing races, shown on their camels arriving in full regalia dripping with gold.  We have had seven cards this year showing them and they all but one glisten with riches.

Ronald Blythe calls these 'neighbourly days', days when friends and neighbours splash through the mud and dress up to brave the cold and wet and call for a coffee.  This morning friend W and I sat for a large part of the morning in the bay window of a coffee house in our little town, drinking a cappucino and watching the world go by while at the same time agreeing that at our age we knew our idea of solving any of the world's many problems was pointless and that we were better not expressing many of our views as we were just as likely to be wrong as right - the answer (if indeed there was one) would probably lie in the middle.   It is a view which the farmer reached a long time ago.   He is very comfortable in his own skin, totally satisfied with his lot and on the whole lets things go over his head unless he can do something about them.

Friends call here, splashing through the water as it poured after lunch.   Tess and I got caught in the downpour and even she was glad to arrive home and scurried to get a place in front of the wood burner.  I put on the coffee pot (I am going to exceed my one cup a day rule today), we glance briefly at the Christmas jig-saw we have on the go, decide we can't do any without a lot of looking and settle down to soak up the heat and chat.

I have a grand-daughter marrying in the Summer and I am to organise the cake, so we talk about that in particular and then weddings and wedding cakes in general; do we prefer ones heavy with traditional fruit, iced and decorated or would we go for a giant chocolate one three tiers deep?   Luckily my grand-daughter is a traditionalist so already the cake is ordered and dealt with.

Our vet has given me a pocket diary with a matching pen.   I put it in my handbag with a resolution to keep it up this year.   When I meet with friends and an outing is discussed, they all get out their pocket diaries to see whether or not they are free.   I write the date on the back of my cheque book, look at the calendar when I get home and let them know.   Sheer laziness and inability to keep track of a diary on my part.   This year will be different I vow as I neatly put in all the events so far.   Next week our local amateur dramatic group are performing Robin Hood.   That goes firmly into the diary.  These groups have all but disappeared so they need our support.

Keep dry.

Monday 6 January 2014

Winter visitors

Saying goodbye to our swallows and warblers at the end of Summer and then welcoming the fieldfares and redwings to stay over the Winter, is not the end of the story.

Yesterday after lunch the farmer and I walked down the lane on a mild, damp day.   We have luckily escaped the worst of the weather here in the Dales and although it is wet quite a lot of the time and there have been gales, it is nothing compared to the poor folk in the South West of the country, who have been flooded out by either rivers bursting their banks or tidal surges.

Our walk was peppered with blackbirds, who have a silly habit of crossing the lane from hedge to hedge and flying only about a foot off the ground, which is why there are often fatalities as they get hit by cars.  

Every few yards yet another blackbird flew out and this morning there were a dozen or so at our bird table.   Yes, another Winter visitor has arrived from Northern Europe.   It is easy to spot the visitors - our native blackbirds have a yellow/orange bill while the incomers have a nondescript brownish bill.

So it is welcome blackbirds - you are welcome to visit our bird table for breakfast every morning because we love to see you.

Today is damp and breezy again - not actually raining but certainly it is not worth pegging out the washing, which is now drying on the Sheila Maid above the Aga.

Must go and prepare the lunch.   This eating of good, healthy, low calorie food certainly takes a lot of preparation.   Today it is lentil, tomato and onion soup followed by pasta with chicken breast, low fat cheese, mixed vegetables and a topping of parmesan.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Patrick Leigh Fermor

I have now finished the whole trilogy of A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road.   The first two are written by Patrick Leigh Fermor and the third was written by his literary executors after his death in 2011, using material from his diaries.  The three together tell the story of his walk, at the age of 18, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople.  It is fascinating reading not least because it tells the story of countries which are now so changed as to be unrecognisable.  If you like travel books these are for you.

Leigh Fermor was a real swashbuckling character.  I read somewhere that Artemis Cooper (one of his literary executors) invited him to come to dinner after he had been to some gathering where he had drunk 17 glasses of champagne.  She suggested at dinner that he might like water after all that bubbly but he said no, he would like a small whisky.   He half filled a tumbler and put in just a drop of water and after drinking that he drank a bottle of wine with his dinner!

He then suggested to the gathering that he should read them a couple of pages from Vasari's Lives of the Artists, which he did without a single stumble    As I think Tom (Stephenson on my side bar) will agree - they don't make them like that any more.   And he lived well into his nineties.

The reason I am reminded of him today is that the farmer is off shooting and I am on my own.   I shall light the woodburner when I go off my computer and I shall settle down with a cup of coffee to
watch Dirk Bogarde in 'Ill met by Moonlight' an old film DVD which my son has lent me about an escapade in Greece in the Second World War which was led by Leigh Fermor.  I might even allow myself a biscuit although I am trying hard to lose the excesses of Christmas and New Year.  Watercress sandwich for lunch - that should make me feel virtuous again.

Friday 3 January 2014

Can't wait any longer...

to get those pesky decorations down!   Gathering dust, cards falling about and asking to be gathered up, shrivelled holly only fit for putting on the fire, bits and bobs scattered around which looked lovely and Christmassy before the big day and now look cheap and tawdry - they have all come down today and been put back in their boxes and consigned to the boxroom for another year.

I have gathered in the hundred or so Christmas cards for a closer look.   I fasten a lot of them onto doors with blu-tak  - they are all now in a pile on the table and we shall sit and have a proper look through them tonight.  A dozen or so of them are home made and always a pleasure to admire.   Interestingly, we used to get just a smattering of charity cards, this year we have only had six which are not charity cards.   It would be interesting to know exactly how much of the cost of the card actually goes to the charity - but it certainly makes us all feel good buying them and supporting a charity. 

Tomorrow I shall walk down the pasture and gather in some hazel catkins and put them in a jug to remind me that Spring will not be forever coming.   I understand from the lunch time news that parts of the US have been hit by huge snow storms - often we get it after them, so it might well be storms this coming week and then snow.   Sorry to be such a Jonah.

One of the joys of blogging at this time of the year is that if we become housebound (at my age I do not go out when it is slippery if I can help it) we have always got masses of blogging friends to contact.

Keep warm and dry whether you are in the UK or the US  

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Lovely weather for ducks

Literally, as you will see from one of my photographs below!  Our beck (which flows between the two rows of alders in my new header photograph) is behaving in such a show-off way, thinking it is the Ouse and spreading out wherever it gets the least opportunity.

It is a nuisance, as many of these places involve the lane so that one has to keep slowing down and making waves.   But in some places it just spreads out into the surrounding low-lying field.

We have huge numbers of semi-wild ducks which have been bred specially for the duck shooting.   At the end of the shooting season, the end of January, those which survive and live to fight another day, just disperse and go completely wild.   Meanwhile, they descend upon our friend opposite and make their way in a waddling mass for his corn store, hoping to  squeeze through any gap in the door and get a free meal rather than make the trek back to their feeding station, much further away from their watery playground.

I always hope that huge numbers survive.   What is the point in shooting a duck which has hardly anything on it when it is plucked and prepared for the table?  But then I have always been known for my contrary views - I can't think what all the fuss is about because we have lost the Ashes - it's only a game isn't it - and weren't we brought up to understand that it is playing the game that matters rather than whether we win or lose?   But that's another story.