Saturday 30 March 2024


'Oh to be in England

now that April's there (well nearly).

And whoever wakes in England

sees some morning, unaware,

that the lowest boughs of the brushwood sheaf 

round the elm tree bole are in tiny leaf;

while the chaffinch sings from the orchard bough

in England, now.

Browning's poem - maybe not exactly verbatim, I type it from memory - just jogs my mind on two fronts:

Firstly the elm has mostly gone through Dutch Elm Disease.    They really were the most magnificent, stately trees weren't they?   When I lived on the farm my farmer would point out elm saplings in the hedge as we walked the fields with the dogs.  And a glimmer of hope for their return would rise - only to sink again in the sure and certain knowledge that in a few weeks the leaves would wither and die.

Secondly the silver birch which stands in the hedge about 150 yards from my bungalow has been threatening to burst into leaf all week.   The very  early morning sun catches it and as my carer draws back the blind in the sitting room I have thought I could almost detect green here and there on the branches.   This morning there was absolutely no doubt at all.  The silver birch is in leaf.

And the dwarf tulips are all out - and the aubretia.  Trouble is  that nobody has told the wind, which is still very cold.   I opened the garage door ten minutes ago with a view to walking round the garden and back across the front path.   I quickly closed it again - the wind is still icy.  

Walkers going past to take the footpath across the fields are still in Winter anoraks and most dogs still have their jackets on.  Are they really necessary?  I have never had a dog I felt needed one.  Certainly my Pointer, Oscar, would have been off at breakneck speed if I had attempted to try one on him.  (He could be round the hedge bottom of a field and back with us before we had got half way down one sid). And Tess, my last and much-missed Border Terrier, had a good thick coat of her own and as she spent a large part of her 12 or so years with her front half down a rabbit hole I am pretty sure she never felt the need for one.

Maybe elderly dogs, small short-coated dogs and dogs who have been ill - but I do question how they have sprung up - almost as a fashion-accessory.

No more to write - feeling a bit frail at present - but I do wish you all a very happy Easter weekend and I hope to be back soon. 

Monday 25 March 2024

Smaller crisis

 I have never been a very practical person.   I am just about one step ahead of those old ladies who, when electricity was first put into homes, stuck Elastoplast over the socket holes when they unplugged everything before going to bed at night.   Gas scares me stiff.  Believe it or not, living here in my bungalow is the first time I have had anything to do with a gas appliance since the Bunsen Burner days of Science at Grammar School in the nineteen forties and I was always scared stiff of the things.  (Looking at my school reports for Science would tell any good teacher that I needed help with learning to apply myself to coping with gas!)

I think I have given you enough background for you to imagine my horror when I saw that the smoke alarm on my hall ceiling had come away from the ceiling and was hanging by a wire which disappeared into the false roof.  6.30pm on a Sunday evening!

I rang my son who assured me it would be alright until this morning but I was, to say the least, uneasy.   Finally, plucking up courage to disturb him on a Sunday evening, I rang P, the electrician. He assured me the bungalow wouldn't burn down overnight and he would come this morning.  He then rang back to say 'Just don't play tennis in the hall until I have looked at it.'

On the doorstep at 9am, he came in with his steps, took it down, ensured that the wire (covered with blue plastic and disappearing into the roof-space) was not connected to anything on the other end.   He had gone by 9.15!   There is another smoke alarm next to where it was - that has a ten year guarantee and will then need replacing.   Crisis over.

So, in a relatively short space of time, I have had a)ridge tiles on my roof re-concreted in; b)garage ceiling re done; c) valve replaced on Worcester gas boiler; d) old smoke alarm removed.   I need a lie down.

After two days of brilliant sunshine when, unless you stepped outside into a brisk, bitterly cold, sharp wind, you felt like shouting 'Spring has finally sprung' we are back to grey, barely light, neither raining or not raining - just miserable damp stuff. All the dogs going past are back in their Winter jackets and their owners hooded, scarved and gloved.  Wellies are not uncommon.

So it is good to sit here, two jumpered, and look out on red, yellow, cream and purple winter primroses, golden tete-a-tete daffodils, patches of dwarf tulips in a bright pink - plus the bright pink flower that has established itself everywhere but is so far nameless,  and stop typing long enough to warm my hands on the hot radiator by my side.   Sorry folks but Winter is having its last hurrah before Spring finally shoves it to one side.

Pity the poor farmers down the Eastern side of the country - Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex in particular - where the land is so very wet - in many cases under water still.   Farmers are a hardy breed and I suppose they have seen it all before, but it is soul-destroying apart from in many cases being hard on the bank-balance.

Until tomorrow dear friends.

Saturday 23 March 2024


 Crisis this morning.   7am Carer arrives and, as always, her first job is to put yesterday's newspaper in the blue bag in the garage.   She came into the Sitting Room where I was watching the News (not a good idea at present) to   tell me that my Worcester gas boiler was leaking water all over the floor.   Too right it was and trickling out of the garage door and down the drive.

I rang the Gas Board - after not knowing which button to press as all seemed inappropriate for my problem, I rang my plumber who lives just round the corner.   Sensing my panic (I thought it might leak to 'empty' and then blow up!!) he told me in a calm, very soothing voice that he would be round shortly.   And ten minutes later, as I sat here reading your yesterday's amusing replies, I heard tap-tapping in the garage.   The relief force has arrived.. Might need a new gas boiler - but it is an elderly Worcester boiler so be that as it may.

Plumbers, electricians, builders - here they are quite plentiful and so reliable.   I now have one of each I know I can rely on utterly.   What a relief it is too.  

One of the really comforting things is finding the tradesman that suits you and knowing when you ring him that he will come.

He has just been into my computer room with a faulty valve in his hand.   All done and dusted - took him all of ten minutes and I can relax again.  Should I come into this world again (my belief is that my ashes will settle into the earth along with all the other living things and hopefully any useful bits in the ashes will encourage beautiful flowers to grow where I lie) I think I shall make sure any children I have go into the Building Trade.   One thing's for sure - they would never be out of a job.

Lovely but very cold sunny day here at present - blue sky, bright sunshine, white puffy clouds, strong wind from the North East.   But the sun is warm now that Spring is here.

Have a nice day.

Friday 22 March 2024


Nice word that.   It can cover a multitude of sins.   I would hazard a guess that each and every one of you has a 'miscellaneous' drawer??   In the kitchen maybe - bits of string, elastic bands the postman dropped on the drive, a couple of unidentified keys you daren't throw away in case they do still fit something (because sure as eggs and eggs if you do throw them in the bin within a few days something you wish to get into will pop up and you'll remember then what that key was for you allowed the binmen to carry off yesterday on their fortnightly collection).  Or perhaps a drawer in the bedroom? A couple of half finished lipsticks you just might need one day and maybe a blusher?   A necklace or two - only 'fashion' jewellery - not expensive but you never know when they just might be right for some occcasion.

Anyway, by now you will have got the idea.   My mind is full of miscellaneous bits and bobs that have sat there for years and years, suddenly to pop out when I least expect them to rear their ancient heads.

Example - transport.    You youngsters - well anybody fifty or above I guess - to you 'transport' usually means 'the car'.   I no longer drive and haven't done for a few years.   If I was Transport Minister in His Majesty's Government I would immediately pass a Law banning over eighties to drive.   I expect protests but I handed in my licence because when I got to late eighties and nobody had forcibly stopped me driving I sent my Driving Licence back with a thanks very much note saying I was too old.   Nobody argued.

Our ancestors relied on Shanks's Pony - two legs, or if they could afford it then a horse came in handy and no need to build a garage.   On my kitchen window cill is a mule shoe I picked up on a track in the High Atlas Mountains about thirty years ago.  When I look at it I think of that track.   Wonder if it is bedevilled by cars now as the villagers have 'modernised'.   When I walked that track I met dozens of male villagers on their way to market - all riding mules.   The 'park' at the market had a couple of cars and perhaps fifty or sixty mules tied up. (How do you tell  which is your mule - no make, no number plate, no bright red which stands out well in a sea of silver or black cars).

I have just read Martin Samuel's "Notebook" in The Times.    On March 31st Manchester City are playing Arsenal.  There are no trains running from London to Manchester over the Easter weekend.

My carer and her husband will attempt to get down to Folkestone to get on Eurostar - I can only imagine the queues and shudder at the thought.   You see them at holiday week-ends snaking back along the motorway, stationary, and wonder what goes on inside those cars (and do remember it is an offence to hop out and pee on the edge of the hard shoulder so be prepared.)

And in case a plane would be a good alternative my advice before you go anywhere on the Easter week-end do check the price before you press the 'Buy Now' button.  According to Martin Samuel the cost of a seat on the Heathrow London to Manchester Shuttle is - well too much for me at any rate.   In any case I am neither a City or an Arsenal fan.

So I shall sit at home - as I now do all the time - and dream about the days when you had to watch the end of the film, sit through the adverts and then see the first seven eighths, slipping out quietly in order to catch the last bus home.   To think - my Dad never learned to drive a car and could remember the days when a man with a red flag walked in front of a car on the road!!

Today, March 22nd, marks the seventh anniversary of the death of my very dear Farmer.  I remember him, as I do every day, with love.


Wednesday 20 March 2024


If I had to choose only one book to keep - in spite of  all my well-loved and well-read collection - I would have to choose The Chambers Dictionary.   In order to try and maintain full working order in my brain until the day I die I start the day with The Times Mind Games.   Because I do them every day I become familiar with the words they use and can usually do the ones which involve words (codeword and crossword) fairly quickly and accurately.   The number ones I never venture into  'tricky' territory - I know my limitations where maths are concerned.  (But it is surprising how much better my maths is getting by doing them regularly).

But this morning I had to look up what a unit of pressure was - I searched under 'ma-a' for ages rather than 'mega' which I should have realised might give me a result.   And I got side-tracked.  

As regular readers will know I love birds and I started reading what Chambers had to say about 'magpie'.  ('a black-and-white chattering bird of the same type as the crow').

But then it quoted Shakespeare - he called it 'magot-pie' or 'maggot-pie'.  And then I began to think about this handsome, always neat and tidy in appearance, bird.  I haven't see one since I came to live here I don't think - they are more of a field, open space, rubbish-tip kind of bird  I think.

But they are much maligned.  They are not averse to robbing the nests of hedgerow birds - a lunch of eggs (easy to break in with a beak like that) or - dare I say- nestlings - is always a possibility on their menu.

But I love the crow family.   One of my memories of Russia in the Gorbachov days - my first visit - was walking into our room in the hotel in Moscow and looking out of the window onto a flat roof with dozens of hooded crows.   I had never seen a hooded crow before and I always thought of crows as rather solitary birds - but not these chaps!  A roof full of them noisily discussing something or other. 

The magpie of course is not a crow.  (Crows are 'corvus ' and the magpie is 'Pica' but all the big birds with wicked beaks are gathered together in my book so I shall just say they are close relations).

And my mind wandered to the time when gamekeepers exhibited their catches - on a wire just outside their cottage door  - mice, rats, voles, weasels, stoats, moles, rabbits, rooks, crows, magpies, maybe a fox's brush tail.   My dad had a gamekeeper friend and they would chat while I wandered down the line of that week's catch.  What I remember most (apart from the often 'ripe' smell) is the beautiful velvety skin of the mole.  (Did men really wear moleskin waistcoats?)

So I apologise - today you have a taste of how my wandering mind works.   As a matter of fact I did find out the word I was looking for (which finished my crossword for today) but as for the magpie - I hope one pops up in my garden one day but not at the moment please - Mrs B is nest-sitting and Mr B is combing the garden for tasty treats to tempt her.

And my butterfly mind (my first husband's name for it - hence the lovely enamelled butterfly brooch he bought me as a reminder) now has to go to the hall and to the Welsh Dresser.   In an hour my cleaner will be here and I always do the Welsh Dresser with its little things I treasure.  Then if anything gets broken it is my fault.

Have a nice day.   And apologies for the wander. 

Saturday 16 March 2024

Sunday morning early (ish)

I switched on during my first tour of the bungalow to look at my e mails.    I had some lovely photographs of their new house from friends who have moved from Devon countryside into Sussex and I was so pleased to see that they are surrounded by trees and open countryside.  How good that they are still in such a lovely area.

After twenty odd years of living in quite a lonely spot I had to move when the Farmer died.   And being alone meant living near to other people.   My back garden looks over the fields and I can't see another building - just one very large ash tree which the rooks who flew over the farm each morning have chosen for their late afternoon roost before flying over one more field, then the farm and then finally to  the very large rookery which I suppose one can say they call 'home'.

I am on the road into the  estate and luckily the 'plot' opposite my bungalow is at present 'wild land'.  I expect it will be built on eventually but at present it has a silver birch and a row of hazel 'trees' along the back edge and a few ash saplings here and there (cut back every year to head height) and plenty of 'hillocks' covered in grass.   Here and there are clumps of daffodils just coming into bloom.

Now that I can no longer go out,  this bit of 'open country' presided over by a little red mail box on a black stalk, is a great asset.   Doesn't make up for the swallows who nest every year in the barns around the farm or the house martins who nest under the eaves of the house or the little owl who is diurnal and usually watched us from the same gate  post on our morning walk, or the one song thrush who at this time of the year sang my favourite song.

I have spoken before about the neighbourhood cats and how they stalk among the hillocks on the waste ground - on the look-out for mice, voles - who knows what lives on the plot.   Don't know whether they ever catch anything but they do a lot of sitting very still in one spot and then doing a 'balletic' pounce.

But - surprise surprise - what  did I see this morning at around 6am?   The sky was blue (a rarity at the moment), the air was still, the sun was up and as I drew back the sitting room curtains guess what I saw???

Hovering over the grassy hillocks opposite was a BARN OWL!   And as I watched he pounced and came up with a tiny rodent in his beak and then he was away swooping behind the bungalows on the other side of the road.   Was he the barn owl who used to check the paddock hedge late each evening (we could watch him from our kitchen window)?  Maybe not - it is seven years since I left.   But he has certainly started my Saturday morning off on the right foot.

Oh and just as an afterthought = yesterday, March 15th=  was the 72nd anniversary of my first marriage and the beginning of 39 very happy years with Malcolm.  And Malcolm would have been 100 in late April this year.

Nothing is forever - make the most of every day.

Thursday 14 March 2024

Spring sweet spring....... the year's pleasant thing - well it goes something like that anyway.

Well friends, however you look at it, next Wednesday is the Vernal Equinox, the day when the day and night are both approximately the same length.   Of course this will be all 'mucked up' shortly when we get British Summer Time and have to get used to getting up in the semi dark again for a week or two.

You, like me, may well still be wearing two sweaters, your room thermostat like mine, may well be set at 21  and the radiator may be  hot so that you can keep putting your cold hands on it (pause in writing while I do just that).

The North Yorkshire Community Policeman is still warning us about where there is floodwater and reminding those who drive not to risk driving through it.

We are supposed to be top in the Species Chain but really I do sometimes question it.   We need the calendar on the wall to tell us it is Spring. And unless there is a sudden dramatic change our behaviour will not change on the first (or second) day of Spring.  We will still be well-wrapped up in our winter jackets.

Gardeners may be out there 'topping' the grass on their lawns with a first gentle mow but they may well be nipping out between showers (and leaving ruts in the grass with their mower wheels).

But my flowers in the garden know Spring is coming - primroses, tete a tetes, hellebores, mauve striped crocus, dark purple crocus and a very pretty pink flower which creeps about my garden as it will every year popping up in different places - all going ahead as per usual.

And Mrs Blackbird is sitting - us girls aren't daft you know - a snug nest in mid hedge is probably the warmest place to be in this wind (from the East and  blowing across a North Sea before it reaches here).

The sky is full of heavy black clouds, the East wind is cutting cross the top of all the flowers, the sun is unlikely to show its face today around here and everyone passing has the hood up on their anorak and every dog passing is still wearing its fashionable winter coat.

And I am signing off and going to make a cup of hot chocolate to drink with my kit kat.   So I'll sign off with what I usually say at this time of year (especially for you Tom)

"Loveliest of trees the cherry now 

 is hung with bloom along the bough.

 and all along the woodland ride

 is wearing white for Eastertide"

                                        A E Housman

                                    'A Shropshire Lad'. 


My son bought me the collected poems of Roger McGough for Mothering Sunday.  Sifting through it after writing this I came across a poem called 'Trees cannot name the seasons'.   He says it so much better than my post above does.   Google it - it is beautiful.  Enjoy.




















Monday 11 March 2024

Mountains out of molehills grow!!

 Yes I am afraid that tends to be the side effect of time on one's hands.   Here is the tale - laughable in the end and ridiculous.

Yesterday, Sunday, Mothering Sunday, a day when my usual Sunday visitors were otherwise engaged, dawned cold,dull and promising to never get 'properly' light.   My carer came and went, hot choc poured and two biscuits, false flames on my electric fire for comfort, table lamps on to make it look a bit warmer, central heating up a notch, I settled down with the Sunday papers ( three quarters of which always get put in recycling unread!)

My son was due to come round to move my Sim card into my new phone and to sit and chat for a while.  We had a lovely chat.   Changing the Sim failed - we need some sort of adaptor which he duly ordered and is coming today (good old Amazon Prime) - yes I know some of you will disapprove of using Amazon but believe me - when you are slowly dying off, are immobile more or less, never feeling quite 100% - it is wonderful to need/want something, press a button and know that that something will arrive within 24 hours.

All was lovely and peaceful - we had a lovely morning.   It was as I closed the door after his departure that I noticed it.   Slap bang outside my front door, on the edge of the lawn, there was a large dog 'turd'!!

I can't bend down to remove it.   It had to stay until either another visitor arrived or my evening carer came.

How had it got there?                                           

Had a stray dog wandered up my lawn?   I never see a dog wandering unattended.   Most of the dogs I see are expensive pedigree dogs (almost a compulsory attachment on my estate) so I doubt it.

Had one of the dog walkers taken umbrage at the way I sit up straight in my chair when a dog walks past, so that I can see it properly.   Ageing eyesight means I get a clearer view.  And I take such pleasure in seeing the dog, guessing its breed (not always easy as there is such variation).  Did the walker perhaps mistakenly think I was making sure any pooh on my patch was picked up and bagged?  Had he thought ' I'll show the nosey old baggage that it is nothing to do with her'?

And so dear reader I spent most of the afternoon (between TV Crufts) pondering and making the whole episode into a mountain of anxiety.   Was he going to keep doing it?   How did he get up to my front door unseen?

By the time J, my evening carer, came I had got quite 'hot under the collar' about the whole episode.  How long would the aggravation go on for?   How could I let he or she know that I meant them no harm but just loved looking at their dogs?

J looked at the offending turd in the gathering dusk and came up with the comment, "That's not a dog turd - its more like cat pooh!"

Had one of W's Bengal cats been around?  W is often my evening carer and they often follow her here - she only lives about six doors away.  On well that's a relief then - just a one off - can stop worrying.

As J went after helping me into my dressing gown she was armed with a pooh bag to pick up the offending object on her way out.   I was much relieved  and reassured that it was not after all the start of a 'hate campaign' against a nosy old bag who should find something better to do than be sitting there on permanent 'pooh watch'.   As I sat back in my chair much happier the sitting room door opened and J held up the offending 'turd'.

It was a brown curly leaf.



Wednesday 6 March 2024

Human Nature

Strange thing Human Nature.  As my father used to say 'Everyone's funny except me and thee and thee's a bit peculiar'.

Yes - in the main we have all got two arms, two legs, a head and a body and all the dangly bits that Nature added to make certain we don't die out as a species. But there the similarity ends.

Reading The Times this morning over my "after breakfast" coffee just endorsed this view.  Do you remember the (very good) 1995 TV adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice"?   If you watched it and you are a woman then I hardly think you need reminding of the moment when Mr Darcy walked out of the lake towards Elizabeth with his very wet fancy shirt sticking to his body.  (Pause here while I compose myself - I might be 91 but some things keep going to the bitter end).

But what endorses my view on Human Nature is that at a Sale in London this week that same shirt (dry and just an ordinary rather fancy shirt but without Colin Firth inside it)was bought by somebody (wait for it) for £25,000!

If you had £25,000 going spare what would you do with it?   Invest it?  Buy Premim Bonds?  Give it to a needy friend?  Give it to your child towards a deposit on his/her first home?  Buy a new car?

I could go on with that list for ever couldn't I?  Money buys THINGS.  Money doesn't stop wars.  Money doesn't stop young people dying.  Money doesn't stop Homelessness or people starving all over the world.   There is truth in the statement that 'the rich get rich and the poor get poorer'.

And would you believe that just because Victoria Beckham had to use 'Cool Crutches' when she went to the Paris Fashion show, same black 'Cool Crutches' searches  rose by 350 % and sales increased by  70%.

Try explaining that to a starving Palestinian, or a homeless young man sleeping under a leaking shelter on a pouring wet night, or a man or woman from Afghanistan who has struggled across half the world and is crossing the Channel as I write this, in a boat not much more seaworthy than a child's plastic paddling pool.

Human Nature has a lot to answer for.


Friday 1 March 2024


 I apologise for the absence, not in any way anything to do with my illness but simply to do with not having time.   I cannot begin to tell you how busy I have been this week - some days having as many as seven or eight visitors; it would be so good to ration them but, sadly, life doesn't work like that.

Far back in the "innocent "days of my childhood and teenage years, as a country child in a county which might be the second largest (Lincolnshire) in the country but probably because of its isolation and its large amount of land reclaimed from the sea, was - in pre-War days - I guess rather lagging behind in its efforts to 'keep up' with the then 'modern' thinking, Leap Year to us just coming into the idea of "boys" as something interesting rather than something to avoid was important.

(I meant this post to be put on on the 29th February but I am a day late and apologise.)  I think we rather thought that a woman could actually 'propose marriage' to a man rather than the other way round on this one day every four years.

Was this common to the whole country in those far off days or was it just in our "backward" neck of the woods? (And please don't tell me we weren't  backward in coming forward.   Our total lack of sophistication when compared with teenagers in large towns and cities was no mean thing.)

I was lucky (well I consider I was) in that I married a well-travelled, sophisticated man ten years older than me.   He pulled me up by my shoelaces so to speak.   He taught me that Romance, Love, call it what you will, is something quite different from the images we were brought up with.   One should not get carried away by a bunch of red roses on St Valentine's Day, by a mental image of happy ever after once the knot is tied.  As I said in my "poem" of a few weeks ago in this blog - small everyday things add up to more than any "gaudy bunch of red roses".

Which brings me to today's title and to Matthew Parris's Notebook in this week's Times.  One paragraph "Poetry in Motion" in which he talks about 'love hearts and schmaltzy verses" being alright in their place but forget St Valentine, forget that extra Leap Year Day.   What really matters is a much more sensible way to see "Love" as expressed in the ordinary, everyday things.   As  he says -  "fixing a leaky cistern in the toilet" or "emptying the dishwasher" or in my poem bringing me the first golden marsh marigold from the beck, or a beautiful partridge feather picked up in the field.

LOVE is such a funny word isn't it?   We use the word so often:  "I love to see the rooks flying over a backdrop of a pink dawn"; "I love my dog so much - I can't imagine life without him by my side", "  I do love Seville Orange Marmalade on Sourdough Toast with my morning coffee".

The word has become too commonplace.   'Living together' I understand has now become  more popular than 'Getting married.'   'Easier' say the cynics - no great torment of divorce if it doesn't work out.   Very true and perhaps the way forward.   In my day many, many couples stayed together not because they  still loved one another but because a woman leaving her husband and taking their children with her was just not possible in those days before child benefits and suchlike.

The young seem to view life, having children, finding a partner, everything to do with the progress through life, in a totally different way from how it was viewed when I was young.   I am not for one moment suggesting this is a retrograde step.  Far from it.  I think the young in this respect have a far more realistic view of life than we did (if we thought about it long term at all - I am not sure we did).  I am reminded of the last verse of Robert Herrick's 'Gather ye Rosebuds' which is advice to a young lady:

So be not coy, but use your time

And while ye may, go marry.

For having once but lost your prime

Ye may for ever tarry!

May we never return to that kind of thinking.   Womens' Lib may still have some way to go but don't let's go backwards.

St Valentine's Day, Leap year, may now be viewed almost with amusement.   But 'real' love is more about cooking the dinner if you are first in, sticking the washer on when you see a pile of school football gear piled on the kitchen floor by an open washing machine door, putting the bins out.   Oh and the odd bunch of flowers/box of chocs/surprise meal of your partner's favourite food never comes amiss.   Let's keep things in proportion.