Friday, 31 July 2009

Jaw, Jaw, Jaw!

Churchill's famous saying - "Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war war" clever juxtaposition of words - he was always good at that - and he certainly knew what he was talking about regarding war. In fact it does seem that war, killing, death, and allied subjects, brings out the best in our poets. I think of Auden's "Stop the clocks", Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gently", John Donne's "Death be not proud" - and a host of war poets who's words strike deep into our hearts.
Well I think there is another one we can add to our list of heart-rending poetry regarding the terrible suffering of war.
Yesterday Henry Allingham, aged 113, with Harry Patch (who also died this week) probably the only surviving soldiers from the first World War (1914-1918), was buried with full military honours in a fourteenth century Brighton church. His coffin was carried by pall bearers from the armed forces and the American side of his family (his daughter, now dead, was a GI bride) follwed carrying his medals and decorations. And for the occasion, Carol Ann Duffy, our new Poet Laureate, composed a poem "Last Post". I think it is brilliant. So many poems penned by our Poets Laureate for special occasions are laboured and turgid. Duffy takes the idea of running time backwards "If poetry could truly tell it backwards, then it would." I find it a very moving poem.
Some may see the whole thing as a glorification of war. We have recently had a 1940's week end here in our little market town - all tied in with the Wensleydale Railway. Men and women dressed up in 40's uniforms, costumes, turbans and aprons went about the town all weekend and local cafes served wartime menus (spam fritters and chips). Yet some in the town felt it was wrong - that it glorified war and we should put it behind us not shout about it.
It is this awful dilemma isn't it? I wrote about it a few blogs ago - fighting for territory, regardless of the loss of life, seems to be inherent in us. And re-enacting those days is, in one way, glorifying war but in another way it is celebrating how we all pulled together in spite of the war. I think I shall sit in the middle on this one as I can see both points of view.
Erica Wagner in The Times gives a good criticism of Duffy's poem - saying "the mud of Flanders Fields clings still" and that Duffy's poem aspires to "a kind of salvation."
I find it sad that Henry Allingham's other daughter, aged 89, to whom he hadn't spoken for forty years, paid her respects at his funeral. We have not taken Churchill's words to heart, have we - not even in small family feuds, let alone in the big ones.
Do try to read Duffy's poem. I'm sure you will be moved by it.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

What a day!

Phew! What a day! What a super response from you all. I read the thirty I know about last evening - and they were so very interesting. Thank you so much to all you wonderful bloggers out there. Incidentally - as several people have asked - no I did not intend it to be every Wednesday - as far as I am concerned it was a one off.
There were so many highlights for me that it is impossible to select any one inspiration - there were dads, mums, friends, teachers, books, artists, poets,religions, nature, musicians, animals, rainbows, clouds, mountains, Christmas - a huge list. But judging from the super write-ups then they had all certainly inspired.
If I had to choose really lovely ones, then I do recommend, if you haven't already done so, that you read gleaner-of-possibilities inspiration about a little African refugee child; Melrose Musings story of a dear old friend is also very moving. Various embroiderers amongst you mentioned Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn, their work, their sketchbooks and their books - that is a subject close to my heart too.
But really, you all did splendidly well and reading you all was in itself an inspiration.
Building work here is gathering pace - everywhere is dust - I can't find anything - the dog is totally confused - and I have friends for lunch! So shall sign off with another big thankyou!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

INSPIRATION. From the source...

I have long been an admirer of Richard Burton (no, not that one!) - Sir Richard Burton, who for most of his life struggled to find the source of the river Nile - and did eventually reach Lake Tanganyika.
You may wonder what this has to do with today's meme. Well, I looked up "inspiration" in the dictionary - "someone, or something that inspires" OR "drawing breath into the lungs." In other words, I see it as someone who influences one so much that one breathes in that influence and makes it almost part of oneself.
Then I began listing my passions and where I got the inspiration from. I have always loved Geography and travel -Freya Stark and Wilfred Thesiger fuelled that line of thinking. Then there is nature and wildlife. Right back from the days of Romany on the BBC Home Service Childrens' Hour, through Keble Martin's wonderful Concise British Flora in Colour (what a life's work!) I have been constantly inspired. Ronald Blythe's books still give me that inspiration to keep exploring that interest. Gardening used to be a passion before I got too decrepit to do the heavy work. Vita Sackville West (Her Garden Book) was the gardener I aspired to be like.
Then I took up Textile Art and gobbled up the books of Valerie Campbell-Harding, Maggie Grey and the like. Oh how I would love to create pieces like theirs.
I am never bored and I always have a mental list of things i want to look into, or create, or read, or play on the piano. And this is where Sir Richard Burton comes in.
I wondered why I have always had such an inquiring mind, why I have always wanted to find out things. And then it came to me in a flash. Go back to the SOURCE!
So here is my nomination for Inspiration. His name was John Henry Smithson. He was born in 1891 and died in 1972.

"Jack", as he was always called, obtained a Scholarship to attend Grammar School at the age of 11 but his parents were too poor to allow him to go. So he left school at 14 and worked for 50 years in the machine shop on a lathe at Ruston and Hornsby in Lincoln. But that sort of setback does not stop the intelligent enquiring mind.
He always had an Atlas to hand and if anywhere was mentioned on the news or in the papers, out would come the Atlas and together we would look for the place. Or sometimes we would plan a journey round the world. I would make a notebook and we would plot the places we would call at. I would do a bit of research in one of his encyclopaedias and we would complete the journey in our minds.
Every Summer we would walk the lanes looking for wildflowers which I could put into my wild flower notebook with a little drawing for reference. Or we would search the banks and hedgerows for birds' nests - he was fantastic at finding them and peeping in without disturbing anything.
It was he who gave me my first little plot of land to grow radishes, lettuce, marigolds, candytuft
and encouraged me to keep a garden diary.
Then in the winter's evenings we would play "pencil and paper" games. Who can list the most wild flowers beginning with D? Who can find a river somewhere in the world beginning with each letter of the alphabet?
Poetry was his passion - he had a shelf of poetry books and he knew many of the poems off my heart and would quote little snippets to fit the situation. Tennyson was a favourite, and WH Davies - but he knew them all. His poetry books were really an extension of his right arm.
And so you see, dear readers, there was finally no contest.
I nominate as my life time's Inspiration my father John Henry, who's influence is with me every single day of my life.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


Thanks to everyone who had volunteered (or been press-ganged) into writing about who or what inspires them, tomorrow. Several people have asked for the rules so here they are:-
There are none. In the world of "art" rules are meant to be broken, so let your spirit roam freely. In the words of Seth (The Altered Page) the bundle man - Anything Goes!
Your inspiration can be picture or painter, poem or poet, animal or bird, book or author, teacher, relative, friend, statesman, absolutely anything that "turns you on" artistically or otherwise. It could even be a plant - I admire the tenacity of the creeping symphytum which grows in my hedge. I have been trying to eradicate it for years - but it still flowers madly every summer - never gives up although it knows I hate it. I look forward to reading them all.
Please don't feel obliged to do it - this is supposed to be fun.

Now an apology. I should really put a link to each site on this blog, but I cannot work out how to do it. My son is away (on the top of Blencathra last time I heard) and although he gave me instructions over the phone, I still can't do it. So here is a list - and every one on the list is on my blog list - so if you want to read them you have only to click on my blog list to reach the site - which isn't too laborious, is it.
I shall read them all and put a resume on this blog - won't it be interesting to see who or what inspires all those lovely reads we have?


Willow Manor
Melrose Musings
pics and poems
moxey usings
n2the blue
About New York
napple notes
BT The Crafty Gardener
Robin's Ramblings
with my boots and sketchbook
My reflections and musings
Ragged Old Blogger
Whippoorwill wood
garden delights
Dominic Rivton
Titus the dog
Crafty Green Poet
the golden fish
Mrs Nesbitt's Place
Raph's Ramblings
Daughter of the Golden West
The Altered Page

See you all tomorrow.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Walking in the rain, rain, rain!

Yes, my worst fears were realised - it was a very wet day up there on the watershed of the Pennine Chain. But did it deter walkers crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct - not at all - more than three thousand crossed over the quarter of a mile viaduct yesterday.
This is only the second time that people have been allowed to walk along the railway track. Network rail were doing repairs lower down the line and all trains were cancelled for the day, so it was opened up and well-advertised. Tickets were £15 each (I bought the farmer two for his Birthday) and the whole event was very well-organised.
We had to drive to a car park in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, where a fleet of busses stood waiting to ferry us to Ribblehead station a few miles away. After walking the quarter of a mile we came down and walked back for about a mile along a footpath before being collected again by shuttle bus and taken back for our cars. We never had to wait longer than a couple of minutes - there were thousands of people and a whole fleet of busses.
Of course I have seen the viaduct many times from the road - indeed I posted it on my blog some time ago. Here are a few details:- it has twenty-four arches, it is one hundred and four feet high and it was completed in 1875, having taken five years to build. There was a time, a few years ago, when British Rail planned its closure. At the time (1983) only 93000 people a year were using the line. There was a public outcry and the line was kept open. Six years later
450,000 were using the line each year - it is a spectacular journey of which this viaduct is really the jewel in the crown.
However, there is a downside. During the building of it the workers suffered the most appalling conditions, there was a dreadful toll in casualties, several hundred died, most of them from cholera or smallpox. Some are buried in the churchyard at nearby Chapel-le-Dale, others have no known grave having been buried somewhere on the moor by the viaduct. Many of the men did not even give their names, but were called by nicknames, so there was no chance of contacting any relatives.
It cost over three million pounds to build - a huge sum for those times.
But what a spectacular building it is. The rain poured down, the wind howled, but there was a real Dunkirk spirit about - everyone laughing and joking. The farmer has a fear of heights but the parapet, as you will see in the photograph, is high enough to dispel that. It was not easy walking. We were warned not to tread on the tracks, as they were slippery. We walked by the side on large stones with sharp edges. But it was good to see the beautiful workmanship, The stones on the parapet were huge and all were carried up their by hand, there was little or no machinery available in those days.
Friends farm down in the valley, so you will see a misty view of their farm.
When we arrived home we were totally wet through to our skin - in spite of wearing waterproofs. But it was worth it!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Blog award.

Derrick of Melrose Musings has very kindly given me an award. I am very pleased to receive it and would like to pass the award on to some of the people I blog with. My skills are minimal. I am really pleased that I got it on to my side bar with only one try - but I cannot get it onto this post (sorry). i love all the blogs I read - and it is difficult to choose any one or other - all I can say is that if you would like the award then please copy it from my side bar - the blogs I especially would like to have it, are:
Raph's Ramblings (because I love to imagine that giraffe family)
About New York (because I love Elizabeth's photographs and I loved her hospitality when we met).
Napple notes (because I love Jinksy's sense of humour - she always makes me laugh).
Titus the dog (because Tess has nominated that one!)
Just back from a very wet walk over the Ribblehead Viaduct - photographs tomorrow when I have dried out.

A Perfect Summer's Day

One swallow doesn't make a Summer but it does help. Yesterday - the day we went to two parties - was a perfect Summer's Day. The first party was a lunch party - in the garden - in the warm sun. I can't think of a nicer thing to do than sit in the sun eating lovely food and chatting to friends. Unfortunately I can't show you because I forgot to take my camera!
The other one - a sixtieth birthday bash - was also in the garden. Delicious food again and good company. This time I did remember to take my camera. Although the light was fading (it didn't start until 8pm) I managed to get a few photographs of the garden for you to enjoy.
You will see they have a medlar tree - it is only the second one I have ever seen - I think this was a very popular tree in Elizabethan times but I am not sure what they did with the fruit. Does anybody out there know?
Also - does anyone know the name of the tall, thistle-like plant with yellow flower heads? It filled a dark corner and looked really majestic.
Sue, who does this garden, is a very busy lady - a farmer's wife, a school secretary, a mum. She says she has a "really good do" in the garden in Spring and then, apart from mowing the lawns, it has to look after itself until the Autumn. I suppose this is the essence of a good garden - it doesn't show that no one does any weeding in the Summer - there is so much ground cover that it all looks pretty immaculate. The low sun showed it to its best advantage, kittens from the farm cats romped and played in and out of the plants, silkie hens scratched in a pen in the corner, geese and two Jersey cows grazed in the field beyond the ha-ha - lovely evening.
We are off now to walk across the Ribblehead railway viaduct - there are no trains today and there are organised walks throughout the day. The weather forecast is absolutely abominable - heavy rain and strong winds - so we are packing waterproofs. I guess if the wind is too strong the walks will be cancelled, but we are going full of enthusiasm - and taking the camera.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Any more for the skylark?

See yesterday's blog if you would like to join in our next Wednesday's meme.
I am very busy today - so no blog to record - two parties in one day (a bit like London busses - none for ages and then two come along together) - luckily one is a lunchtime Golden Wedding and the other is a night-time 60th birthday - so best bib and tucker on - we're off!
Hope you decided to join in Inspiration.

Friday, 24 July 2009

A meme for next week?

Anybody remember Venn diagrams? They were circles used to illustrate relationships - these circles overlapped - and at one time were used greatly in Junior schools. I've been retired some years now, so I don't know whether they are still used. I always felt they were open to misuse with children just learning about relationships.
However - the phrase caught my eye this morning and gave me an idea. We all fit into one of
two "circles" - male or "female" but then we become much more divergent. a might be interested in writing, or painting, or gardening; b might lean towards solo-singing, bird-watching or embroidery. One thing is certain though -those of us who have any interest (or all-consuming passion for that matter) in a subject, are likely to have someone who we find inspirational. Just off the top of my head - I like textile art and try to do it - my inspiration for this is a fantastic pair of textile artists - Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn. I buy their books, I go to look at their work - I aspire to reach somewhere near their standard.
So - bloggers out there - how do you fancy one day next week (that gives you a bit of room to think about it) doing a post on who most inspires you - in which area - and why. I suppose those of us who try to write prose or poetry would find it easy to name the poet/writer who had most inspired us, who's work we read and admired. Maybe it would be more difficult for some people - but then my mother, who I wrote about yesterday, was always an inspiration to me for the way she dealt with any kind of trouble in the family. So there is huge scope there.
If you would like to join in please do. If you would like everyone to know you have joined in - if you send me a note I will make a list on Monday morning giving all the bloggers who intend to post "My inspiration", I hope you all like the idea. On second thoughts - to make the reading of blogs much easier - shall we say Wednesday is THE INSPIRATION DAY? What do you think?

Thursday, 23 July 2009


Today is my mother's birthday. Alice Maud was born on July 23rd 1893 in the fens of Lincolnshire. She was one of eight children - five girls and three boys and they all made it to adulthood in spite of being quite poor; that was a pretty good record for those days.

She went into service at around fourteen years of age, working as a kitchen maid in a house in Lincoln, which was where she met my father, John Henry. Father used to speak of their courting days when he walked seven miles to see her on her afternoon off - and then seven miles back home at night - they made them fit in those days. They had almost sixty years of happy marriage together before both dying in 1972 - within a few months of each other.

The photograph, taken in 1913, is of my father, mother and sister. I came along twenty two years later! It is still my favourite picture of my mother, who looks so elegant and so serious.

I wish we wore hats like that now! Do you have a favourite photograph of a parent? I love these old photographs, posed in a studio and looking so po-faced.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Moving Day.

The grass is getting long and unmanageable in the big pasture, so today was the day to move the thirteen young heifers to "pastures new." Gates were opened, sentinels posted, feed bags rattled and it all became an easy process. The first photograph show them gaily trotting down the lane - this is the lane above the farm - you usually see the lane in the other, more interesting, direction. The second photograph shows them going into the paddock, en route for the pasture - I love to see them in this mood, kicking up their heels and charging round the field.
Once they had quietened down then the farmer gently herded them through the gate to the new pasture.
Notice the farmer's new waterproof! He thought his old one was waterproof until last Thursday, when we had almost four inches of heavy rain, when he found out that anything more than a light shower went straight through his outer layer. So a new one is being given its first airing - and as there are heavy showers (yesterday was a wet day, albeit light rain) forecast - it should get a good try out today.
I hear from BT that it is raining again in Ireland and I am afraid that mostly we then get it here. So much for the "hot, dry summer" that the weather men told us we were going to have.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Eagle has Landed.

On the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, it was fitting that we should be able to watch the International Space Station - 220 miles up - as it traversed across our bit of the planet last night.

We went into the paddock at 10.30pm and watched and waited. It was due to arrive within our sight at 10.35pm. At precisely that time I remarked on the beauty of the Northern sky and decided to take a picture of it regardless of the Space Station. Seconds later we saw it - and when I looked at my photograph I am sure that the light you see is the Space Station. It moved silently across from North to South and then it was gone.
At present there are thirteen astronauts on the station, six men and one woman having arrived last week on the Shuttle Endeavour. It seems that yesterday was spent repairing the nineteen million dollar lavatory (sorry, waste and hygiene compartment) which had malfunctioned.
Mission Control at Houston sent them a radio message which said they needed to put an "out of service" message on the door.
We almost take space travel forgranted these days - that this machine should orbit the earth does not seem all that amazing any more. Maybe it is time we tried to put a man on Mars.
The other photograph is of the original mission control for the moon landing forty years ago. I visited the space centre at Houston last year. Does it all look terribly old-fashioned?

Monday, 20 July 2009

All Gone!

Last night was the first night for quite a long time when the sky was clear - well, there were dark clouds around the horizon but even at half past ten there was still a clear pale aquamarine sky with gold edges - very beautiful. That meant that in the night there was a beautiful starry sky. Because we are far from street lighting, when the sky is clear we get a magnificent display of stars. I stood in the bedroom window watching, and thinking. And I wondered what night creatures would be about.

The hedgehogs would be around for sure - we had seen them when we took Tess out for her last walk - snuffling about, chomping snails, busy about their own business and clearing up for us, as we had been gardening. If we find a snail (on the hostas!) we crush its shell and leave it on the path and the next morning it is gone.

No doubt the foxes would be about too. We rarely see one but the dogs know when they have been round the fields and sometimes we can pick up their rank smell too. We might find the remains of a rabbit (their favourite food round here) but only rarely - they clean up well after themselves and often take the whole rabbit back to the earth to feed cubs.

And the owls. Sometimes at dusk in the winter we see the ghostly shape of an owl glide past our kitchen window and land in the Scots Pine trees. But even if we rarely see them, we hear them most nights as they sit in the trees and talk to each other. They leave no trace of their food unless you look for their pellets (usually under where they nest or perch) in which case you can pull the pellet apart to see what little bones lie within.

You may wonder what today's photograph has to do with any of this. Well, it is a bit of a convoluted route that my brain took (no sat nav up there!) but this is how my reasoning went.

All these creatures clean up well after themselves - even in the daytime road kill is swiftly cleared up by the crows so that no trace remains.

The other day Heather (Ragged Old Blogger) posted her textile experiment using an idea from Maggie Grey's book. I have that book too and tried out some of the ideas a while ago. The elephant is one of them. I tried it out because I had a huge pile of little offcuts of material I had been using. Bits and pieces were lying about and it seemed a shame to throw them away. So, I behaved a little bit like the crow (come on, now, use your imagination here) and tidied up all the bits left lying around. They were mostly offcuts from sari material (thank you Bombay Stores) in bright colours - fine, gauzy materials but all in tiny snippets.

Using bondaweb ironed on to a piece of calico, I laid the bits out, covered them with a bit of almost transparent material, and sewed all over them with gold thread. I admit to being completely carried away. Once I had started I used more and more bits, flinging them on with gay abandon and machining until they were well fastened down. And I ended up with a new piece of "material" - all my own work! And the snippets were all gone (hence the title).

I made several book covers like this and with the bit left over I cut out this elephant - not for any reason except I had had his shape for a long time (thank you Brenda) and liked it.

He sits now in my study and I find him very cheering with his fantastic colours. Try it sometime.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Things will ever be the same

At our Writers' Group on Thursday, one of our members read out a short poem she had written. She had been a passenger in a car on the A1 in very heavy traffic when she had suddenly noticed a mother duck with a brood of babies, about to step out into the road. They were past in an instant but she feared for the babies' lives in that traffic - it was as though the mother was programmed to cross regardless.
She had then idly switched on the car radio in the very instant that the news said that yet that another soldier had been killed in Iraq. Her short poem brought the two incidents together and she said that she had been preoccupied by the thoughts of it throughout the rest of that day. It was a very sobering quarter of an hour as we discussed it.
This weekend the Wensleydale Railway is holding a "Forties weekend" in our local market town. The streets are festooned with red, white and blue bunting; there are a lot of would-be army officers strutting about in old-fashioned uniforms and carrying canes under their arms; there are jeeps and other old army vehicles in the main square and - best of all - women in wonderful forties hats, or women wearing fold-around aprons and turbans. There is a lovely atmosphere but a friend, who is a Quaker and very anti-war, was tempted to dress as a forties conscientious objector and stand in the Market Square with a "Down with War" placard!
All this prompted me to ask - will there ever come that time "when war shall be no more?" I think not. Maybe men are internally programmed to fight, to be territorial (it applies to males of all mammals to some extent doesn't it?) When one looks back through history there has been so much needless killing , so many sons, lovers, husbands and fathers have had their lives cut short. Yet reading about a young man in Afghanistan this week I read that he said the excitement of being in the front line was so great that it over-rode any feelings of fear - and you always thought you wouldn't be killed it would be somebody else.
Then in yesterday's Times (what would I blog about without it?) I see that archaeologists have just found a mass grave by the Ridgeway between Weymouth and Dorchester with the slaughtered, headless bodies of fifty-one young men in it. Carbon dating suggests they fell in about the tenth or eleventh century. All had been decapitated, mutilated and tossed into a pit, their heads lined up along one side. "Vikings or local heroes?" reads the headline as tests are being carried out to decide whether they were Anglo-Saxons defending their territory or Vikings on a raiding party. All that is certain is that they were all somebody's sons. In time we shall know whether they came from Scandinavia, Wessex, Denmark or Northern England.
Sorry it is a sombre post on this lovely sunny Sunday morning - but sometimes it is good to stop and think about such things - I hope you agree.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Black Friday

Today the sky is more or less black. It began at tea time yesterday when big billowing clouds blew in. It has been raining since then, almost non-stop and very heavily. At the last emptying of our rain gauge we have had three inches in less than twenty four hours. It is still raining, our front garden is now a lake rather than a flower garden, the field opposite now has a large lake in it, the water is coming through the roof of our utility room - need I go on? Looking at the weather map this lunchtime on the television Ireland is sunny - so TFE and BT - enjoy the sun-shine. I can't blame you for sending us this rain, it seems to have come up from the South
On a brighter note I took these two flower photographs yesterday. It is interesting that in the Spring the predominant flower colour seems to be yellow round here - primroses, daffodils, gorse, broom. tulips etc. Then in the early summer we tend to go multi-coloured - forget me nots, campion, cow parsley, buttercups (blue, pink, white and yellow respectively). Now, as we near August, we seem to have gone into muted pinks, purples and mauves.
The pretty pink flower above is another variety of Epilobium = this time Great Willowherb and the other photograph is a close up of the much-maligned thistle - so pretty if you ignore its nasty prickles. Needless to say, today, every flower is totally waterlogged and spoilt - as are the strawberries. The farmer picked the raspberries last night before the rain began and they have already been frozen - they freeze well. Ever since Nigella referred to thawed-out strawberries as resembling slugs on one of her TV cookery programmes, I have been quite unable to face freezing them!
So, I am off now to visit a house-bound elderly friend, taking her a jar of strawberry jam (now there's a good use for them, but there is a limit to how much I can make, or eat). See you tomorrow. And TFE and BT - if you are suffering withdrawal symptoms now that the rain has left you alone, feel free to come over here for a paddle.
PS. The other photo is of my first dahlia - isn't he magnificent? (Must call him "he" as I think his name is Tom something.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Buried Treasure.

Today is an important day for me in blogland, for it is a year today since I posted my first blog!
Coincidentally it is the date - July 16th - that Seth Apter (The Altered Page) has asked us all to post one of our early blogs again - one with which we were especially pleased. So I am posting an early poem here - a poem which is very close to my heart. Before I post it, here is a little preliminary paragraph of explanation.
The farmer and I have been married for sixteen years this August. I was a widow and he was a bachelor farmer. Round here there are plenty of bachelor farmers. For one thing, they are so busy working their land that they never have time to socialise or "meet anybody". Farmer's daughters nowadays don't seem to want to marry into farming as they see it as too hard a life.
The result is that these middle-aged farmers grow old alone - it is very sad. And as they grow old I feel they become more insular and enclosed in their own world - rather like the stone-walled fields they work on.
When we were "courting", if I walked through the fields and didn't see him, I would leave the farmer a message on the electric fence enclosing his dairy herd - that message would be a tiny bunch of wild flowers tied up with grass.
So here is the poem I first posted last July. I hope you enjoy it.

Message on a Wire

There is a stillness in your field.
Not a silence,
(for the mistle-thrush sings
on the topmost bough of the hawthorn,
and the beck finds its voice
as it slips over the stones
into the South meadow.)
But a stillness
from long ago
when the stone walls were built,
when the grass was sown
and peppered with wild flowers
in their season.

One day in July
the stillness would be broken.
The grass would be mown,
tossed, dried in the sun, smelt
and carried away to the stack.
Then the stillness would return.

Men who care for fields
feel that stillness,
soak it into their bones,
become that stillness,
protected, cocooned,
within the confines of their walls.

I walked across your field today.
I could leave a message
on your answer-phone.

Or I could leave
two buttercups,
a herb-robert
and a cuckoo flower,
tied with a strand of grass,
hung on the electric fence.

Either way you will know..........


Just a quick line to report that we have found the horse's owner, I rang the police to say we had found a horse and his owner rang them to say her horse was missing. He was a Welsh Pony, chestnut with a white blaze, and he was so obviously distressed at being lost, pacing up and down the field, looking for his friends. The lady collected him last night - I am sure he would be pleased to get home. She had no idea how he had got out - and she lives quite a few miles away. So how he got here was a mystery - but all's well that ends well. The farmer went out to give him a bucket of water and was able to stroke him before he went.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Slow and steady wins the race?

Is the world divided into two kinds of people - those who like to take their time and those who want everything done yesterday? It is easy to think of this as a modern problem but, let's face it, Aesop told the tortoise and the hare story in the sixth century BC or thereabouts. I think it is just that in this highly mechanised age it is easy to boast about one's "achievements" - like going from A to B in two and a half hours when everyone else takes three hours.
Or maybe this desire to go slowly and steadily comes with age? After all, if it is two legs we are relying on rather than horsepower## then we don't have a lot of choice once our joints begin to creak.
Whatever the reason, I know that now - and forever more - I am a tortoise. I don't wish to contemplate dashing anywhere!

Take the slow train.

Take the slow train.
Let it wander
through the meadows;
count the buttercups;
watch the river
as it glides
under bridges,
through the fields;
see the sunlight
on the water
dappling patterns
through the trees,
and listen - in the stations-
to the birdsong
breaking silence.
You'll arrive there
just the same -
only later and
your head
will be full of nothing more
than the pleasantness
of the journey.

Take the fast train,
the express,
as it flashes
through the fields
and over bridges,
through the stations
empty platforms
,til it shudders
to a halt
at its final destination.
Then you step out
in a whirl
to a crowd of busy people
all intent on getting somewhere
in the shortest possible time.

I know I'm a slow train person.
I need time to "stand and stare".
When it comes to travelling quickly
I'm not going anywhere!

##horsepower!! Today a horse has strolled on to our farm out of nowhere, walking down the middle of the lane and turning into our drive. When the farmer approached it it turned and trotted out into the lane again and into next door's yard - so the farmer shut the gate on it and then shepherded it into the field. We have told all the horsy people in the area and informed the police - but so far no response. I tried to photograph him/her but he/she was having none of it.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Lane AGAIN?

Regular readers of my blog will no doubt be saying, "Not that lane again?" But I assure you, dear readers, that my beloved lane is never the same two days running. This afternoon, straight after Tesco's Lasagne (with the first peas and runner beans out of the garden), Tess and I set off for a two-mile stroll.

The sky was a deep, deep blue (it looks even deeper than it is through my tinted spectacles) and there were lots of puffy white clouds. As tomorrow is St. Swithin's Day here in UK, we always keep a weather-eye open in the twentyfour hours leading up to it. (St. Swithin lived from 800 to 862 and was Bishop of Winchester and chancellor to King Ethelwolf). For legend has it that whatever the weather on his Saint's Day, so will it be for the following forty days.

The trees on the lane are in full leaf and in places they meet across, forming a green tunnel all leafy and beautiful. At our turning point I leaned on the gate and looked down the woodland ride while Tess did her usual rabbit/deer check on every blade of grass. Looking down the ride, as the poet said, not a breath of wind, not a leaf stirred, there was not a bird to be seen (all moulting and keeping a low profile) and there was absolute stillness and silence - the best antidote I know to stress.

Walking back we came across a patch of bistort in a damp gateway. I stopped to take a photograph while Tess did her usual (see above). On the other side of the gateway our neighbouring farmer's herd of cows were grazing peacefully - another lovely Summer scene. But by now the sky was turning an angry grey. Yesterday, at about this time, we had a thunderstorm and half an inch of rain fell in ten minutes. So, still half a mile from home, we put our best feet forward only stopping to photograph a magnificent angelica plant already going to seed and standing tall and stately.

Today is Bastille Day in France, celebrating the storming of the Bastille in Paris in 1789. On this same date, according to today's Times, the first woman to reach the top of the Matterhorn achieved her objective in 1965 (in case you ask, her name was Yvette Vaucher).

Back home, no rain, sunshining again. Poor TFE (see my blog list) is so fed up with the rain over there in County Clare, that I fear he is developing webbed feet.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Out and about with the camera...

On this fine Monday morning - a light breeze and a bright sun - I had promised to go and take a photograph of my son's scarecrow (no doubt you will see it later on on his blog (Dominic Rivron)), so I went round their garden with the camera.

They have the most beautiful cat called Sinbad, who came to them as a very bedraggled stray. My daughter-in-law has a real affinity with animals and she nursed him back to health, although he is deaf. Now he rarely leaves her side and accompanied us round the garden, posing in appropriate places. Isn't he a beauty? Their garden is a real garden for wildlife and they also have toads, frogs and hedgehogs, including one hedgehog in a pen as she is also recovering. Of course, being daytime, she was in her little house, so no photo there.
But Mr and Mrs Toad were in their little terra cotta house on the side of the pond - and suitably decorated with pond weed as you can see.
As I drove back down our lane I saw that the Rosebay Willow Herb is out. What a remarkably successful plant it is. Its latin name is Epilobium - a genus of 215 species - and this one, of course, is now much-maligned as a pernicious weed. But really when you get up close it is a very pretty flower. At one time it was much prized in Victorian herbaceous borders but, sadly, it has been too successful. Its hundreds of wind-blown seeds float away in the breeze and grow almost anywhere. Favourite places are old building sites and old railway lines. Consequently it is now not allowed in any but the most tolerant gardener's vocabulary and has become much despised. A pity really because as you can see from the photograph, it is a handsome plant.

It is the kind of day here which makes you feel good to be alive - hope it is the same wherever you are - and that you feel the same too.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Noted for fresh air and fun!

(said in a Lancashire accent).

Yesterday's Times speaks of the demise of Blackpool as a resort. Blackpool - on the Lancashire coast - saw its heyday in the nineteen forties, when they often welcomed seventy trains a day bringing in holiday-makers from all over the industrial North of England. Now, with the advent of cheap flights and cheap tourist hotels, that same clientele have hopped on a plane and gone to the Costa del something instead. The powers that be in Blackpool are hoping that this year will see a return of some of those holiday-makers as the credit crunch continues to bite.

In the nineteen forties my father worked for Ruston and Hornsby in Lincoln (although long defunct you can still see their engines all over the world- and still in good working order). He worked for them as a foreman turner in the lathe shop for fifty years.

We had to take our holidays in the same two weeks each year - the last week in July and the first week in August - "Trip Weeks" as they were called in our area. During those two weeks you would go out for days here and there, or you would go to Skegness, our nearest seaside place, for a week in the YMCA Holiday Camp (did that several times) - or if you had managed to save a bit more money you would go on the train to Blackpool and stay in a Boarding House.For several years ourwhole family went to Blackpool in the late forties. My father and mother with me, my sister and her husband, my brother and his wife. We always stayed in the same Boarding House with a landlady called Mrs Cheffings. When we left at the end of the week, we booked the same week the next year. Life was all very ordered in those far off days.

Bed and breakfast and evening meal - the meals cooked mainly by Mr Cheffings - big English breakfast (i never had the blackpudding (ugh)) and a very conventional meat and two veg dinner in the evening. During the day you stayed out while Mrs C cleaned everywhere thoroughly, laid the tables for the evening meal and put her feet up for an hour. That was the good thing about Blackpool - there were plenty of places to go if it rained or was too windy to walk along the Prom (it is always, but always, windy in Blackpool).

I remember those holidays with affection. We swam every morning in the Lido. Then we would walk along the Prom deciding what to do next and eating an ice cream, or a candy floss, or a bag of shrimps. We would go to the Pleasure Beach where the men would try their hand at the shooting range and the bravest of us would go on the Big Dipper. Then it would be everyone on the Cockerels and Horses with its steam organ music. Afternoons would be spent on the Boating Lake or the Putting Green or sitting on the sands, or making intricate and elaborate sand castles. Then we would retreat to the Prom above when the tide came in and watch our efforts vanish under the water. We would build a good deep moat round the castle so that it would fill with water for an instant before the whole edifice was washed away.

But it was in the evenings when Blackpool really came into its own. All the big stars were there in the Summer season, so you went to the theatre. And then there was that mecca for the teenager in those days - The Winter Gardens. Reginald Dixon rose up out of the floor at the Theatre Organ (usually playing "I do like to be beside the seaside.") and we would dance. All the ladies would be there in their dance frocks (specially bought for their holiday) and those not dancing would sit up on the balcony at little tables, looking down on the dance floor.

I went back once - in about 1985, while staying with friends in Chorley in Lancashire for the weekend. It was the time of the Blackpool illuminations. We walked along the Prom in the dark and rode back in a horsedrawn carriage to look at the lights. Before we did that we had a fish and chip tea in an old fashioned cafe where the elderly waitresses all wore black dresses and white starched aprons, where every table had a white damask cloth, where all the cutlery was silver and where they served a plate of white bread and butter with the fish a chips. And a pot of tea at the same time!

Those days seem to have gone for ever, don't they? I can't really see them coming back. We have got so much more "sophisticated" in our holiday tastes and maybe in a way we have forgotten to enjoy ourselves.

# the photograph is of me with my Mum and Dad at Blackpool circa 1947 You wore a collar and tie and a jacket in those days - and, yes, I promise you, my Dad was enjoying himself.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

A Thousand Acres

I thought I would recommend a book to you today. I don't get a lot of reading done in the Summer - there is so much else to do and I am not one for sitting out in the garden (a midge can sense my presence at a mile), so most of my reading is done on cold winter nights.

But this book was lent to me by a friend this week. I don't find books by American authors easy to read - I think the whole ethos is different (I am sure my American readers feel the same about British authors) and for the first few chapters I found this hard going. But then I "got into " it and found it un-put-down-able!

It is a modern transposition of the King Lear story set in the farming community of Iowa and is a very powerful story. Jane Smiley, the author, was born in Los Angeles and now lives and writes in California. This particular book won both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Circle Critics' Award in 1992 - so it is not a new book. But if you haven't read it and you want a good read - try this book.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Summertime, and the living.............

is certainly not easy. At least not if you have a garden - and hedges - and lawns - and Border Terriers. As we enter High Summer (in theory if not in temperature) there always seems to be plenty to do. We have yards of lawns to cut and this has been "hedge week", when the farmer has cut our privet hedges and holly and hawthorn hedges that surround our gardens. The birds have all but finished rearing their offspring and have largely gone out of song and into moult mode. So now is the best time. But it is not just the cutting, it is also the clearing up, and this has taken him most of the week.
Earlier in the week I went out to see visitors off the premises. There was the most wonderful sunset - the whole sky was red and the rosy glow hung everywhere. I dashed in for my camera but in that few seconds it had faded and all I got was a faint hint of what it had been like (see photograph above). It reminded me of the inimitable Dorothy Parker who used to comment when people came to look round her garden -"it was absolutely marvellous last week - and there is such a lot left to come out. It's just that this week there's not a lot to see." Anyway, looking at the photograph I am sure you can imagine what it was like three minutes earlier!
Weeds of course are in full grow. Half an hour a day spent wandering round the garden pulling up groundsel, chickweed and goosegrass pays dividends. But as you will see from another of the photographs above - Tess knows it is time for her walk (can dogs tell the time or something?)
And so to the rose photographs. I must say our front garden smells heavenly at present - all the roses are out and so is the mock orange blossom. The rose in the photograph - I bought it "un-named" from Woolworths about ten years ago for £1.50 is in full bloom. It was labelled as a climber and we planted it against our garden wall. By last Autumn it had more than topped the wall and all the flowers were high in the air. The farmer took his long handled pruners to it and cut it back almost to ground level. I thought he would kill it. UK Bob (Diary of an English Gardener on my Blog List) agreed with the farmer that it would probably recover. And they were right : this year it has more blooms than ever and they are at a reasonable height. Would anyone (Twisted Willow, UK Bob) like to hazard a guess at its provenance?
Well, another week bites the dust. This weekend our village is holding an Open Gardens day and also a Scarecrow Competition. You will no doubt hear about it on Dominic Rivron's blog some time next week as his family are intending to create a scarecrow. Luckily our farm is well out of the village so I don't have to make one. Have a good week-end - hope the sun shines wherever you are.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Kraken Wakes.

(With apologies to Tennyson!)

Behind the logs
the straw and
many scratching hens,
he sleepeth:
tiny beams of watery sun
play on his shadowy sides.
Above him giant cobwebs
hang, weighed down by
rising dust - and swallows,
newly-fledged ,bespoil
his ruddy shell.
Until today.

His giant form is
stirred to life - the
cobwebs break asunder;
the swallows flee.
Then, like the Kraken from the depths,
he surges forth and lumbers
up the yard, steered by
his Commander.

For his hour has come.
The corn lies ripening in the fields
and he, with sharpened blades,
and oiled,
will lay it low.
In roaring he shall rise
and then
at Harvest Home
shall die - his shell
returned to moulder
for another year.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Even the ducks are sick of it!

Yes. You've got it! Rain!!
It is warm, it is Summer,therefore there are rain clouds. That seems to be the logic of it.
It is very pleasant weather for most of the time but every now and then huge black clouds come in - my friend G, if she is reading this, will no doubt know what kind of clouds they are- and then there is a downpour. On Monday we had two downpours. The first one in the early afternoon when the rain came down so fast that it poured off the house roof, bringing great clods of moss with it, missed the guttering and cascaded down the windows. When it stopped I could hardly see out for mud. Lo and behold, ten minutes later my window-cleaner arrived. He had been working two miles away and they had had no rain there. Half an hour later he left, leaving behind sparkling windows. Two hours later rain cascaded down again, rain poured off the roof.............need I go on.
I read somewhere that the Inuit have thirty different descriptive words for snow. Well up there above the Arctic Circle snow must feature heavily in their lives. It would seem to me that on this island of ours, where the weather is heavily influenced by the vagiaries of the jet stream, where we frequently get WEATHER off the Atlantic (often via Ireland, where BT The Gardener
often complains about wet weather), we have a fair number of descriptive words for rain too.
I gathered a few together:-

Fine rain - this kind of rain is so fine that you can hardly see it falling. It is only when you get out in it, without wet weather gear, that you find yourself soaked to the skin as it wraps itself round you like an all-enclosing blanket.
Misty rain - up here in the hills we get a lot of this and what it usually means is that the cloud is very low and we are walking about in it.
Gentle rain - this is the kind that we love on a nice Spring day. We feel like walking out in it - we hold our hands out to catch it and say "this will be doing a lot of good for the flowers."
Steady rain - the farmer's favourite. This is the rain that gently soaks into the garden, swells the peas in the pod. If you have recently weeded then it cleans up your work no end and makes everything look fresh and clean.
Thundery rain - Kids love this. It bounces on the road like dancing fairies; it rattles on the roof
courses down the gutters, fills the drains. Marvellous fun if you are under ten and wearing wellies!
Pouring rain - not to be confused with the above. This only falls on very, very wet days and is quite unforgiving.
Horizontal rain - always accompanied by the serious gale, this rain cuts into you, hits your face like shards of ice, is thoroughly unpleasant.
I'm sure you can think of more descriptive words for rain. All I know is:-

Rose heads hang heavy in it.
Lady's Mantle leaves collect it like crystals.
Peas swell visibly in the pod with it.
Strawberries moulder in it.
Children revel in it, splashing in the puddles.
Cats hate it, lifting each paw daintily as they make their way through it to complain at the back door.
Must stop there. It is raining again. Have to get the washing in.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Fourth Plinth.

So, it has begun. Yesterday morning at 9 of the clock, the first "living statue" clambered up the plinth in Trafalgar Square in London. Antony Gormley - the architect of the project - says that the intention is to portray the nation in an up-to-date version of how painters like Gainsborough and Reynolds showed it; the difference being that in the nineteenth century it was the landed gentry - the ruling classes - who personified the nation: now it is the ordinary "man-in-the-street."

I would have loved to apply for a slot - thousands did apparently - but a) could I clamber up - I doubt it and b) I suffer from vertigo - could I last an hour at that height. Gormley will no doubt be pleased that the plinth was hi-jacked by an anti-smoking campaigner before it got started. That's what it is all about.

People's reasons for wanting an hour slot standing in the open air in the nation's favourite meeting place are interesting -

""I don't imagine it will be easy or comfortable. The idea that captivated me was celebrating humanity through the ordinary and everyday in us, letting the light shine through the cracks", said a 42 year old man from Derby.

"I want to give my grandson something to remember," said a 54 year old Londoner, holding up a placard saying 'I am not a pigeon.'"

And the lady in the picture? She is a housewife aged 35 from Lincolnshire.

Although I don't think you can see the project as in any way "profound", it is sure to be a popular one as the tourist season gets into full swing. Rachel Campbell-Johnston, writing in The Times this morning, reminds us that the fourth plinth is "as much about the debate that takes place around it as it is about the art work on the top."

I love the idea. She says she feels that Gormley is still in control and that the plinthers will be seen as "Gorms" (the nickname of the figurines in the sea off Crosby - if you don't know about those go to Art Propelled where Robyn has an excellent post on the artist.)

Is it art? What do you think?

Monday, 6 July 2009

A walk to the beach.

What goes on in our creative mind? Do we always know about it, or do our everyday thoughts and actions often cloak our creative instincts? And why does this creativity emerge in people in different ways? Why do some of us express ourselves in words, others in paint, others in music - there are so many different ways.
I have done my second collage today (I don't want to become a bore with this, so shall not post it every day!) and - in line with the suggestions on the course - I sat and thought and allowed my mind to wander. And I thought of a picture I saw fifteen years ago, for sale in a hotel called Le Chanticleer in a lovely little village called St. Adele in Canada. It was for sale for fifty dollars and I thought about buying it for too long 'til I persuaded myself not to have it! I have always regretted not buying it - and think of it often. Here is the progression of my thoughts on it - by no means meant to be a poem - just a wander through the mind:-

A Walk on the Beach.

It hung on the wall,
a small, simple picture -
two children -
hand in hand -
walking to the beach.

He in trousers as blue
as the sea;
she with a red
bucket and spade.

I didn't buy it, but it
hangs in my mind,
that image from St. Adele
fifteen years ago.

Did they enjoy their day?
Did they build fine castles?
Do they remember that day
now that they
are no longer children?

Was the day
as important to them
as it has been to me
who still can see
that moment of a
walk to the beach?

Try it. Try sitting and letting your mind walk where it wishes to go. Have you got a memory to share?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Ten Minute Collage

After reading Derrick at Melrose Musings and Robyn at Art Propelled I have been persuaded to join a free on-line creative workshop "Collage for Self-Discovery". I thought you might be interested to see my first collage. When I get to my tenth I will post that too and you can decide whether or not I have made progress towards self-discovery (or maybe only I can say that!) One thing is for sure - I really enjoyed the experience and I felt that I was using skills in my thinking process that I had not used before. So here it is - judge for yourselves.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Here's wishing all my American blogging friends (you know who you are!) a very happy July 4th tomorrow. To begin the celebrations I thought I would post a few more photographs from my recent holiday in Canada and US.

The North Bridge in Concord is supposedly where the first shot was fired in the War for Independence (the shot heard round the world (Emerson)). Over the bridge (the farmer is in the photo crossing it) is the statue of the Minute Man. It was here that a brief battle took place in 1775. The fight then moved on to nearby Lexington - now such a pretty, peaceful place - here is a photograph of the "village" green.
Philadelphia became the nation's temporary capital in 1790. Today it is a lovely city with wide streets, lots of trees, beautiful buildings and lots of history! And finally I could not do this post without adding the Liberty Bell. That icon of freedom (its voice has never been stilled). It was first heard in 1753 when it stood on top oof the Pennsylvania State House. In 1776 the colonies were proclaimed "Free and Independent States", Thomas Jefferson drafted the declaration and it was adopted on July 4th - the colonies were now sovereign states, well on the way to becoming one nation.
So dear friends - 233 years later - have a fantastic celebration tomorrow. We shall be thinking of you all.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ten Minute Collage.

Following posts by Art Propelled and Melrose Musings I decided to have a shot at a ten-minute collage (Thanks to Robyn and Derrick for the idea). Because the weather here is so very hot and any activity ends in extreme exhaustion for me I also decided to "kill two birds with one stone" and make the collage from my bundle.

If you remember over one hundred bloggers joined Seth Apter's (The Altered Page) invitation to create a bundle from odds and ends and hang it outside to weather until May 1st. On that date we were instructed to take it down and (by August 1st) make it into a work of art.

Here is the result. The base is a piece of black card. On it I put my newspaper bundle, which I roughly tore into strips. I then added bits of scrim and bits and pieces which had been wrapped in the bundle when it was hung in the rowan tree. Everything is glued down.

When my ten minutes was up I laid a frame on it to give the piece some sort of shape. The only other thing I did was to zap a bit of tyvek with a heat tool and then get out gold and blue paint (you can't do anything for Seth without adding blue - it seems to be his preferred colour!) I daubed paint here and there but left some of the newpaper as it was.

What do you think of the result? Here it is then - Seth my bundle "transformed into an art work", Robyn and Derrick my "ten minute collage".

Phew! It is still too hot to move.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The idea of collage.....

Collage seems to be the buzz-word in Blogland at present. Art Propelled, who makes the most beautiful wood sculptures and sometimes puts them together in what could probably loosely be called collages, made some ten-minute collages on her blog last week. Derrick (Melrose Musings) had a go at it too. There is something very free and creative about collage - and if, like me, you are no good at drawing, it is possible to put together a pleasing picture.

And that is what creative work is all about isn't it? I am not talking about "great art" here, I am thinking of creative work which gives the creator a feeling of satisfaction.

The time is fast approaching (August 1st) when those of us who did a "bundle" are going to have to post a creative work which we have made from it. At present my bundle sits in my work room, surrounded by the detritus which was once inside it and is now sitting there waiting for me to put it together - I think I shall do a kind of collage, so watch this space.

My greatest difficulty art-wise is that I cannot be "free". I suppose, if I think about it, it applies to other areas too - I have to have a tidy house, I have to file things away, I do not have the ability to just splash paint/materials around and see what happens.

Some years ago, cleaning out a drawer in my parents-in-law's house, I came across a tin full of little keys. What to do with them? You can see what I did with them in the picture - I got a piece of linen and laid the keys on the linen in straight lines and fastened them down. The result is quite a pleasing picture as you can see, and it sits on my kitchen wall. But you have to agree - it is not "free".

So, take heed, I have found a few more little treasures in another drawer and (spurred on by Robyn and Derrick and several other bloggers who have done similar collage work) I intend to "let it all hang out" as they say. No more straight lines and neat and tidy pictures - my next effort (and it may well include my bundle) will be, for want of a better word, exuberant.

That is, unless I lose my nerve!