Thursday 28 December 2023

Townie or Country Bumpkin.

 Polly Vernon writes today in Times 2 about growing up in an "idyllic fishing town on the River Exe" - a quiet, unspoilt town where everybody knew everybody.   

Sounds wonderful doesn't it?   Except that she loathed it and couldn't wait to get herself off to the life of London.

I grew up in a Lincolnshire village of about two hundred souls on the banks of the slowly moving River Witham - a quiet, unspoilt village where everybody knew everybody.   I found it quite exciting to leave when I married and move a mere three and a half miles away to the life of the cathedral city of Lincoln.

There any similarities between the two of us ends.  I loved my country life.   I knew every house in the village and, because I pushed my only doll in her pram (I call my doll 'her' but don't think there were any 'identifying features') every evening in Summer to meet my Dad and brother, I passed a good few of the houses and according to my family I could "talk the hind leg off a donkey" so talk to everyone I did, and cadged a few goodies on the way.    It was very much a Methodist village so most folk went to chapel on a Sunday and from the age of 10 I played the organ for services.   In other words - not much went on that muggins here didn't know about.

From there to Lincoln was a small move -   I had gone to the Girls' High School in Lincoln and one set of Grandparents lived there.

Then another very countryside move - only about 25 cottages in my next Lincolnshire village and me with a small baby. (and a Yorkshire terrier - and a husband of course).   Everybody knew everybody but too small a village for all that much gossip.

After that Lichfield - another cathedral city but much smaller - and here's a major difference - by then it was college as a mature student and then teaching.  When you work you have little or no time for gossip about the neighbours and their doings.

Wolverhampton followed for 17 years of working in a large Comprehensive School.   I knew my immediate neighbours but no-one else in our little road.   Friends were fellow musicians and free time spent walking in nearby Shropshire Hills.

And so - since 1987 - here in the Yorkshire Dales - first in a small village (joined local societies, was president of local W I, went to various craft clubs), then after the death of my first husband to a fairly isolated farm (Friday Auction Mart plus the weekly edition of the Darlington and Stockton Times kept everyone up to date on gossip/news)with the farmer.

Now into the nearby little Dales town and housebound.  Here the best of both worlds - little town, in the country (my garden backs on to wide open fields, walk over three of them and I would be back at the farm I lived on for 23 years - same rooks or their offspring fly over at daybreak every day.

Big town/city/London?  No thanks.   A few Wolverhampton years (well 'few' of my 91) was good in that Opera/Ballet/Plays/Exhibitions on my doorstep (15 miles to Birmingham) were available as were music groups galore.

Now, cosy and snug in my bungalow, I know many of the folk on my estate,  How?   Get a dog.  Tess, my dearly loved Border Terrier and I walked the paths on the estate twice a day when I first moved here 6 years ago.  Every dog lover loves to chat 'dogs' and dogs, on the whole, once the original 'bottom sniff' is done with, are happy to communicate with one another too.

From my window I see trees, gardens, birds, folk going past (many of whom give me a wave if they see me) - all keep me amused.   Gossip, 'social claustrophobia', (everyone knows everyone else's business) as Polly Vernon says in her article?  Oh yes.   It exists in this little town for sure - as it does everywhere now with facebook I suspect.   How do I get it?   My carers are local.   They keep me up to date!

Are you a bumpkin?  Are you a townie?   If so why?   Do tell.

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Yorkshire Pudding.

 Mention of Yorkshire Pudding on my yesterday's post brought forth one or two interesting comments.  I wasn't born in Yorkshire but over The Humber Bridge in Lincolnshire (no bridge in my youth it was ferry from Barton on Humber to Hull).   But it got me thinking about that good old favourite.   I wonder how many 'tricks of the trade' our American bloggers know.   I thought I would pass on a few tips.  Maybe some of you can add to the pool because I have a feeling that a few tips might give some of you a few ideas.   I do hope some of you don't think I am trying to teach my Grandmother to suck eggs.

So here goes with a few tips gleaned from my dear old Mum in the nineteen years I spent at home eating good wholesome food at her table - and for at least the first ten of those years cooked in a good old fashioned cast iron fire oven.  ( Rice pud - just rice, sugar, milk and a grating of nutmeg- popped in the oven at bedtime as the fire was burning down and being let die out- was sublime for lunch the next day)

1.  YPs were traditionally made in a large roasting tin, not in little individual 'pattie'tins.

2.   The mixture was made early - before chapel - on Sunday morning and left to stand.  On the return home, the roast joint ticking over nicely after its short, sharp searing earlier in the morning, the fire would be stoked up high and when the oven was really hot (no thermometer on these old ovens - just open the door and stick a knowing hand in between shelves) the mixture, after a quick stir, would be poured into a large roasting tin with a sizzling layer of beef dripping spurting up to catch your hand with a short sharp shock and left until it was crisp on the outside and hilly in the middle.   Traditionally the joint would be placed on a slatted shelf so that the juices could then drop on to the pudding beneath but I never remember those days.   But if the cook wanted her pudding to come out looking like the Mountains of Mourne the oven had to be HOT. (individual puds were never made in those days).

3.   Good gravy essential.

4.   What to do with left over mixture - or if you chose to make a new mixture - add sugar and sliced or cubed fruit - cubed or sliced cooking apple or - my favourite chunks of new rhubarb - and cooked in a hot oven.   Then serve cut in pieces and dotted with blobs of good old fashioned farm butter and a sprinkling more sugar.   Divine.

Off to toast a muffin.

Tuesday 26 December 2023

A plus!

 One of the advantages of having a carer who also provides my mid day meal is that this year I have scored greatly.   Yesterday my dear friends T and S invited me to lunch - T collected me and brought me home just before dark.   S cooked a delightful meal:  Homemade Asparagus Soup - absolutely delicious, thick and creamy and oozing the taste of fresh asparagus.

Gammon cooked in the slow cooker and served with pigs in blankets and a gorgeous array of roasted veg including asparagus, sweet potatoes, sprouts - all delicious.

Chritmas pud with vanilla=flavoured white sauce.

Then coffee in the sitting room.

A lovely Christmas Day.

Then today Christmas lunch from my carer's Mum - a good old-fashioned farmer's country Christmas lunch:

Prawn cocktail.

Roast turkey, stuffing balls, pigs in blankets, cauliflower cheese, sprouts, roast root veg and Yorkshire Pud (well we do live in Yorkshire).

Christmas Pud and brandy sauce - couldn't manage this so am having it for my tea.

Yes - two complete dinners and I never lifted as much as a finger.   I am so lucky.

It will be back to earth with a bump tomorrow when heavy storm is forecast.

Happy 2024 to you all.

Monday 25 December 2023



Wednesday 20 December 2023


 Good morning bloggers all.

I have spent an awful lot of time lately sitting in hospital waiting rooms.   I always take either my newspaper or a book to read as sometimes the wait is quite long.   But although I always start to read my attention is drawn away from the written word and towards 'people watching.'

W, one of my carers, is just recovering from a six and a half hour operation (breast removal and at the same time 'reconstruction').   She is one of the most positive people I have ever met and now, four weeks after the operation, she walked over to call on me yesterday.   She lives lower down my road.

You can imagine, she has spent long hours in hospital waiting rooms over the last few months, so we were 'comparing notes'.

I was quite relieved to find that she was a people watcher too.   Our chat didn't make me feel any less guilty about my attitude but at least it made me feel slightly better.

So here are just a few pen portraits:

I sat next to a man maybe in his seventies.   He had on a really scruffy sweater and his trainer laces were undone.   His hair was unkempt and he hadn't had a shave that morning.  (all minuses in my book).   The receptionist called me to clear up one or two questions.   As I rose Priscilla's front wheels twisted and spun as I pressed on her handles.   The man bent down and straightened the wheels to set her on the right path. 'Be careful love - I'll steady the wheels while you get up'. (a big plus)   When I sat down again he took off his sweater (like most hospitals it was very warm) and underneath he was wearing a black shirt with thin gold stripes - absolutely pristine, beautifully ironed (a major plus).   His name was called.  He got up and went in to see the Consultant   I felt ashamed of my thoughts - yes - I had pre-judged him.

Two days later, in a different, very much larger, hospital the couple in front of me - again scruffily dressed and unkempt-  caused similar feelings.   The wife (I presume) was loudly eating a very large bag of crisps (I could still hear her and I wear hearing aids) and her husband was avidly reading The Sun newspaper.  (two very large minuses).  He was called in.   She continued with the crisps.   His Sun fell to the floor as he got up. (his trainer laces were undone too).

I have been to hospitals a lot in the last few weeks (hopefully no more now that the Palliative Care Team have taken over) but after talking to W yesterday and comparing notes about fellow patients in waiting rooms we concluded we had done an awful lot of pre-judging.   After  she had gone I thought - Perhaps the Sun reader was somebody's beloved Grandpa; or perhaps he helped his elderly neighbour by putting out her dustbin or taking her dog for a walk.

On my hospital visits I made a point of dressing smartly, having my carer give me a shower, having a few squirts of Elizabeth Arden Fifth Avenue.  I felt I owed it to the Consultant to be clean and well-dressed.  But who am I to judge others by appearance?

I felt ashamed and vowed to read my book or chat pleasantly to folk in future.   To be honest I don't think I had ever thought seriously how 'prejudice' does indeed mean pre-judging and so often with very little evidence.

I suppose we all do it but it is something worth thinking about in most of what happens in ur everyday lives.   Rather like me judging today's weather from the very dark morning and a lot of big black clouds.  Looking out of the window, suddenly the sun is shining on the hedge.

I shall in future try never to judge a book by its cover.


Sunday 17 December 2023


The picture on the front cover of the The Sunday Times magazine today is wonderful.   It is the face of a male Orang-Utan.   Sit and look at him.   If there is anyone in the World who disputes that that is the line of animals from which we spring then they need to look no further than this picture.   He is so 'human'.  I know quite a few men who definitely bear a resemblance to him.

Dark, reddish hair attractively fashioned around his head.   Lighter red, gingery moustache.   Rather fetching snub nose and a rather sad 'do come hither' look to attract the ladies I thought .   He lives, sadly, not in his 'proper' habitat but in Raganun Zoo in Djakarta.   In other words he has been imprisoned - may have even been born into captivity for all I know.   And, according to the Zoo what I thought was a come-hither look is actually a look to 'show dominance and scare off potential predators'.

And if he were a free Orang-utan then I suspect those 'predators' would be after clearing him and his group of 'ladies' and offspring off that patch of land he called 'home' (don't speak Orang-utan so can't give you the word in his language but if starlings can communicate in 'cheeps' I am sure he can (see yesterday's post).   And for what?    The answer is of course because they want what he has and they intend to get it by fair means or foul.  And if he won't hand it to them on a plate then they will try their level best to wipe out him and his whole entourage.

I don't know how many millions of years it is since we looked like he does but I can't help thinking we haven't got all that much more 'civilised'.



Saturday 16 December 2023


The poets do have a habit - certainly Shakespeare and his contemporaries - of allying our time on earth with the seasons, don't they?  I can see why in a way - it is what seems to me to be an easy way of dividing  up our lives.   Babyhood/ the popping out of the ground/womb of the crocus, the snowdrop, then the daffodil, then the tulip and so on until we get quite naturally that gentle move away from Spring and into Summer .  Just like our babies turn into toddlers, then  infants, then school dawns and everyone you meet says how quickly the baby they remember has suddenly - in the blink of an eye- become a person in school uniform.

Similarly we can visualise Autumn and then Winter - each Season has its beauty in Nature just as each section of our lives has the same.  In a way I have been lucky - the death of my first husband at the relatively young age of 66 was a great blow but as I was almost ten years younger than he was and as he had suffered greatly as a young man on The Death Railway, it was not the awful shock it would have been in different circumstances.   And he faced the inevitable in a very inspirational, philosophical way.

By marrying 'my' farmer two years later - in a funny sort of way - I went back from what had been the Autumn of my life to an 'Indian Summer'.  In case you have not had a similar experience I can tell you that an Autumn 'new love' is very inspiring and it certainly makes one feel young all over again.  My first husband instilled in me his wish that I should 'start again' if I had the opportunity and he was right.

Now the Winter of  both my life and of the weather outside my computer room window has arrived I share with you some of the exciting things I can see and how much joy they give me.

It is still dark when I get up in a morning and I can draw back the blinds in the sitting room, sit down with my morning cup of tea, put on my specs - all in time to see the rooks go over on their morning sortie.   Hearing aids in means I can also hear their chatter as they go over - even if I can't tell what they are saying.   Some mornings the sky is cloudy and I can't see them,   This morning the sky was a deep apricot colour which enhanced every black feather.

And yesterday Jonathan Tulloch in The Times Nature Notes wrote of something I had never heard before.   He wrote of a 'surprising consolation' for those who happen to have starlings      nesting in the eaves of their homes.   Apparently male starlings sleep in their old nesting places in Winter and at night they sing softly - he says it could be that they are practising for Spring or it could be they are keeping their spirits up.   But whatever the reason they mimic 'curlews, oystercatchers. owls, barking dogs and (not sure I want to hear this one) reversing tractors '!   How wonderful is that?

 Alright - only a few days to Christmas - but even less days to the shortest day.  But already I can see a couple of primroses as I sit here and a clump of pink flowers that have been out - low to the ground - for weeks (can't say what they are as they are too far away).   The Christmas roses (Helleborus Niger) were covered in white flowers.  Then for a couple of days they were laid low by a blanket of snow.  Now they stand up tall again - pure white, clean, wide open blooms.   I love them.

I am lucky enough to have a pebbly patio  which houses nine different evergreen shrubs/small trees. They are in the sunlight at present and every one is a different colour/shade from the almost grey Santolina (with just the odd yellow, rather tattered yellow flower) to the yellow/green small 'tree', the dark green Hebe with still a few flowers, a deep orangey- green bush and a low growing variegated, leafy shrub and a  greenish yellowish 'creeping fern.'

And to end (sorry to have gone on so long) when I went to hospital a couple of days ago I saw on the way that the Gorse had the odd bright yellow flower.   It brings me to the conclusion "Never kiss your girl when the gorse isn't in bloom" - which of course  means you can kiss her always because you can always find the odd flower somewhere on a gorse bush.

Keep smiling.


Thursday 14 December 2023


Just a short update on my medical condition.   I went on the long trip to hospital yesterday to speak to the Radio Therapy consultant.   He explained the procedure and the side effects(not pleasant) and also confirmed that the cancer has spread and there are now 'spots' on both lungs and liver.   Before he told me I had already decided to turn down Radio Therapy - one journey had totally tired me out  - the thought of five consecutive journeys made me realise I couldn't cope.

Today I have had the medical palliative care team of nurses to see me.   They were a delight.   We had lots of laughs.   We have mapped out my route - home as I am now - home with a hospital bed if I need to sleep 'propped up', stay here to the end with the help of palliative care nursing.  If this becomes impossible then into a local (Darlington) hospice. A box of pain treatment drugs is to be brought to the bungalow shortly and left here in a secure box and to be administered by District Nurses if and when appropriate.   A whole list of phone numbers to  ring day and night and regular visits of medical staff.  They left me feeling good.   I have no complaints.

In today's post a Christmas card and letter from dear friends we now live far from but still in contact regularly.   F, more or less the same age as me, has Dementia with Alzheimers - can't remember our lovely walks together, our playing the Brandenberg 4 together, holidaying in Scotland together, barely recognises his wife or his three children.

There are worse things than cancer believe me.  I feel content.

I will try to post again shortly - it is just a case of finding a subject that appeals to me.   Wars and rumours of wars seem paramount and they just appal me.   How dare I feel sorry for myself when I see maimed children    suffering - and also when I think of the weather in Ukraine and the suffering there?

Let's all try to be super-cheerful over the Christmas Season.   A good peaceful Christmas to you all. 

Tuesday 12 December 2023


 I didn't think the day would ever come when I would have a really exciting time shopping.   But that time came this morning.

Our local Independent Grocery Store, Campbells, has just won an award as the 'Best Independent Grocery Retailer of the Year'.   One of my carers volunteered to take me this morning to put together a hamper for my dear friends who trail about the countryside - to hospital, out to lunch, to garden centres, just for 'tootles' round the countryside - when the Hawthorn blossom is out, when Autumn cloaks  the bushes with bright red berries (and before the birds strip them (having no regard for what weather might be to come - first come, first serve being their motto)).  In addition to this T does countless little jobs which need a hammer, a saw or a screwdrive while S makes cups of tea, keeps me up to date with local news, even sweeps up bits of detritus from the carpet.

It is I think about four years since I visited,   To say I was 'stunned' this morning is an understatement.  Greengrocery, butchery, delicatessen, general goods - all superb.   The butchery was so inviting with so many unusual things - a dozen  or so different kinds of sausage, a very large 'chop' or a smallish 'joint' depending on how you view it - but actually marketed as a tomahawk (I'm sure you can imagine it now) - superb cuts of rare breed - a freezer and cold store range of 'meals' (bought two - pork tenderloin in a mushroom sauce, chicken in a cheese sauce).   I could go on. (2 for £12)

We easily 'filled' two fancy boxes - one with fresh food and one with Christmas fancy foods - and I filled Priscilla's shopping bag with goodies for me over the festive season.

Then it was home again for coffee by ten o'clock (we went before parking became difficult) and I came home as happy as could be.   Had I been on a jolly outing?   You bet!

**Even found a bottle of 'Dandelion and Burdock' - can't open it so waiting for Tom to arrive for the hamper - his wrist is a lot stronger than mine!  Haven't tasted that for at least 70 years!

Thursday 7 December 2023


Strange word Imagery.  It conjures up so many different thoughts in my head.   It started this morning with my son sending me a link to Natalie d'Arbeloff's facebook page on which she showed a recent portrait she had painted.  (you may remember I recently bought 'Diego', my latest acquisition, from her some weeks ago).   I don't know the sitter but I can say with certainty that she has managed to capture 'the man'.  Do we know more about him than we would from a photograph?   I think so but I can't put into words exactly why it is so.

I have books and books full of holiday photographs and looking at them brings back memories - may be 'as it was', maybe not.  Our minds play tricks on us with photographs.

Sitting here with a group of friends yesterday afternoon, chatting about 'this'  and 'that' I spoke of one image that has stuck in my mind - recent enough to conjure up easily but in the years to come  - like all such images - it will pop into my mind  at odd moments when I am probably least expecting it - triggered off by some little comment or - in this particular instance probably seeing a Red Admiral butterfly.

Sitting in a friends garden on a Summer's day - in the middle of the lawn stands a Victoria plum tree laden with ripe plums which now and then are ripe enought to fall off onto the lawn.  Dozens lie on the lawn, dozens remain on the tree.   The warm sun is shining and we are relaxing together.  Almost every plum has a Red Admiral butterly on it - a butterfly probably 'heady' with an overfill of what seems to be a magnet for it. The tree is full of plums - and Red Admirals too.   I would guess hundreds of them.  It was a sight for sore eyes - something so marvellous that the image has stayed fresh in my mind.   Better than a photograph?   I don't know - who is to judge?   But I do know that here and now, only perhaps a couple of months after seeing it, the image it conjures up in my mind is more vivid than any photograph and more exciting for want of a better word.

Sitting over breakfast I tried to think of other images that have made a similar impression.   I could only think of one or two - The embalmed Chairman Mao on his plinth (no photograph allowed but none necessary - in my youth he was a hero to me -);  the sight of a glacier viewed from the air over probably Iceland I would guess - as it made contact with the sea.  Seen as we flew to Canada some years ago;  the sight of a man carrying wood on his back as he crossed a frozen river in mid winter on a very slow train journey towards Mongolia from Beijing.

My husband photographed him as we crept slowly up a mountain.   He painted a picture and as I sit eating my breakfast I am looking at the picture.  But the feeling I get from it is somehow not the same as the picture I conjure up when the image suddenly pops into my mind, triggered by something I see on TV, or hear, or am reading about. 

 So there you have it - today's Thought for the Day.  The portrait of the man.

The holiday photograph.

A moment in time captured in the memory without a photograph to back it up.

All have their place.

The portrait delves deep into what the man is really like, tries to give us more about him than a photograph can do.

The photograph - my son has recently sent me a couple of photographs - one where I am sitting with a group of other people - I know them all but have no recollection of this particular group ever being together - and no idea at all of the venue.

The captured moment with the butterflies - to date this memory has much more meaning - but maybe it will fade with time. 

They will all tell us something but the butterflies will fade with me, the photograph will fade and the next generation will have no idea at all of who these women sitting on a grassy bank are, the portrait which will survive long after the subject has gone - folk will know who he is if his name appears on the back,  but looking at him, because he is so well-painted, we will know at least something about who he really is, what sort of man he is, and we can speculate on his thoughts and feelings.  We might be completely wrong but looking at his image makes us want to speculate. 

Wednesday 6 December 2023

I'm back!!!

 Well, after dark, dark days of heavy rain and then snow;  after mildly catastrophic days when the garage roof leaked on to the electrics,  when the kitchen radiator leaked on to the floor (it had been in since the house  was built), when the dining room radiator refused to turn on, when I had to acclimatise to 'living with cancer' suddenly this morning a giant BREAKTHROUGH!   Out came the sun.

'That 'glorious lamp of heaven the sun' to quote Robert Herrick (not that I believe in either heaven or with his sentiments in the poem) has put a different aspect on my world.   Not only is it shining directly into my sitting room, but when I opened the front door and stood in the sunlight the sun was quite hot (even though there was still frost on the lawn.)

After a Saturday and Sunday without full heat I can report the garage leaks have been 'siliconed' along the flashing until I can have a new garage roof in early Spring; I have a new valve on the dining room radiator and a spanking new radiator in the kitchen and I have come to terms with cancer and am amazed at the kindness, efficiency and speed of the National Health Service.  I am now gathered into a caring community of Colorectal specialists, groups of nurses on the end of the telephone twenty four hours a day, specialists in care checking my bungalow (100% OK for staying at home) and the promise of 5 consecutive days of Radio Therapy  quite a distance away (80 mile round trip) to 'shrink the lump' and me being collected and returned home daily.

So let's get back to this morning's best mate - that sun.  I sat in my chair, the sun directly on my face, eyes closed against the glare, and I thought about early man/woman.   Sitting there on a rock in Abyssinia (well eventually it would be) in the heat of the tropical sun having presumably gradually lost most of his body hair, how wonderful to feel the heat - in fact he probably got far too hot and so needed to kill a few of his not too far distant ancestors in order to keep the sun off his 'tender bits' at least.

He would probably feel the night chill and quickly the wearing of some covering would evolve.   I wonder how we developed the urge to move - to find other places, to investigate what 'lay ahead.'  However such things developed there is the inevitable fact that sooner or later these early folk were going to meet up with snow and ice.

No wonder they 'worshipped' the sun.   Even Robert Herrick saw it as a 'glorious lamp of heaven' and that was in the 17th century - long before the days when one could be gloomy and freezing cold just because the kitchen radiator had sprung a leak.

I love programmes (Michael Palin excelled at this) about the tribes in Africa - I love their total lack of what the Victorians called 'modesty'.

And I thought of my recent biopsy when I was asked whether I wished to wear 'dignity shorts' with a flap at the back.   Why have we come this far?  Everyone has a bottom (even the King) - I'm not suggesting we all walk around displaying it but how have we got to the stage where we need dignity shorts?

A dear old man of my acquaintance- never married- now in his nineties and with severe urinary problems will only let one of his carers wash his 'willy' as he calls it.   Even though he keeps ending up in hospital with infection.  And even that carer had to be strong and very straightforward - telling him she had seen more 'willies' that needed careful washing than he had had hot dinners.

So there you have it - my morning's "stream of consciousness".   Well at least it prompted me to get back on line and put finger pad to key pad.   Now I am back I shall continue to post - maybe not quite so often but whenever I feel the urge.   Lovely to 'see' you all again and thank-you for your good wishes.

And I can tell you sincerely that viewing one's end of life from a distance and knowing roughly the journey (I might 'pop off' from some other ailment on the way) is nothing like viewing it when young, middle aged or  even newly retired (I have been retired from teaching for forty years).   I am content with my lot and sincerely hope to travel along with you all for some time to come.