Saturday 28 February 2015

Coffee Morning

On a nice, bright, breezy late winter's day, what was nicer than to go out at ten o'clock and meet friends at a Coffee Morning in the Village Hall.   There is always one on the first Saturday in the month for Church funds, but this was an extra one put in for a Primary School in an African village.   A husband and wife in the village give this school a lot of support and go out often to see how they are getting along - and to take extras they have collected.

There were a lot of African artefacts there, books, cakes, marmalade,  guess the square, and of course coffee and biscuits.  We sat chatting for an hour before coming home.   I hope they made a good amount of money for such a worthy cause.   I know just how much these African children value their education as a way out of the poverty trap.

I always think that when education first became compulsory in the UK the children would feel much the same - and what a long way we have come since then.

My two photographs today show our little village church which is directly opposite the other photograph which is of the village Memorial Hall where the coffee morning was held.

Friday 27 February 2015


One of the problems with doing things at the same time each week is that it makes the weeks go by so quickly - and they go quickly enough as one gets older without any help from  that.

Coffee day in Penley's Bistro with 'the gang' (only six of us this morning so less noise than usual), was followed by a quick look round the market.  What I love about the market is the way it reflects the seasons.   This is particularly true of the greengrocery stall - Carricks - which is an absolutely glorious array even in the depths of Winter.   Gradually more and more produce emerges as the days lengthen.   Forced rhubarb (a bit of an acquired taste which the farmer doesn't care for) has appeared and I think looks rather tasty.   I have bought some today and intend to serve it for tea this afternoon -warm with custard.

That reminds me instantly of rhubarb and custard lollipops - the lollipops of my childhood.   They were like giant humbugs on sticks - transparent red 'boiled sweet' on one side and creamy yellow 'custard on the other.   Do you remember them?

And sucker and dabs, a bag of yellow lemonade powder and a 'dab' on a stick - a flat toffee for dipping in the powder.   And 'tobacco' a bag of toasted coconut which tasted absolutely delicious.   I could go on - there were so many to choose from - and no thought of what they were doing to our teeth.   But back to the greengrocery stall.

The new season's broccoli, tiny stems fastened together with elastic bands, steamed in under five minutes and eaten at lunch time today with fried potatoes and a hot pork and apple pie.   Rather than go on at length I have just thought - next Friday I will endeavour to take a photograph of the stall, weather permitting.

Sufficient to say that the said broccoli was absolutely delicious and I am pretty sure the rhubarb will be too.   Now I am just eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first asparagus - then it will be out with the thin bread and plenty of butter.

What about you, dear readers - do you have favourite Spring foods after the rather boring casseroles and soups of Winter?   If so, please do share them with us.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Mutton versus Lamb.

There are thousands of sheep around here.   In the Dales it is almost all grassland and something has to eat the grass.   In the Summer the dairy herds are out, their daily intake carefully controlled by electric fences; but all year round the fields are full of sheep.   Their woolly coats withstand any weather (they even survive being dug out of snowdrifts most of the time) and their main aim in life seems to be eat, eat, eat.  By this time of year the grass is of poor quality and to keep the sheep in good condition they have to have a supplement - in our case 'sheep nuts'.  Nigel, the sheep nuts man, rang last night to say he is delivering two tons of nuts some time today.   As the sheep eat two bags of this, plus two bales of silage every day, this should keep them going for a while.   They now recognise the sound of the tractor coming with their daily rations and run to meet it.  Sadly last week, they got too near and the farmer accidentally ran over and killed one of the sheep.

It has always been a mystery to me where all the sheep-meat goes.   Lamb is very expensive in the shops here.   We rarely eat it, mainly because the farmer finds it rather fatty (and I am hardly a meat-eater).   But when I went into our Deli/Butchery the other day I found that he had started to keep mutton - easily recognisable by its much darker coloured meat.   I spoke to him about it and he said it was becoming very popular.   When I was a child I don't really remember much lamb, I think it was almost all mutton.

Do you eat lamb - or mutton for that matter - and if so, what do you do with it other than serve it up as chops or a roast joint?

**If you are working from an old computer and getting cross because it it slow - I have read in The Times this morning that 7 years is the same as 85 in computer terms, so be forgiving.  (After my exercise class yesterday I felt twenty years younger so maybe you should start taking it on walks round the block!) 

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Lots of exercise

Every Wednesday afternoon I go to an over sixties exercise class.  Sometimes there are twenty there, sometimes only ten - the latter today but by golly after an hour's concentrated exercise to music I come out feeling as though the blood is coursing through my veins faster than it has done all week.  I wish the class was held every day.   Yes, I know there is nothing to stop me doing the exercises at home, but the flesh is weak and we are all agreed that we never do.   Still, once a week is better than not at all and I continue to go and to thoroughly enjoy it.   There is a lovely lady who always bakes small cakes for us at the end (coffee and walnut today) - defeats the object I suppose but it is such a treat.   Today I took her some of my hens eggs as a thank you for the lovely treats.

My hens are laying very well; in fact they have not stopped throughout the Winter and now that the nights are drawing out the farmer has to make a special journey down to the hen house after tea because before tea they are roaming far and wide across the fields.   I do hope I am not tempting fate by saying it, but in twenty years we have never lost a hen to the foxes and yet we know there are always foxes about.    But then, judging from the large numbers of half grown bunnies, who are still a bit green behind the ears and probably easy to catch, perhaps that is the easy option for Mr and Mrs Fox rather than a scraggy old hen (many of the remaining hens are eight years old - I think it is probably three years since we had any new ones.)

Yesterday the weather was absolutely dreadful with blizzards and a bitterly cold wind.   Today it is much warmer and has been a pleasant day.   But tomorrow a wet day is forecast again and I notice that the two cornfields directly opposite our farm are actually standing in water.   The farmer says they have always been very wet fields, but the farm concerned changed hands the year before last and the farmer who bought it has a very large milking herd of cows and needs a lot of corn for feed, so he can't afford to leave these fields as grass (they are too far from the farm to make it viable for him to bring the cows there to pasture every day in Summer).

Do you eat Wensleydale cheese?   It is produced in Hawes, about fifteen miles from here along through Wensleydale and most of the dairy farmers round here sell their milk to the  Wensleydale Cheese Creamery.  The Creamery is a real success story having been subject to a management buy-out some years ago when it was threatened with closure.   Now there is also a restaurant and a shop where you can buy every sort of  cheese they produce - all are available to sample before buying.

Well that is from exercise, through coffee and walnut cakes, to hens, foxes, farms and then to cheese.   I think that is enough to keep us going for today, don't you?

Tuesday 24 February 2015

A Lazy Life

Dogs have a good life if they are part of a loving family, don't they?
I suppose Border terriers are really working dogs, bred originally in the Border area between England and Scotland for ratting and rabbitting.   But although a few are still working dogs, round here many are kept as household pets and apart from her morning and evening walks round the fields, when she chases (but never catches) the rabbits and pheasants, Tess is here in the house with me.

Her habits during the day never vary - especially in the Winter months.   She moves with the sun (if it is shining).   As we face South she can always find a sun beam on a carpet somewhere that is wide enough to stretch out on and take full advantage of.   If the sun stops shining then it is basket by the Aga (complete with schnoozle blanket) or in front of the woodburner if it is going.

Her favourite place of all is the stairs and she moves from landing to landing as the sun moves round.   Yesterday friend D, just before he went home to Windermere, took a photograph of her and this morning he e mailed it to me.   I have stored it so safely in my computer that I can't access it!!   So I have just taken another of her in exactly the same place - and here it is.  She is to be cut in a fortnight and will become a completely different dog on the outside - on the inside she will remain the same, a dog who loves rabbits, food and home comforts  in that order.

Monday 23 February 2015

A New Hub

How fortunate that a very computer literate friend should coincide with the arrival of my new computer hub!   Within ten minutes D had the old hub disconnected and the new one up and running.  If I had been on my own when it arrived I would just have got the box opened in that time - it really was the most complicated arrangement and as I needed the box to return the old hub it had to be opened carefully.   So very sincere thanks to D for making it all look so easy.

I think this is Winter's last serious fling.   It is bitterly cold, there is a strong wind blowing and one minute the sun is shining and the next there is a snow blizzard.  It is a good day for staying in and I am doing just that - the wood burner is going merrily, I have a new book to read, there is enough food left for lunch without me preparing anything and my new tumble drier is taking care of the guest room bedclothes.

Looking at the week's weather forecast there does seem to be sun shining to some extent every day.  As our house faces due South this means that it warms up nicely and it also means that the solar panels are working and providing us with some electricity.   But I can do without the snow showers in between thank-you.

Sunday 22 February 2015

An early posting.

An early posting today before I get ready for my friends coming.  I have just switched on to do my Tesco order for the week, so this is going on at the same time.

The ham turned out first class and is all ready for carving.   I have to make the salad and I forgot tomatoes but am too lazy to go back into town for them so shall do without them.   The almond tart for sweet at lunch time is made and the farmer sampled a bit for tea last night so I know that is alright too.   Now I am really looking forward to seeing my friends - I just hope that the snow on the high ground doesn't deter them from coming; whichever way them come they have to cross the watershed of the Pennines.

When we go to bed we always put Tess in her crate and shut the door.   She sleeps by the Aga so she is always nice and warm.   Last night the farm cats were at the door asking for milk and in his rush to give i n to their demands (he is besotted with Blackie!) he forgot to close the crate door.   Luckily I forgot to take my medication and had to come down stairs.   I met a rather worried Tess at the bottom of the stairs wondering whether to come up and jump on the bed or whether to sneak into the sitting room and curl up on the settee in front of the wood burner.   I think, from the look on her face, she was quite relieved to have all her choices removed.
Now I shall press on with my soup-making (parsnip and apple ) very warming on such a cold day.   Have a good weekend.

Saturday 21 February 2015


This post is going on early today as I sit here waiting for the thirty minutes 'simmering time' for my ham before I transfer it to the bottom oven of my Aga.   Friend W had given me a nice recipe for roasting it entirely but I find on reading my Aga book that the oven is probably too hot to do that, so it is recommended I simmer it slowly and then roast it for a little while at the end, which is what I am doing.

Friends are coming tomorrow and staying overnight.  I am trying to get well-prepared so that I can spend time chatting to them rather than doing things in the kitchen.   They are driving over from the Lakes and the weather forecast for tomorrow suggests there may be snow coming in from the West so I am hoping they beat it all the way here.

Mind you, snow is relative isn't it?   I was speaking by telephone to a friend in Boston (Mass) last evening - they have eight feet (yes, I did say eight feet) of snow and another storm is forecast for today when another four feet could accumulate.   They seemed quite matter of fact about it, saying that as long as they kept the path to the front door clear the mail would be delivered.

I think we over here get in too much of a panic about snow.   I remember  waking up in Moscow to a very heavy snowfall and going out to find the roads quite clear.   Eventually our bus came up behind the reason - a giant snow-blower was sucking up the snow and throwing it into the Moscow River.

So far today (9.17am) it is a lovely sunny day with a light breeze.   I suspect a very cold wind but at present I don't intend to open the door to find out (I am still clad in a dressing gown).

Enjoy your Saturday.

Friday 20 February 2015

Wintry scenes

The weather here is suddenly turning wintry again; after a few weeks of warmer weather colder weather is on its way.  This became quite evident as we went across from East to West today to meet our God-daughter in Sedbergh for lunch.  Luckily we had no hold-ups as we were late setting off after coffee with friends on our usual Friday morning meet and then a quick shop on the market with the farmer.

We arrived at our cafe destination to meet her only to find that a poor man was stretched out on the floor of the cafe attached to a defibrillator and attended by a couple of paramedics. We went to find another venue feeling it best to let the paramedics get on with their business without us sitting there eating our lunch - although there were a few other folk doing just that.   I hope the man (who didn't look all that old) is now on the road to recovery.

Coming home again in dull weather I took a few photographs to show you.   When you see photographs in travel magazines and the like they always show the Dales at its best - but in the Winter it can be quite a dull, forbidding place, and so it was today in many ways.

At Cotter Force the farmer took Tess for a walk (and a paddle) while I just took some photographs.   Both of these becks are tributaries of the River Ure, OUR river, which eventually flows into the Ouse and then into the Humber estuary.

As we came back through Hawes - a little market town which is a long way from anywhere, always busy - even in the depths of Winter - I took a photograph because it struck me that it is a perfect example of so many places up here where the cottages were all built long before the advent of the motor vehicle and hardly anyone has a garage although many of the homes have probably got two or three cars between them.   This means that the quite narrow roads are always lined with parked cars.   I wonder what our ancestors would think to it now.

There is a stretch of road after Hawes where the Ure makes an absolutely perfect meander and I managed to catch a bit of it, although again there is a blur because the farmer was going at his usual fast pace and I was photographing as we went, with the window open.


Thursday 19 February 2015

Computers - who'ld have them?

After fighting long and hard against entering the computerised world, I embraced it and now wonder how I ever managed without it.   The same goes for entry into blogland, where I now count my almost daily 'chats' to blog friends as an essential part of my life.

But as soon as I leave my comfort zone I realise how very little I really know about computers.

This morning an expected e mail arrived from B.B., giving the venue, time and menu for a meal we are having with a group of friends in a fortnight.   Luckily I immediately wrote down the menu on a piece of paper so that the farmer  could scrutinise it at lunch time and tell me his choices.   Then I clicked on 'move to folder', opened a new folder and intended to save both the e mail and the menu into that folder.  Instead it disappeared into thin air, never to be seen again.   I have searched everywhere but there is no sign of any of it.   We have chosen our meals, now I have to find another method of getting those choices to the chap organising the get together. (I don't have his e mail address without the e mail).

Similarly, the hub on my broadband has been playing naughty tricks for several weeks.   Some mornings the broadband light is not its usual blue and I can't get onto broadband.   On the advice of my daughter-in-law (after I had waited an hour in the middle of the day in a queue) I rang this morning at eight o'clock to request a new hub.

I got through immediately and the very pleasant lady listened to my request.. Sadly, I found her accent very hard to decipher and equally sadly she found my deafness hard to cope with.   Between us we bumbled through and got there in the end - a new hub will arrive on Monday or Tuesday.  At the end of our conversation she said, "Thank you so much for your patience with me".   And I could only reply "and thank you for your patience with my deafness too."
I am pretty sure that this meant that both of us started off today feeling good about ourselves.   Politness and a pleasant attitude costs nothing.   

Oh would that all the present problems in the world could be solved so easily.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

This and that.

Another lovely poetry afternoon, hosted as usual by friend W.  Two regulars were ill with one or an other of the various bugs going around and two more regulars were out on a visit somewhere else.   We had one new member and there were eight of us.   We had a lovely afternoon with a great selection of poetry - lots of Roger Mcgough today for some reason,several bits of Longfellow's Hiawatha, which friend J reads from the most beautiful leather-bound book with each page edged in gold leaf - a joy to look at and a joy to listen to.

Interestingly we got to talking about books we had read and enjoyed and found that one of our members just didn't 'do' books at all.   I personally cannot imagine life without several books 'on the go'.  I really have quite an eclectic taste I think.

I like good novels and am always on the look out for new authors here - so if anyone likes to recommend a new author (to me) I shall be grateful.   At present I am ploughing through Salley Vickers and enjoying her books immensely.

I also love travel books.   One of the first travel books I ever read was Maurice le Toumelin's 'Kurun Around the World' - about a solo voyage.   I must have read it a dozen times until my father remarked that he thought I was always going to be an 'armchair traveller'. (sadly when I had enough money to travel he had already died, so he never knew the places I went to).

Colin Thubron, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and many others have caught my imagination.   I just couldn't manage without my books - they are as important to me as food.

Friend W demonstrated a marvellous window vacuum cleaner she has bought to clean the windows (and the shower) inside - a window cleaner comes to do the outside.  I came straight home and suggested to the farmer that we buy one and have just send an e mail to friends P and D, who are coming for the week-end, to see if they can collect if I do 'click and collect'.  It is so easy now that we all have computers - old methods have become so laborious.

The bug I have been fighting for several days seems to have been almost defeated - so hopefully my body's fighting mechanism is up to full strength.

Until tomorrow - keep warm.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Two P's

Two important P's today.   First of all it is Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday - the start of Lent.   Traditionally - and the farmer is great on Tradition - we eat Pancakes to eat up all the eggs, milk and flour before the fasting of Lent begins and we do without them. (nobody has told my hens to stop laying during the period).  So we had pancakes at lunchtime, with lemon juice and sugar  - three each.   Now I wish I had only eaten two as I have overeaten.

Then there is the other P.   My old friend P has a really Red Letter Birthday on Sunday, the kind that although you want to celebrate it you really wish you hadn't got to it.   He and his partner D are coming over from their home in the Lakes and staying until Monday - so today is 'Bake a Birthday Cake' Day.  The mixing Bowl is ready, the ingredients are lined up on the kitchen work top, the cake baker is in the Aga, I weigh out the butter and then discover that the electric beaters are in the dishwasher which has just been switched on and will take over an hour.   So here is another P - Postpone the cake baking until the washing up is finished.

The farmer whose sheep we over-winter is on his way to treat their feet yet again; so many of then are limping and it gets so painful for them.   He should arrive any time now and the farmer is getting in the sheep - an easy job at this time of the year.   The sheep are now well used to sheep nuts every morning and the farmer only has to shake the bag and the whole flock is tumbling over itself to get there first.       Keep warm.   Until tomorrow.

Monday 16 February 2015


My father was a clever man and never stopped learning throughout his eighty odd years of life.   He was born before the time when it was possible to pull oneself up by the bootlaces, so after an elementary education he left school and learned from books.   His first job was as an errand-boy to a Chemist in the city where we lived, but he got the sack after a few months because he tried to deliver a bottle of medicine to a house and when there was no-one in he put the bottle through the letter-box with disastrous consequences.  (not so clever in that area then!)

For the rest of his working life he served an apprenticeship and later became the Foreman in a Lathe Department of an Engineering Works.   But his lifetime's passion was always poetry and he could recite reams of it by heart.

I now have most of his Poetry books, all neatly inscribed with his name 'John Smithson' and among these my favourite is Palgrave's Golden Treasury of Songs and lyrics.

It is our Poetry afternoon on Wednesday and I thought I would choose just poetry my father liked for this month.   One piece I have chosen is by Thomas Gray - the same man who wrote Gray's Elegy.    But the poem I have chosen is rather more light-hearted in spite of its macabre ending.   It is 'Ode on a Favourite Cat Drowned in a tub of Goldfishes.'  I have chosen it a)because I love it and b) because it contains one of my Dad's 'quote lines' - he had one for every occasion.   In this case 'a favourite has no friend.'

Another of his beloved poems was the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Sunday mornings meant an extra lie in bed, but we had to be up in time for Sunday School.   Dad would wake us up by drawing back the curtains and calling Awake!  For Morning in the Bowl of Night has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight!  So you see, I was brought up on poetry, which is probably why I love it so much.

This year we are going to Suffolk for our holiday and I have turned to my old faithful Ronald Blythe to read up various interesting bits of information to put in my notebook on 'Things to do in Suffolk',
one of which is to locate the grave of Edward Fitzgerald, the poet who translated The Rubaiyat in 1859.

Fitzgeral, a very rich man who never had need to work, lived his whole life in Suffolk and is buried there.
Omar Khayyam lived from the eleventh to the twelfth century and is buried in what was then Persia.   By the time Fitzgerald came along Khayyam's grave had fallen into complete ruins.  Our man in Tehran tackled the Shah of Persia about the state of the grave and the Shah was mystified - after all the poet had been dead for a thousand years.   A journalist from the Illustrated London News went to see it and brought back some rose hips which were propagated at Kew and a rose bush was planted on Fitzgerald's grave, but so many people came and took cuttings that it never flourished.

In the nineteen seventies the then Shah sent six new rose bushes to be planted round Fitsgerald's grave and the Persian ambassador was told to come and plant them.   All the local dignitaries arrived to welcome him at a set time but he was very late, having stopped en route for a good lunch.    His only comment was 'Oh you English, you are so punctual'.

To end the story here is a lovely joke about the Shah, when he was in Edinburgh on a formal occasion and found himself sitting next to an Edinburgh lady.   She asked,
"They tell me Sire that in your country you worship the sun?"
The Shah replied,
"So would you madam if you had ever seen it!"

Sunday 15 February 2015


Having just returned from our Sunday afternoon walk with Tess - just down the lane and back as it is a dull, misty and very cold day today - I thought I would just post a few observations.   Of course, sod's law, I didn;t think to take my camera, otherwise the observations could be accompanied by a few shots.

The bogged down tractor in the wet ploughed field has been pulled out and presumably taken back to the farm.   In that field there was a flock of at least three hundred plovers (lapwings) and strangely, as is usual, all were standing pointing in the same direction (east).
As we passed they rose into the air as one, circled round a couple of times and then landed again more or less where they were before.

Just opposite the field there is a barn conversion where friends live.   They run a 5-site caravan park, which is closed in Winter of course but in the hedge on the lane side are two tall holly bushes which were absolutely thick with bright red berries.   We have been watching these two bushes all winter and nothing has taken the berries.   Today we stop in amazement to find that every single berry has gone.   They were there two days ago, today they have all been eaten.   We suspect fieldfares or redwings - I shall look out for the owner of the site  in the hopes that she saw the culprits.  Now that winter begins to draw to a close I suspect that food is getting scarce, although we have found that blackbirds - who in a bad winter come to our bird table in huge numbers - are quite happy to forage in the hedge bottom for grubs this year.   The only thing that attracts them to the table is a handful of dried meal worms, and then they see who can eat the most while the robin dashes in for a quick mouthful at every opportunity.

Our fertiliser (20:10:10) has arrived and now the farmer is waiting for the ground to dry up enough for it to be spread.   Only a matter of around twelve weeks before we go on holiday and during that time there is the tidying up of all the  bits of wood that have fallen from the trees (several days job), the manure spreading, the harrowing, the rolling, the fertiliser spreading - a couple of weeks today it will be March and the first marsh marigolds should begin to appear (my favourites - I always watch for the first one in the beck).  I read in a book today that in Suffolk they are called Bull- Daisies; that's a name I haven't heard before.

The farmer picked up two large cones (from the tree identification book I am pretty sure they are pine cones of some kind) when he was out shooting the other week.   I have had them on the kitchen window sill and this morning five winged seeds have fallen out.   Now he intends to sow them in a pot and put them outside of course.
I suspect that it is not easy to grow them like this - does anyone have any tips (e.g. would they be better if we froze them overnight?). 

Saturday 14 February 2015

On this day.

Did you know that it is thirty-one years tomorrow since Jane Torville and Christopher Dean performed their absolutely perfect ice dance at  the Olympic Games and earned a Gold Medal to 'Bolero'.   I'm sure that none of us who watched that performance will ever forget its perfection - but by golly, thirty-one years ago - that makes me feel old.

The Register columns in the Times are always full of pretty useless information and the piece that interested me this morning is this:
In 1838 Margaret Knight - the inventor of the SQUARE BOTTOMED PAPER BAG - was born in the US.   I must say that that is one of the things that I thought had just evolved (folding the bottom of a bit of brown paper up and glueing it down) rather than having to be invented.   I wonder how many more 'inventions' fit into this category.

The weather here on the farm is what the farmer calls 'claggy' - best explained by the fact that he noticed this morning that the farmer who farms a little further down the lane must have got his tractor and plough stuck in one of his low fields sometime yesterday - it is well and truly 'clagged down' and will need hauling out at some point.

Also, the sun is very capricious at the moment.   If you had been up and around when it rose this morning just before eight o'clock, you would have seen the landscape bathed in sunlight.   But not so since nine o'clock, when a mist rolled in and the sky became cloudy.   Since then it is not a particularly nice day.   In fact it meant that friend W and I had to sit in a market square cafe this morning drinking coffee and eating toasted teacake (we are trying out these at all the cafes in town and giving them marks out of ten (today's got around 9) and watching the world go by from the comfort of our chairs.

Other news is that I have bought a new non-stick pan as my previous one had recently decided to retire from nonstickness and stick like billyoh.   After all, it is Pancake Day on Tuesday and who wants to be creating Pancakes at speed with a pan that sticks?  I tried it out at lunch time with a Frittata (using up a courgette, a red pepper, some mushrooms, two slices of dry cure bacon and a red onion) and it worked perfectly, sliding the finished article out on to the plate without a hitch.

Thursday 12 February 2015

The Three P's

Every time I open the freezer door a Pizza shouts at me.   It has been in there since Christmas when all three of my grandchildren came for a meal, along with their Dad and step mum and their various partners.   With the exception of their step mum they are all either vegetarian or vegan (some eat fish).  I laid on a buffet and covered the table with pizzas straight out of the oven, quiches with no meat or fish content. jacket potatoes, various salads and crisps, trifles etc. and they ate the lot.    I forgot one pizza and it still sits in the freezer.   Neither the farmer nor I really care for pizza.   But today I bit the bullet, made a batch of good vegetable soup garnished with strips of crisp dry-cured bacon and then had the pizza for afters. 

Eating it I thought about my parents - in the days when I lived at home they had certainly never even heard of pizza.   As for pasta - well we did occasionally have macaroni cheese or macaroni pudding but pasta with a sauce?? - are you joking.

For tea we had pastrami sandwiches with a salad tonight - they hadn't heard of that either, I am absolutely sure.   In fact, if I am honest, much of what the farmer and I eat would be looked upon with grave suspicion by my mother (who was an excellent cook ).
Did we ever have rice as a side dish?   You're joking of course - but by golly, I defy anyone to make a better rice pudding than she made, in the side oven of an open range, with full cream milk, and left ticking over all morning to form a good thick brown crust, then thinned down a little at lunch time with a drop of single cream.   Heaven in a bowl.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Oh would some power,

I think all of us know at least part of the Robert Burns poem:

O would some power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us and foolishes wishes.
What airs in dress and grace would leave us, and even devotion.

One of the suggestions for him writing the poem is that he stood behind a lady of some standing in church and noticed a louse crawling round her hat.

Of course, as I said yesterday, I had an hour of reading Ronald Blythe while waiting for an appointment to mend my hearing aid and I thought how appropriate this little poem was to what I was reading.

He says - at what point does carefulness with money become stinginess?   Do we use sticky labels on used envelopes because we really can't afford new envelopes - or has it become a bit of a fetish?   As he says - he knew someone who had an aunt who said, 'never marry a man who unties the string on parcels.'

When you think about it, we never ever actually see ourselves do we?   All we ever get is a mirror image - or maybe a photograph (when usually we are posing to some extent).   And do we ever actually sit down and analyse our characters or do we go blithely through life being 'ourselves'?   And does it really matter?   I am not sure that we have the ability to change these things anyway - to a large extent they are fashioned during our upbringing.

Oh golly - it is a good job I don't sit every day in a hospital waiting room for an hour - too much introspection like this would drive me mad.

Oh, and incidentally, yes I did get my hearing aid mended and I am hearing you loud and clear!

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Hospital visits.

This morning was spent in a Bistro drinking  coffee with friend,W, amd then after a quick 'meal deal' Tesco lunch it was off to hospital for two routine visits.

The first of these was to the Hearing Clinic, which is held every Tuesday afternoon in our local Cottage Hospital in Richmond (our nearest town).    No appointment is necessary and the clinic is from 1.30 to 3.30pm.   The trouble is that every one tries to get there early and the cards with a number on are not put out until 1pm.   Luckily I got card three so only had to be there until around 2.15pm (arrived at 1.45 to be in good time.)  The other job I had to do there was to go to the X Ray Department and make an appointment to have my knee X Rayed to see if I have reached 'Knee replacement' time yet.   Here I was very impressed because the technician said there was no need to make an appointment, he would do the X Ray there and then, which he did.

Waiting meant casual reading and, as usual, I took one of my Ronald Blythe books.   He is an old and treasured favourite and I have most of his books.   They mostly consist of pieces which have been published weekly in the Church Times.   I am not in the slightest bit religious but I do enjoy these snippets of information, some of them about the Bible, some about the happenings in the countryside, or the people of his area (he lives around the area where Benjamin Britten lived), and the ones I enjoy best - the ones about natural history.

I was reading his snippets for February in 'Borderland' and found a bit on interesting facts about snowdrops, which you may or may not know.  Their Latin name is of course Galanthus - gala=milk and
anthos=flower - the milk white flowers of February.   He says, quite rightly, that once planted they should be allowed to wander at will so that they colonise where they choose to go.   I do agree here - I love the way ours have woven their way in and out of the Scot's pines.   The other thing he says is that in olden days at Candlemas they were called Candlemas Bells and recognised as the flower of purification, but in pagan times they were thought to be unlucky.

It is little facts like this, dotted through his books, which I love so much.

Fog descended here mid afternoon - I felt it was really more heather burning smoke than 'real' fog, but whatever it was it has gone now and it is another clear, starry night, with another bright sunny day forecast for tomorrow.   Every day brings us nearer to Spring.

Monday 9 February 2015

A Burning Issue.

Today it really does feel like early Spring (a dangerous feeling this early in February).   There is a light, cool breeze but there is wall-to-wall sunshine and the chaffinches are singing loudly as Tess and I walk down the Lane and round one of the hay meadows.

On the horizon there are plumes of greyish/white smoke both to the North and to the East.   That means only one thing in February - they are burning the heather.   On the grouse moors it is permissible to burn the heather back between January and March.   Of course when it can be done depends entirely upon the weather and the last few days have been perfect - most of the snow has gone and the sun and the light breeze together have dried the heather nicely.

The heather is burned on a rotational basis, patches at a time over so many years, so that all the heather crop is kept young and healthy and none of it is allowed to become long and straggly and quite unsuitable for the grouse.

Once March arrives and the grouse start laying and breeding then all the burning must stop for the rest of the year.   It is burnt in quite small squares so that it is unusual for the gamekeeper and his team to lose control of the burn (it has been known, but only rarely).
So that is another nail in the coffin of Winter and another sign that Spring and grouse-breeding is on its way.   Hope my aconites on my header endorse this view for you.

Sunday 8 February 2015

To Russia with Love.

Natalya (alias Rachel) set me thinking this morning and prompted me to write a story about my long-dead friend Antonina.   I have been out to lunch with the farmer and friend W, eaten too much (lamb in my case, beef for the farmer and W) and am now ready to sleep by the stove, so this is a rather lazy way of doing today's blog, particularly as I may possibly have told this story before, a long time ago.   But it is sufficiently interesting to tell it again for new readers if I have.

My friend Antonina and her husband Igor lived with their son Mikhail in the Midlands town where I lived for getting on for twenty years.   Antonina was a darling - beautiful, effusive, a romantic, always immaculately turned out and dripping with jewelry, a teacher of Russian part time in our local Grammar schools.   She would occasionally come (along with another friend) for a meal in the evenings and over the years her story gradually emerged.   It is a remarkable one, but one which I am sure was repeated hundreds of times in similar form as the aftermath of the Second World War.

When the war began she lived in what was then Leningrad and was in her second year at Medical School.   When the Germans overran the city where she was studying at University they sent  her and her friend (also studying medicine) back to Germany to work in a field hospital as nurses.   Of the war she said very little.   But after the war she had to decide what to do - a difficult choice because - through no fault of her own - she had literally worked for the Germans.   Her friend risked going back to Russia and was hanged from a lamppost.

Antonina became a political refugee and came to England, where she met and married Igor and they settled down together.   Bear in mind that by now it was the height of the cold war and she had no means of contacting her parents, who for many years had thought she was dead.

By the fifties she had become Naturalised British and had been invited to join a British Council official visit to Leningrad to study methods of education.  Of course she went and on the first night, after they had been settled into their hotel, Antonina, wrapped up well against the cold, set off to the last address she had for her mother - much of the city had been destroyed and she had no idea whether or not she would find the place.

Well, find it she did.   She stood at the gate, undecided as to whether or not to approach the door, when suddenly the door opened and a woman came out with a saucer of milk and called the cat.  Sufficient to say, it was her mother - who had thought her dead for ten years or more.

Antonina died a long time ago and within a year Igor was also dead.   Sadly, about a year after that Mikhail died of a heart attack while travelling on a bus.   I was always pleased that Antonina was spared the heartache of the deaths of both husband and son.   Surely she had had enough pain and sadness  for one life.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Signs of Spring

One of the downsides of living in a village is that you learn about everyone and know everyone to some degree.   I lived in a Midlands town for almost twenty years and apart from my next door neighbour and the old man across the street I knew no-one to speak to.   I worked full time and went out in the car in the morning and came back in the evening and that was it.

Here, in a small village, particularly one with a monthly coffee morning which is very well attended, I know almost everyone.   Thus it was this morning that I heard two pieces of sad news - one that a figure well known in the area (and far too young) had died yesterday and the other that a friend had cancer.

So today I am posting a 'cheering up' post.   It is a lovely sunny day - quite different from last Saturday when there was a strong cold breeze and there was snow lying on the ground.   Our front garden is walled and faces due South, so before my after-dinner walk I went into the garden with my camera and was heartened to see just how much was growing.   There were snowdrops, aconites, soldiers and sailors, one tiny rosebud, a hellebore argutifolius and the big fat buds of the Lenten Rose.   Then on my walk I took a photograph of a half-grown rabbit sunning himself in the hedgeback.

I have no doubt that there will be more Winter to come - we don't get off that lightly - but just for now let's all enjoy the signs and think about our blessings.   Have a good weekend.

Friday 6 February 2015

The Trouble with February.

Do you remember the old saying - January snow; February fill-dyke; March wind; April showers; May flowers?  (can't remember any more).  Well it doesn't seem to be true any more.   For some years I kept a rainfall record and drew a graph, and almost without exception February was the driest month.

But the real trouble with February is that we are all 'champing at the bit' for the arrival of Spring and we search the ground for the slightest sign.   Yes, the snowdrops have come - in fact they are almost over now -, the aconites are out and the species crocus.   Even the more majestic crocus will not be long before they join their cousins in flowering.   The hazel catkins are beginning to show pollen.   We grasp at these straws and tell ourselves that Spring is just around the corner.

But, sadly, February has that nasty habit of building us up only to knock us flat with a cruel wind, or a fall of sleet or snow, or a period of biting cold.  But we must be thankful for every day - and every day brings us nearer to Spring.

Our market today in our little market town was almost a Spring market.   The two fruit and vegetable stalls were there, as was the fish stall (has anyone else noticed how astronomical fish is in price these days - although I never begrudge the fishermen going out in all weathers and all seas)?  The garden stall had a splendid display of polyanthus in full bloom and there were even a couple of clothing stalls.   Best of all, as far as I am concerned, the butcher was there - he cures his own bacon and has the best dry cure rashers I have ever tasted.

After our coffee morning - I couldn't miss that or how else would I keep abreast of the local news - it was home for lunch and then I intended to spend the afternoon printing off my latest cryptic quiz sheet which I| do every month or two for our local nature reserve, to help raise funds.   But first I had to find it.   I knew it was stored in my computer somewhere but where?

Before I could find it friends arrived and we had a nice chat for an hour.   As they departed my son and his wife arrived.   He found it for me in minutes (I had spent an hour looking), so it is safe and sound and ready to print off.

But I did have a serious talk with myself about getting to grips with things on the computer which still puzzle me.I am sure I| am not alone in that I can do the things I do regularly but anything new is beyond me.  That tells me one thing- I don't really understand the computer at all.   Maybe another course in advanced skills is called for if there is such a thing near enough.   I must investigate the possibility.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Reading matter for cold weather.

Do you like the short story genre?   I love it - the fact that a writer can  take just one simple happening and turn it into a short story.   If it works it is often brilliant.

So here's a book of Short Stories to curl up with by the fire in the cold weather, if you can lay your hands on it.   It is by Salley Vickers (the best selling author of Miss Garnet's Angel) and is called 'Aphrodite's Hat'.  I am off to curl up with it by the woodburner right now.   I have already got more than half way through and I am enjoying every word - and envious of anyone who can write so well.   Incidentally 'Miss Garnet's Angel is also a jolly good read.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

It's that time again.

I've reported it before and it won't be the last time.   Hard frosts mean hard ground, clear skies mean dry weather (cold or no cold) so there is only one thing on the mind of every farmer round here today.   A clue - even if the weather wasn't freezing cold, keep all doors and windows firmly shut.   Muck is on the move.

We house the dry (in calf) cattle for our friend and neighbour every year.   They come in at the end of October and they go out some time in April.   Once during that time they are cleaned out and all the accumulated manure is removed, piled up in one of the fields and left to warm up and rot down for spreading later in the year.  Today's the day.  Later on the farmer will spread new clean straw.

The cows love it because now and again during the process they manage to slip out into the yard and stand with the sun on their backs.   There is no doubt that given the chance they would sooner be out  than in.   The sheep also love it because the muck heap, which grows longer and higher by the hour, soon warms up and provides a

rather nice place to sleep on a cold night.  Apart from which sheep have a philosophy which says ' if there is a hill, climb it'.

As the day progresses, so the sun disappears behind the gathering clouds.   When it is out the sun shines into the front of the farmhouse and makes the rooms lovely and warm.   That warmth has gone now and the cold is closing in.   In the distance the sun is shining on the North York Moors, which are covered in snow.   There is plenty of it still hanging on (waiting for more to come?)

I am putting on some photographs I took on Tess's lunch time walk. The one of the paddock, where there is a little snow left, clearly shows how the snow has delineated the medieval field system, showing up the snow in the furrows while the snow has melted on the ridges.

A strong east wind, direct from Siberia, is forecast for the rest of the week - so  plenty of logs in, slippers by the fire and keep warm is to be my mantra.

Monday 2 February 2015


Paul Simons's W eather Eye in today's Times tells me that today is Candlemas - or if I lived in the U S - Groundhog Day.   These old milestones in the year always have a grain of truth in them and I must say that quite often the farmer seems to take more notice of these things than he does of weather forecasts.

My father-in-law, who spent every meal time at the same chair in the kitchen, a chair with a look out directly to the West, would predict the coming of rain by whether or not it was 'black over Zebra', Zebra being a hill with three conifers on the top which he could see from his chair.   Well, he was looking directly to the West and most of our wet weather comes from the West, so more than a grain of truth there.

The folklore says, 'If Candlemas Day be fair and bright/Winter will have another flight/If on Candlemas Day it be shower and rain/Winter is gone and will not come again.   All I can say is that today it has been sunny, bright and absolutely bitterly cold.   And the little bit of remaining snow is hanging about - another bit of folklore suggests that if it does this it is waiting for more to join it.

Simons tells how when the European settlers arrived in the US they looked to the Groundhog to give them an indication of how the weather was progressing, hence the term Groundhog Day.

But one fact is interesting.   Candlemas or Groundhog Day - whichever you care to call it - marks the absolute  halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.   For the next three months the energy will grow stronger and the hours of sunlight will increase.   And as so manyof us over here in the UK have had snow, let's take comfort from another old saying - 'Much February snow a fine summer doth show' - now that I really do want to believe in.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Ships that pass in the night.

Up here in the Yorkshire Dales the population is getting older and older.   'Incomers' (of whom I am one) have retired and bought houses and cottages.   This has meant that house prices have risen dramatically and are not affordable to local young people, who are having to either rent or move out of the Dales altogether.

Also, many of the young people around us would have worked on the farms at one time, but as farm machinery has got more and more expensive, so farmers have begun to sub-contract much of the heavy work (harvesting, silaging, hedge-cutting and laying, stone-walling and the like), so there are fewer jobs available.

So, there are more and more elderly people.   When I was at our local Medical Centre a week ago I was struck by the fact that the waiting room was full and I doubt there was one person on the right side of sixty.

When I go into our little town every week for classes, meeting friends, collecting my pension etc. I tend to see the same people each week.   I don't know them but I have met them often enough to perhaps pass the time of day, or at least smile.  But of their lives I know nothing.   Does this matter?

What set me thinking was an Obituary in The Times yesterday for an inventor and Television presenter called Bob Symes, who died on the 19th January.   Bob was actually born Robert Alexander Baron Schutzmann von Schutzmansdorff into an aristocratic family who lived in a palace on the Ringstrasse in Vienna.   His father was shot by the Nazis and his mother took the family to Britain.  He became a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy and had an illustrious career, being mentioned in despatches.   But of course, very few people knew this until he died last month at the ripe old age of 90.

I wonder how many people I see every week have stories from their past which would be fascinating.   And does it matter that we know nothing of this?   Probably not.   Up here the locals are much more interested in what you are now that what you did in the past.  Dare I say I think they are pretty quick to judge and rather slow to change that opinion.  Things such as a miserable face, no smile on greeting, no helpful attitude - these are the kind of things which our local population values - and I agree they are very important.  The farmers around us are always helpful to one another - as far as I know this applies to us all.   If one of them drives a tractor into a ditch then another one is there quickly to tow them out - no need to ask.   But wouldn't it be interesting sometimes to find out what some of the 'incomers' did in a previous life?  Or maybe it is all better left unsaid.