Wednesday 30 April 2014

Poetry Day = and missing something!

This afternoon was our monthly Poetry afternoon, as usual one of my favourite afternoons of the month.   Today there were nine of us and we read a wide variety of Poetry and Prose - such a lovely relaxation.   I always come home feeling refreshed after it.   So thank you W for hosting it in your conservatory each month.

Whilst I was out the Freeze-branding man came to freeze-brand the last few remaining cows before they go out.   Once they are out in the fields for the Summer (all the cows we have here are pregnant, so will go outside to await their big days) it is not so easy to catch them individually, so it is best to do the job before they go.

The farmer promised to get me a couple of photographs.  The one of the black and white Holstein cow in the crush is of the cow actually being freeze=branded.   It doesn't hurt at all and literally freezes a number on to the rump/rear end of the beast, which turns the hair white.  For a while the number is only faint, but after a time it shows up like the one the farmer has photographed on the brown and white Holstein. (Here is one he did earlier!)

Why do they need freeze-branding when they already have indentifying ear tags?   Well, when you think about it, when they are in the milking parlour they are given a ration of pelleted food to eat.   This ration is different depending upon the state of each individual cow - pregnancy, lactation, drying off - and the view which helps the man milking to give the ration correctly is obviously the rear end when they are standing at the milking machines.   Hence the number on the rear.

Very dull and slightly rainy this evening.   Set to get colder up here in the North over the next two days.  There is a major Food Festival in our little market town over the Bank Holiday week-end, so I do hope it is not typical bank holiday weather, because they get thousands of visitors and that brings a lot of trade to the area.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

An 'Almost Summer' Day.

Warm, sunny, still - almost Summer here today.   Tess and I had a wander round the fields after lunch.  (this morning is usually a trip into town with friend W for our pensions and coffee).  Everything is burgeoning.   The farmer is out 'dolling' (to use his dialect word) thistles and nettles in our newly-bought field.  He always leaves a few patches in scrubby land for the butterflies, but this field is to be a pasture for milk cows and they need nice, luscious grass.

My hens were taking full advantage of the lovely day, scrabbling about and having a dust bath in a dry patch.   We walked down the big pasture (see how green it is and how quickly it is growing).   In the distance the silage field is golden with dandelions and the hedge in between is covered in blackthorn blossom.   Maybe, if the frosts hold off, we shall have a good crop of sloes this year.

In the grass I find the first few flowers of stitchwort; soon the fields will be full of it.  And soon I come across the first of the giant thistles which litter this new field.   Patches of daisies and patches of grape hyacinth spring up in the middle of nowhere and - planted in our garden - a magnificent patch of red tulips, which give us pleasure every year.   We never lift them, they just seem to like their place and multiply every year.

A friend has suggested why we might be getting nightly visits from those tawny owls.   We feed the birds close to where they are and she thinks mice might come out at night after the remaining seed on the ground.   She may well be right as mice are their staple food.

Monday 28 April 2014

A Regular Visitor.

We have taken to leaving our curtains drawn back after it gets dark, because over the last few nights we have had an exciting visitor.

You may remember that some time ago I spoke of a tawny owl visiting the bird table just as it was getting dark, and sitting there for a while.   Well, now we have a pair of tawnies and each night they come to the telegraph pole quite close to our back window.   The male sits atop the pole and the female usually comes a short while after and sits on the actual telephone line.   Last night, as we sat watching them, they actually mated.

They presumably have a nest quite near (tawny owls usually nest in holes in trees and there are plenty of old trees around).   There are plenty of nesting birds around but somehow this pair are quite special.

There are chaffinches nesting in the fir tree in the front garden, and also there are hedge sparrows in the clematis along the wall.   Tree sparrows have taken over the bird box on the Scots Pine, as they usually do and at least two blackbirds are nesting in the privet hedge.   The house martins are back and are busy reinforcing their last year's nests under the North-facing eaves and every barn has its quota of swallows - including the garage.  We are now having to leave the car out until Autumn because the garage swallows make such a mess of it.

As dusk falls the air is full of bird song - particularly that of the blackbird.   What an exciting time of year it is.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Sunday again.

How quickly Sunday comes round.   I think the weeks fly by, probably because I am always busy and also because I do quite a few things on the same day each week.

Sunday is, supposedly, the 'day of rest' - not so here.  If the weather is reasonably clement I suppose the farmer will be weeding the front garden, carefully avoiding going anywhere near the pheasant sitting on her eggs.   But at the moment it is very dull and rain is forecast.

Last evening we had a pleasant visit from my son and his wife, who live near, and their guests, The Solitary Walker (see my side bar) and his wife, who happens to be my niece.  Nice chatty evening over a bottle of wine.  There was a lot of ground to be covered as we have not met 'in the flesh ' for around fifteen years.   But, funnily enough, blogging with him regularly makes it seem as though we have met quite often over that time.

I know I have said it before, but it is worth repeating, but a blogging 'friendship' with a like-minded person certainly adds a new dimension to the term 'friendship'.   How often I have met folk that I blog with and found that I get on really well with them, as though I have known them for a long time.

My job today is to prepare the 'books' for the accountant - it is our year end.  I keep putting it off, but today I am filled with determination.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Spring cleaning.

Years ago, today would have been just the kind of day to start one's Spring Cleaning.   I remember it well from my childhood.   All the furniture that it was possible to move would be dragged outside the back door.   The carpet would be taken up and draped across the clothes line.   The curtains would be taken down and washed.   Then the whole room would be cleaned.

Fitted carpets were unheard of, so there would have been either a wooden or a lino surround.   This would be scrubbed and then polished.   All the walls would be wiped down (my mother always tied a clean tea towel over a long-handled brush), and the ceiling, not forgetting to take down and wash the lamp shade (do you remember those bowls, which used to collect dead flies?)

Before it was put back the carpet would be beaten within an inch of its life.   Then all the furniture would be wiped with a wash leather wrung out in vinegary water, dried and then polished with 'proper' polish.   Paintwork, windows, skirtings and picture rails - all would be washed.  Curtains ironed and re-hung.

By the end of the day the room would be straight again if the housewife had chosen a warm, breezy day on which to do her Spring cleaning.   The smell of wallflowers in the garden always brings back to me the remembrance of a Spring cleaning day - because my mother's last act would be to pick a vase full of wallflowers from the garden and stand them in the centre of the newly polished table.   Then should would shut the door, sit down and have a cup of tea.   But every few minutes she would get up, open the door and peep in - just to give herself the satisfaction of seeing a job well done.

Me?  Life goes on.  My cleaning lady comes every Monday morning.  The window cleaner comes once a month.  About twice a year the farmer cleans the inside windows.  Once a year I send the curtains to the dry cleaners.  Does the house look or seem any dirtier?   I don't know.   I am too busy blogging to look around that much! 

Stop Press**  Female pheasant is sitting on the eggs outside the front door.

Thursday 24 April 2014

It is a beautiful, sunny, warm day with just enough damp in the air to make things grow - and grow they are - almost as you look at them.   Things have shot up in the garden and the daffodils, which usually last quite a long time, are fading quickly this year.

The stone wall opposite is looking good.   The waller is not there this morning and the wall looks very neat, so I am wondering if that is as high as he intends it to go.   If so there is a large pile of stones on our side of the wall, which will really inhibit us mowing the grass verge, so we shall see.  Also I don't think the wall is high enough to discourage sheep - they do seem to be fatally attracted to stone walls they can jump on - unless the farmer intends to put a wire fence on the field side.  If nobody collects the stones then I shall be tempted to make another rockery!
It is very sad to hear that Mark Shand, the conservationist, has died after a fall.    He did such a lot for elephants; folk like him are sadly missed.   He was the brother of the Duchess of Cornwall, who is married of course to Prince Charles.   It did strike me this morning, as I read the report in The Times, how apt Prince Charles's  'Carpe Diem' was to the situation.   A sudden death like that in the midst of important conservation work, brings such things close to home.

I may well add more to this later in the day, but now, as I sit here in my red spotted satin pyjamas, I had better go and have a shower and get dressed - somebody might come for eggs!

Wednesday 23 April 2014

This and that

Looking out of the Landing window I see that the farmer opposite has sent someone to mend his wall.  The professional chap doing it has taken the wall right back to ground level and is just starting to rebuild.   So often farmers just put the fallen stones back and all that happens is that the first hail/snow/gale brings the top layers off again.   When sheep were in the field last year and the wall was in such bad repair, the lambs kept getting out on to the road.   There is nothing more nimble or inquisitive than a young lamb intent on getting out - it is just not so good at getting back!   So now, when the sheep and lambs come in a few weeks time, we shalln't have to keep ringing up to say they are out on the road.

After a thoroughly wet day yesterday the sun is shining today and everything looks clean and new.   All my new pullets are laying well - too well.   After I have given all friends and relations eggs I have so many left that I don't know what to do with them.   The farmer has put a notice on the gate saying eggs for sale - we shall see whether that brings any customers in or not.   The eggs are very small, not much bigger than a pigeon's egg, but the yolks are golden yellow and the albumen in them is so strong that the egg white is very coagulant and poaching them produces a perfectly round egg.

Speaking of eggs - still no sign of a pheasant hen sitting on the nest in the front garden - there are now about eighteen eggs in it and from the colour of the eggs it really does look as though two different hens are laying there.

Off to the hairdressers at lunch time and then on to spend the afternoon with an old friend - what could be better?

Tuesday 22 April 2014

A Thoroughly Wet Day.

Easter is over - and with it the pleasant weather.   Today it is pouring with rain.   So when friend W and I went into our little market town, as we often do on a Tuesday morning, it was to find that the world and his wife had come into town.   This often happens up here when there is a wet day:  visitors to the area explore the countryside and walk the hills and then, when it rains, they come into town to have a look round.

Finding a Parking spot was rather more difficult than usual, but we did manage to get our favourite spot in the Coffee Shop - in the bay window, looking out over the Market Square so that we could watch The World and his Wife go past.

The area seems busier than usual already this year.  On July 5th, which is a Saturday, the Great Britain leg of the Tour de France comes straight through the middle of our town.   I understand that all available accommodation has been booked up for months - hotels, B and B's, Caravan Parks and the like - and all the shops are already full of memorabilia - mugs, stickers, fridge magnets, tea towels, wall posters - local businesses are going all out to make as much profit as possible from the Tour.   Good Luck to them I say.

I fully expect the whole thing to flash through the town and be gone, outriders, followers, tourists and the lot so there will be limited time to catch anybody to spend money in the town.

Most of the locals, certainly in our village which, rumour has it, is to be used as a Parking Spot, intend to spend the day closeted at home, missing it all.

I am now back home, the stove is lit and burning brightly, I am re-reading Vita Sackville-West's 'Twelve Days', which is about her trekking through the Persian Mountains on a mule in 1927.  She was certainly intrepid!

Monday 21 April 2014

Easter Monday and warm with it.

Yes, although there is a lot of cloud about, it is really quite warm outside.   There is a definite feeling that Spring is around.   I went into the yard just as the farmer let the cows out into the collecting yard so that he could give them more bedding.   The minute they came out their noses went up in the air, they were restless and they began to moo!   They can smell the grass and they want to be out in the fields.   They are all 'in calf' and shortly to produce their offspring, so I doubt they will go out until after that.  Our farmer neighbour, whose cows they are, collects them and takes them back 'home' about a fortnight before their due date.

All the sheep are now gone.   There was a lone one wandering the fields but we found out who it belonged to and the farmer came and collected it over the week-end.   Now the grass can all grow - in the meadows for the first cut silage and in the pastures for the influx of sheep and lambs and young cattle, which will come towards the end of May.

There is a problem with that pheasant's nest in our front garden, under the New Dawn climbing rose.   There appear to be two hen pheasants laying eggs in it as the eggs are increasing by two a day instead of one.  Already there are eighteen eggs there - too many to be successfully raised.   I just slipped quietly out of the front door to take a look and several of the eggs are brown which I think suggests a rogue hen but the farmer insists that pheasant eggs do vary in colour.   So watch this space for developments.

And no, to everyone who asked, none of the bunnies in our fields have brought chocolate for Easter.   I am not too keen on eating chocolate anyway, so I have forgiven them.  Cro (Magnon's Meanderings on my side bar) suggests that Rabbit Pie on the menu would be the answer.   I used to love it but somehow have gone off the idea over the years. 

My new header was taken on Easter Saturday, April 19th.  Glorious blue sky.

Sunday 20 April 2014

a quiet day

Yesterday, once my visitor had gone,  I had a quiet day.   The weather was pleasant and Tess and I walked round the fields after lunch looking at what had grown while we had been doing other things.

By the little barn, which always houses a few wood pigeons' nests, a bird of prey must have sat in wait, because on the grass was a heap of wood pigeon feathers = evidence that one bird's nest would be deprived of a Mum or Dad.   I would expect them to be hatched by now because the collared doves in our Scot's pines have dropped their egg shells on the grass - a sure sign that the babies are there.

Our new field, which the farmer bought in the Autumn, is overrun with rabbits, many of them in the main rabbit warren, which lies on the public footpath.   I just hope that no-one walks along in the dark because some of the holes are quite treacherous.   If you stand at the bottom of the field and clap your hands, rabbits run in all directions.

The first cows are out in the pastures.   Our farmer neighbour, whose cows we house, has his milking herd out, but the cows in our barn are heavily pregnant and will stay in a little longer.  I have taken a photograph which shows the cows in the far distance.  They are so faint it is hard to see them, but I rather liked a view of the farm you haven't seen before, so I left it in.

There are plenty of Spring flowers around but often you have to search in the undergrowth for them.  I found primroses, cowslips and honesty but all were shy of being photographed and were hiding in the undergrowth.

There is that sense in the air that everything is stirring.

Friday 18 April 2014

Sorry about the gap in posting.

I haven't posted on my blog this week because I have had a relative staying and we have been gadding off each day into our beautiful countryside.   Sometimes you need to do that in order to appreciate just what a beautiful area you live in.   And the weather was kind to us, although you wouldn't think so from my photographs.

On the first day we went over to the Lake District to have lunch with friends who live in Windermere.   Lovely lunch, lovely company, lovely sunlight and a really splendid journey both there and back again.   Coming back we decided to come up the Kirkstone Pass, along the side of Ullswater and out on the Penrith Road.

My niece was driving quite a large hire car with which she was unfamiliar, so it was a bit of a hairy drive, although I was most impressed with how well she handled it.   Half way up there was a giant hold-up when a bus and a lorry met on what is a very narrow road.   Over quite a long time, with wing mirrors folded in and inching along very slowly, they managed to get past and we were able to continue.   The view out over the hills and the Lake were spectacular.   I just wish the photographs showed just how sunny it was.

Yesterday we went to Barnard Castle, to The Bowes Museum (built by the Bowes family to which Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, belonged) to see an exhibition by Gavin Turk.   Large neon signs mounted on the walls of a pitch dark room - very impressive.   Outside, mounted on the top of the wall of the museum frontage itself was a number, Seven Billion,Two hundred and one million, nine hundred and sixty four thousand and two hundred and thirty eight - this being the specific median population of planet earth as the exhibition opened on January 24th 2014 at 6.30pm.   He says this is "a symbolic threshold inviting visitors to transcend through a fixed point in time bearing testimony to each individual's solitude, power and transient existence as part of a whole."

This kind of thing always leaves me wondering whether it is a case of 'the emperor's new clothes', although I must say I did find it quite interesting.

Much more to my liking was the Manet on show, the work which showed the execution of Maximillian in Mexico.   The work had been cut up and some parts very badly damaged.  Degas rescued some parts and the bits which were restorable have been stuck on to a new canvas - it is most impressive and I sat looking at it for a long time, marvelling at the workmanship and the way the onlooker was so drawn into the painting and to the figure of the man about to be shot.  Brilliant.

Then it was lunch in the lovely cafe at the Museum and out into Teesdale.  I love this area, mainly because it is so much bleaker than here in the Yorkshire Dales.  I took one photograph:  The River in the valley bottom is the Tees, just South of High Force.
We called in Middleton in Teesdale, a lovely village, ablaze with daffodils, but jolly remote, as are all the villages up here.

Now my niece has gone.   This afternoon, on another brilliantly sunny afternoon, I wandered round our fields, stopping to converse with two ponies in a field next to ours, looking at the marsh marigolds in the beck, laughing at the baby rabbits playing hide and seek with Tess, (who is useless at catching them) and thinking how jolly lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place, be able to walk through our own fields, and have such a lovely life.   I really must make the very best of it and enjoy every moment.

Oh, and it is good to be back in blogland!

Monday 14 April 2014

A find.

To the right of our porch, where it joins on to the front wall of the house, is a New Dawn climbing rose.   At its feet, aquelegia self-seed every year, and as the position faces due South they are already grown quite tall.

A hen pheasant has chosen this spot for her nest this year, laying one egg each day and carefully covering them with bits of straw and leaves, coming next morning to lay another egg.   The farmer found the nest yesterday, after seeing the hen pheasant in the front walled garden every day for the last week.

This morning, straight after breakfast, I crept out to look if she was on the nest.   She wasn't, so I took a couple of photographs for you to see.   They are neither of them good shots but I wanted to get out of her way as quickly as possible and I didn't wish to disturb anything.

A hen pheasant laid in the garden last year and I worried that she would never get the young ones out of the garden, because it has quite a high wall round it.   But she led them down to the gate, flew over and then encouraged them to go under the gate.   Pheasant always quit the nest site quickly after the chicks are hatched as there is quite a strong smell from the empty eggs and this can be picked up by the fox.

Another exciting thing to keep my eye on.

Sunday 13 April 2014

The Birds

It has arrived!  The first swallow showed up in the yard yesterday afternoon.   This morning it sits forlornly on the wire waiting for more to arrive.  But it is always good to see the first one - the one that has made that incredible journey all the  way from Africa and has arrived here, on the farm, where it was probably born last year, ready to scoop up 'mud' from the midden and repair and rebuild its nest ready to start breeding this year.  I always see it as the indisputable proof that Spring has arrived.

Our farmer neighbour, A, has a wild duck which has built a nest on top of his straw stack and is aready sitting on her eggs.   A uses this stack every day as bedding for his large dairy herd, which is still inside for Winter.   Now, being the countryman he is,  he is skirting round this part of the stack to leave the duck in relative peace so that she can bring off her brood.   I just hope that if she achieves this the ducklings will be able to make the perilous leap down to the barn floor before setting off for the beck fifty yards or so away.  Ducks really are daft when they choose where to make their nests.

This is not the case with most other birds (apart from the collared doves who, as usual, have built a nest in the Scots Pines:  it is windy today and we fully expect to find the nest, or at least the eggs, on the floor by tonight) and already we can see blackbirds furtively slipping into the holly hedges with nesting material.  There are even blackbirds scratching for worms on the lawn, which suggests there might even be babies.  Friends who were round last evening told us that both swallows and a blackbird nest in their barn and that during nesting time have a very uneasy relationship.

We always have a pair of pied wagtails in our farmyard.   They choose various places to nest, the most unusual being one year, when they had a nest, and reared their ,in the concrete mixer.
This year they are flitting about but as yet we haven't seen where they are building.

The poet, John Clare, loved the pied wagtail and wrote about it in a poem which is one of my favourites:

Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain,
And tittering tottering sideways he ne'er got straight again,
He stooped to get a worm and looked up to catch a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks trample where he would,
He waddled in the water pudge and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water pudge you waddle in and out,
Your home is nigh at hand and in the warm pigsty,
So little Master Wagtail I'll bid you a 'Goodbye'.

We are also lucky enough to have two pairs of yellow hammers who visit the bird table every day.   Both appear to nest in what we call our 'bottom fields', fields with fairly low hedges but which are thick and dense when they are in leaf, with a mixture of species - hawthorn, holly blackthorn, elder - so that there is plenty of cover.
Once the nesting season is well underway I like to walk along the hedgeside on my lunchtime walk with Tess, and I usually see them searching for food for their babies.

What an exciting (and renewing) time of year it is if you are interested in Nature with all its aspects.   Everything is starting again after a taxing winter, and with the arrival of that first swallow then we know things are well underway.

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday 12 April 2014

This and that

Last night, when the farmer went to shut in the hens at 8pm he surprised a big dog fox, who was just slinking past the hen hut.   They were all in, but the pop-hole was still open so they had a lucky escape.   He sloped off along the hedge side - all the pheasant were making such a racket and there wasn't a rabbit to be seen.  We shall have to be very careful in future - if there are cubs then I can see the vixen making visits during the day time, when my hens roam the fields, so in that case we shall have to keep them in.  Sadly, the farmer has told our 'man with a gun' - it seems hard but we really can't afford to let him just roam freely - I just wish he would go somewhere else so that I didn't have to worry about his demise.

                           * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Often, on a Saturday morning, I meet friend, W, and we go for a coffee (or two) into our little market town.   Today the farmer has gone off with the Wensleydale Society on their Ramble - this time into Swaledale.   They left at nine o'clock this morning as they were meeting in Muker, which is an hour's drive away.

As we were both going to be alone for lunch, friend W and I decided to go further afield for our coffee.   Where did we go?   We went into Swaledale ourselves and had coffee at a lovely centre where there is a cycle-hire shop with a bunk house above and a cafe next door.   All are owned by the same people.   They hire out bicycles and provide maps with selected routes to follow;  they provide food and accommodation; they run courses - it is a marvellous set-up.  The lunch menu looked so good that we decided to have a drive up the Dale and then return at lunch time.   Where did we go?   We went to Muker!   By the time we got there, the walkers had long gone - just their cars by the road-side let us know they were there somewhere.  We had a look round a craft shop and also round Swaledale Woollens, a shop which sells beautifully knitted woollies (there is a long tradition of knitting in the Dale).  There was a fine drizzle falling but I expect the hardy walkers hardly noticed it.   Then it was back home to collect in my washing which was no drier than when I put it out as the drizzle had spread to Wensleydale too.   My friend helped me to collect it in (thanks W) and it is up on the drier.   The sitting room fire is lit as I have friends S and J coming for a drink and a chat this evening.

Aren't these sudden decisions to go out to lunch the best sort?   A lovely surprise, a day well-passed in nice company, what could be better? 

Thursday 10 April 2014

Down on the farm.

At last the fertiliser is spread on all the fields.   They are all greening up, as they should do in Spring.   Today I notice that the field opposite, which is sown with wheat, is being fertilised.   A couple of days ago the farmer did all our fields - we are all grassland.   Last night there was a heavy dew so already some of the fertiliser will have begun to go into the ground.

I walked round the paddock with Tess so that I could take a photograph of the farmer on his Same tractor.  It is a pretty boring job riding up and down the fields while the spreader on  the back whizzes round and flings the little pellets here and there.  But what a difference it makes to the state of the grass when Summer comes - and with the price it is it jolly well needs to.

Tess of course was not even remotely interested in any of it.   She had only one thing on her mind - RABBITS.  The objects of her desire were down a certain hole and there she stood transfixed.   At least if gave me the chance at last to take a photograph of her since she has been for a hairdo.   You will see from the rabbit hole that it is fairly well hidden in the grass.  I suspect there were babies down there from the way her ears were going.

I saw what I thought was a dead rabbit in the middle of the paddock.   Luckily Tess didn't notice it at all.   I walked right up to it, only to see that it was crouched down, its terrified eyes looking at me as I bent down.   Suddenly it made a bolt for it.   I was sorry I had gone over to look because I really could see the terror there in its eyes.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Dreaded year end.

Well, we are round to the first week in April again and here on the farm that only means one thing - the financial year end; the date when all the 'books' have to be balanced, all the receipts and such like sorted, numbered, clipped together and put into a folder.   Then the whole lot is taken to the Accountant and I can heave a sigh of relief.

Every year I promise myself that I will balance each page of the ledger when I get to the bottom of the page, but I never do.   Consequently, I now have about four pages of figures to add up and - worse still - balance.    The first page worked like a dream but the second page - oh dear - I struggled with it all afternoon and finally gave up at tea time.   I should have known better than to continue once it didn't balance.   Experience tells me that it is better put away and seen afresh the next day.  So today's programme is plan the lunch and then get out the ledger.

Yesterday was the exercise class for the over sixties in the morning.   It doesn't get any easier, that's for sure.   One hour's concentrated exercise, non-stop, and we are all glad to sit down for a cup of tea at the end.  But it definitely is good to move about in an ordered way, stretching and exercising each muscle, taught by someone who knows what they are doing.

Two hen pheasants are mooching about the front walled garden.  I suspect they are both nesting somewhere in the undergrowth, like one did last year.  The vegetation is growing so quickly that there is plenty of cover for them.

We have a fine crop of baby rabbits in the fields.  I can see some of them gambolling in the paddock from the kitchen window, and one, braver than the rest, pops on to the lawn for his supper every night.  He is so pretty.  He had better watch out for the farm cats who at the moment seem to be existing on a diet exclusively made up of rabbit.   Their food is uneaten and when the farmer went in to feed them last night, both were stretched out asleep on the hay, both had huge stomachs and neither moved when he went into the barn.  There were numerous rabbit skins on the floor - they are certainly good at skinning their prey.   Pity the rabbit skin man doesn't still come round - we would make a fortune.

Ah well, the ledger calls.   Might have a coffee first - anything to put off the evil moment.   We are having bacon and egg for lunch so I can't make preparing lunch an excuse.

Monday 7 April 2014

A Poetry Evening.

Last night I went with a friend to a poetry evening at our Arts Centre.   There were twelve there, plus the poet and it was a pleasant evening.   We were invited to read our own poetry and I thought I would share with you one of the ones I read.   I have put it on my blog before, but it is a long time ago, so many of you will not have read it.  Before I put it on I'll fill you in on a bit of background.

My mother was one of eight, all born around the last decade of the nineteenth century.   All the girls went into service when they left school and the boys went to work on the railways, which were just coming into their own in fenland Lincolnshire.   Over the years all the family did well, married, settled down and began to prosper (it was the age when this happened to so many people).   All except the youngest boy, Tom.   He was the 'black sheep' and I adored him.

Tom worked on the railway, didn't marry, spent all his spare time (and money) in The Black Horse, where, when he ran out of cash he would dance on the table for the price of a pint of beer.

As night fell he became a poacher, the bane of the lives of Landowners, Gamekeepers and the like.   My mother lived in fear of meeting him when she got on the bus to go into town (he lived in the next village, where she had been born).   She had married the son of a Methodist Lay Preacher and we spent our lives keeping up appearances.

He once saw us on the bus, called out down the bus for us to go and sit with him, I ran and climbed on his knee, my mother came reluctantly.  I remember he gave me a ten shilling note - a lot of money in those days.  I worked out what I would spend it on when I got into town.   My mother made me put it in the Penny Bank!

When he died everyone in the village came to his funeral.   The local hunt came, on horseback, and lined the route to the church;  all the Landowners and Gamekeepers turned up and they gave him a rousing send off.   My father always said they came to thank God that at last they had got him out of their hair!

A Lincolnshire Poacher.

Dance on the table Tommy,
while away the night,
'til a clear moon rises
and the stars add their light.
Then you'll blend with the hedgerow
and you''ll set about your work
and you'll reach the flowing river
where the silver salmon lurk.

Dance on the table Tommy,
dance the night away;
when the night's at its blackest
and the dawn's far away -
you'll be down in the furrow
with the wild, brown hare.
You'll be hoping that he's caught
in your cruel snare.

Dance on the table Tommy,
faster, faster still,
'til the cold, white frost
sparkles bright on the hill.
Then you're out with your sack
and your killing twine.
Pheasant tastes delicious
with a good, red wine.

Dance on the table Tommy,
fill your skin with ale,
for you won't go a-poaching
'til the sky turns pale.
Then you'll set off with your rod
and hope no-one's about
and you'll end up with a catch
of a fat, brown trout.

Dance on the table Tommy,
Tommy'll dance no more;
for the old Grim Reaper
has scythed him to the floor.
And the Lords and the Gamekeepers,
who heard his Passing Bell,
will be there at his funeral
to say their last farewell.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Facts, facts and more facts

Was it Mr Gradgrind in Hard Times who sang the praises of facts?
I'm not a Dickens fan but I seem to remember something along those lines from the days when I had to study him whether I liked it or not.

Well, my head takes in such a lot of facts.   On nights when sleep evades me, I get up, make a Horlicks and sit in the warm kitchen.   By my chair is my special bookshelf, filled with cookery books and books to dib into; books by Ronald Blythe, Roger Deakin, John Lister-Kaye, Robert Macfarlane; books I can pick up, open at random, read a page or two and then put away.

I read so many fascinating things, think, 'I'll remember that,' and promptly forget it.   So here, while they are fresh in my mind are several facts I read a couple of nights ago when I couldn't sleep -

Did you know that James Joyce, arguably Ireland's best writer of all time, had so many rejection slips before he had any work accepted, that he papered the loo walls with them?

The Mayor of Naples. a city notorious for appallingly bad driving, was once asked what exactly did the traffic lights mean.   He said that if the light was at red you had to be a bit careful with how you proceeded, if it was at green it was fine to go along as you were.   What about the yellow, somebody asked?    That is just for gaiety was his answer.

The third fact concerns the composer, John Ireland, who died in 1962.   He was asked out to lunch by Geoffrey Shaw.   Shaw had in his pocket a poem written in 1664 by the poet, Samuel Crossman.
He passed it across to Ireland and asked whether the poem would be suitable for setting to music.   Ireland read it and then, turning over the menu in the restaurant, wrote a tune there and then.   It was what is now one of the favourite hymns - 'My song is love unknown.'

I expect, like me, you will forget all of this in a short while.   But it makes interesting reading, doesn't it?

Saturday 5 April 2014

A Two day gap.

I am sorry about missing two days of blogging, but I really do not know where the time has gone.   Both days have been full from dawn to dusk; not a bad thing in itself, but there has really been no time to think of a post, let alone put it on to the computer.

However, after a busy morning, I am here this afternoon, so time to catch up.

A visit to our Feed Merchant's (I always go along for the ride) brought about a sight that I haven't seen for a long while.   I would love to have a photograph to show you, but - isn't it always the way - I hadn't taken my camera.  At the entrance to a farm along the way, a mole-catcher was advertising his trade and his expertise.   When I was a child in Lincolnshire countryside, where moles were always a major problem, most farmers employed a mole-catcher and there was great competition for trade, hence the need to advertise.

Moles are a problem on grassland, particularly in the time coming up to silaging.   The little heaps of soil they push up in the grass are really no good at all mixed in with the grass for silage.   So somehow moles have to be cut down (they will never be eradicated, thank goodness - they are really quite pretty little creatures and it seems sad that they have to be 'hunted' at all - but farmers can't afford to be sentimental.)

The farm we passed had the mole catcher's advert along the barbed wire by the gate - a long line of dead moles hung on the wire.   There were about twenty of them strung up - the mole catcher obviously saying 'employ me and I will do a good job at getting rid of moles on your land'.

When I was a child the row would include stoats, weasels, crows, jackdaws, moles, rats, mice, squirrels - anything in fact which posed any kind of threat to the farmer.   Times have certainly changed, although the farmer has been catching very large mice all week as they have been attacking the wild bird food - ten so far.


Something silly is happening to the font type on my machine.   It is probably my fault (most things on the computer are) , but I shall not try to change it in case I lose the lot.   Apologies.

It was our monthly village coffee morning this morning and as usual I went with friend W.   For our village there was a jolly good turnout of forty five folks.   J and A who set the tables  make a really good job of it.   There are nice plates of biscuits, nice white china and this morning, each table had a tiny vase holding a couple of daffodils and a sprig of forsythia.    The last coffee morning was on S. David' Day and each table had a tiny Welsh flag. It is touches like this which make the whole thing special.

We had a few moments quiet during the morning to remember three villagers, two  had lived in the village and the other only left a short time ago.   All have died during the past week.   They were all a good age (one was 108) but they will all be missed.

Also this morning I was thinking of a lady who is usually very active in our coffee morning but who is this morning undergoing an operation for breast cancer.   Two other friends have also been diagnosed with the disease and both of them have their operations on Wednesday morning.   Such events serve to remind us to make hay while the sun shines and get on with our lives, enjoying every minute.


Let's finish on a more cheerful note.   Tonight, all the Friday morning coffee gang are going out for a Chinese to say good-bye to friend H, who leaves us on Monday to live down South, nearer to her children.   This is about the third farewell dinner we have had because, although she lives in a delightful cottage very near to the centre of our little town, her sale took an awful long time to go through.   Selling and moving can be such a stressful time can't it?


On that note I shall sign off.   A joint of ham is in the Aga cooking for tomorrow's lunch.   I shall read a few blogs on my sidebar, then I shall light the woodburner and settle down to watch the Grand National horserace on the television.   Tomorrow evening we go to a Poetry evening in our Arts Centre, where a local poet is reading her work and asking for others to read theirs too.   I shall look through and choose one or two of mine, but whether I read them will depend upon the prevailing atmosphere on the night.

Wednesday 2 April 2014


Looking at the apple selection on the fruit counter in our grocers this morning I was reminded yet again of how the selection of apples has changed.

There were New Zealand cox's, rather small British cox's,  Bramley cooking apples, tasteless Golden Delicious (a misnomer if ever there was one) and Braeburn apples from goodness knows where.

What has happened to our native varieties?   Where are the Worcester Pearmaines, the Beauty of Kent, the Ellison's Orange Pippin, the Newton Wonder, the Russett, the Beauty of Bath and all the rest?

At certain times of the year our Greengrocery stall on the market will have Beauty of Bath 'the first apples of the season' and later on they will have 'russetts', almost the last apples of the season.   And, of course, they always have Bramleys.   But all other apples seem to have vanished.

Or have they?  Once, about forty years ago, we were in a small town in the Vale of Evesham (a major fruit-growing area), and we came across a greengrocers with a whole row of baskets outside, each one containing an 'old-fashioned' apple.  They were various sizes, some were a bit scabby - but by golly the ones we bought were far more tasty than anything I have tasted since.

When I was a child we had an Ellison's Orange Pippin and a Beauty of Bath tree in our garden.   They tasted divine.   Was that my young, unclouded palate or have apples all become the same size, the same taste, clones to suit some E U regulation?

If anyone lives in a fruit growing area, perhaps they can answer the question for me.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Diary for April 1st

It is our Writers Group in the morning.   I thought I would post the piece I have written for tomorrow, to see what you think of it:

An owl came to our bird table last night.   Just as dusk was falling he landed on a post, stretched, shook himself and settled down to watch.   His colour and his shape in the half-light told us he was a tawny.   An owl, a secret bird of the night.

Little threat to the gamekeeper, on the watch for small mammals and, in season, small birds, he goes about his business largely unthreatened.   He is more likely to die of starvation in a snowy Winter than persecution, unlike his cousins the buzzards and the sparrow-hawks, who flaunt their intentions in broad daylight.

We know where he nests in a hole in the old ash tree.    Sometimes he sits by the entrance and just watches.   But his keen eye, keener than we can ever imagine, can pick up the movement in the grass which will provide a tasty snack for him or his mate.

In the fields celandine are in full bloom.   Every bank facing South has a hundred bright suns.   We hate them when they are in our gardens, but in the fields they bring such joy.

Echoing that brightness is the marsh marigold, the kingcup or water-blob of our childhood; so common then but rarer now in its wild form.   Yet it thrives along our beck for weeks until finally it gives way to the paler water iris, in past times a good indication that you were nearing a ford, where footsteps had broken off pieces of iris root which had floated downstream and rooted along the bank.

In the hedgerow the yellowhammer has started to sing - a little bit o' bread and no cheese - a cheerful song.   And yesterday he came to the bird table for seed, easily identified by his bright yellow head.   It seems as though yellow is the colour of the month so far.

On the farm, the land is far too wet to get on with the really important jobs of fertilising, harrowing, rolling, getting the pastures ready for the cows to go out and the meadows ready for silaging.   Instead the farmer is busy collecting all the sticks and branches brought down by the Winter's gales, tidying up the fields, repairing fences and, best of all, having huge bonfires.   This love of bonfires goes back through the ages and I for one never tire of standing by the fire with my pitchfork and poking back bits of escaping wood.