Thursday, 31 December 2009

What are we creating?

We feed the birds here at the farm - in fact the farmer spend enormous amounts of money on buying sunflower hearts, mixed seed, peanuts and fat balls in bulk once a month. He fills all the containers and puts scraps on the bird table every morning at about half past eight - the birds are waiting in the bushes alongside the feeders long before that time, as soon as it is light in fact. And by dusk it has all gone. We have a huge variety of birds - greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, robin, blackbird, mistle thrush, collared dove, wood pigeon, stock dove, spotted woodpecker, jackdaw, crow, magpie, occasional jay - plus all kinds of odd ones at times. This morning we had nineteen blackbirds feeding on the grass under the feeders (the farmer scatters three or four handfuls of food down for them as they prefer not to go on the table itself). This has been the case for the last few years. The blackbirds largely disappear during the summer months but the rest keep coming and also bring their families when they hatch out in Summer. Sometimes I wonder whether they will forget to forage for food, relying as they do on our handouts. In fact I wrote to our RSPB along these lines a few months ago and they assured me that the birds would forage as soon as the weather improved. Well we did have a poor summer last year but I can't say I noticed any reduction in the numbers at the feeders, apart from the blackbirds.
Today in The Times, Matthew Parris echoes my worries when he says that he is concerned that he is creating an "avian micro welfare state" and wonders what effect this is having on natural selection. He says that those birds who forage all year round in the hedgerows would, under the rules of natural selection, be the ones to survive the harsh winter and would then pass on these strong genes to their offspring. He thinks he may be sponsoring a "feathered dependency culture". I must say I tend to agree with this view. But of course, we get such pleasure from watching the birds at the feeders and from knowing that we help a large section of our local bird population to survive the harsh conditions. So we shall continue to feed them - to withdraw food now would be catastrophic. But I do sometimes wonder what effect this has in the giant scheme of things. Do you have an opinion on this issue? If so I would like to hear it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Poetry reading.

The weather here is abysmal - dark, grey, cold, sleeting - not a single thing to commend it. All the more reason then to enjoy our Poetry Reading Afternoon. Once a month a group of friends meet to read poetry aloud. I can thoroughly recommend it as a relaxing pastime for a winter's afternoon. I know we can all sit and read poetry at home, but listening to someone else's choice read aloud is so much better.
We sat in a friend's sitting room, a lovely fire in the grate, the tea pot to hand, along with a plate of chocolate biscuits - and we listened. Wendy read UA Fanthorpe plus various pieces from a Christmas anthology; Joan read a piece from Chaucer and some of the poems of RS Thomas; Dorothy read Dorothy Parker and Carol Ann Duffy; Sylvia read poems in Lancashire dialect and I read Seamus Heaney's North, a poem by Don Paterson, Digging up the Bones by Imtiaz Dharker and a couple from Gwilym Williams's Genteel Messages (you got a mention, Poet).
What it means is that we listen to poems we would probably never think of reading for ourselves. Sometimes the reader gives a little introduction and sometimes we have a discussion afterwards. But the main reason for meeting is to enjoy poetry. Try it sometime.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Past is always with us.

Here the snow is lurking about and the temperature is just above freezing. Sleet/snow showers keep falling spasmodically. The sky is grey and, frankly, it is bitter out there. On my way up to my study I looked out of the landing window. The photograph above is what is saw.

Not very exciting, is it? I am sure that looking at it you can almost feel the bitter raw cold. But there is something in the photograph which does make it more interesting.

Do you see how the field opposite the farm house is beginning to be striped. Thin trails of grass are showing through in straight lines down the field and in between the snow still lies deep. This is clear evidence of medieval farming methods - the rig and furrow system.

Those old medieval farmers were clever and knew how to get the most surface area from their land, so they made a series of ridges with furrows in between, and those pastures which are rarely, if ever, ploughed, have retained that evidence.

Similarly, on our neighbours farm higher up the hill, there is evidence of terracing and Anglo-Saxon lynchets - other methods of making the most of the surface area. All these things show up at sunrise and sunset, when the sun is low in the sky and the shadows are long. But today, in the slowly thawing snow, they advertise their presence and for me serve to emphasise that we don't own the land, it is merely ours for our lifetime - then we can pass it on to others. And luckily, they too will find evidence of our farming methods in hundreds of years to come.

And I know one thing for sure - those old farmers had it hard. This kind of weather would still see them toiling with their stock, feeding, milk, watering, cleaning out - all without the benefit of central heating, constant hot water, electricity.........I could go on. But no, I'll continue up to my study, sit by the hot radiator with my little spotlight and do a bit of embroidery. But at lease it has made me think on my way upstairs. The past is always with us - but sometimes we forget about it and the snow has been a timely reminder. Keep warm.

Monday, 28 December 2009

I think that I shall never see.............

If you are of a certain age, your response to this title will be to supply the next line:-
A poem lovely as a tree!
I have just driven out with the farmer through the Dale. The snow is beginning to go but only very slowly. So slowly in fact that I can't help thinking of the old folk lore we trotted out as children:- if it is going slowly then it is surely waiting for more to fall. The difference being that in those days we didn't want it to go as we were enjoying the sledging in the field called the hills and hollows in our village - now I just want the fields to be green again and the roads to be clear so that I can enjoy getting out and actually driving (I don't do icy roads any more). But I digress.
What showed up so beautifully in the Dale was the glorious bare trees. Their black shiny trunks and branches look starkly beautiful against a white background. What would we do without them?
I remembered something about trees in Ronald Blythe's "Borderland", so when I came back into the farmhouse I looked it up.
Trees are without doubt the largest living things in the world. When you think that each one has grown from a tiny seed, and often taken a few hundred years to get to its majestic phase, one can only marvel at the spectacle.
What Blythe does in his book is to make you think at a deeper level about them. He says, for instance, that when they come into leaf in the Spring they are always young again, but that when they are bare in Winter they show their old battle scars - the broken limbs, the torn off branch scars - he cleverly likens them to wounds under the bright uniforms of old naval officers in the Napoleonic wars, which is very apt when he speaks of the oak trees and how they were felled to make the ships for Nelson's navy before the great battles at sea. He suggests that most oaks we see were planted around 1800, as their predecessors would have been felled in the great forest sweep that was made at the time. It reminded me of the iron railings which we also melted down for munitions at the start of the Second World War.
We tend to take our trees forgranted, but apart from the fact that they provide us with wood for furniture, cricket bats, logs for the fire, with their fallen branches, they also provide homes for a million small creatures and wonderful perches for our song birds.
Last Spring we were in New York State as the trees were coming into leaf and we marvelled at the sight of so many different greens and yellows - at the sight which we felt probably equalled the sight of New England in the Fall (which I must say we have not seen). But I must say that, on balance, I think I probably get more pleasure from the bare trees as they stand out in Winter. I particularly like them against a back drop of ploughed fields.
Are you a tree lover? How do you like your trees? Have you a favourite one?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

That's it for another year!

So - it's over once again. All the meeting friends and family, all the over-eating, drinking, opening presents, sitting around chatting; now we are more or less "back to normal" today (we will for the present ignore the New Year Festivities yet to come). And this is the day I always really enjoy. There is plenty of food left to eat without doing anything more strenuous than sauteing a few new potatoes left over and joy of all joys - there are Christmas Books to pore over and Christmas jig-saws to do.

Presents are lovely when real thought has gone into them - both the giving and the receiving. This year I have a lovely store of poetry books including a real surprise = you will see in the photograph a shot of Gwilym Williams's (Poet in Residence, see my blog list) book of poetry "Genteel Messages". My son sent for this for me and I can thoroughly recommend it - it is a joy to read. So thanks, indirectly, Gwilym. Last year I did the same for my son, sending him a copy of Rachel Fox's poetry - also thoroughly recommended (see More About the Song on my blog list).
So this is my plan for today: cook a "scratch" lunch; light the wood burner; draw up a chair and read, chocs on the side table, blackberry whisky and sloe vodka to hand - and doing whatever Christas jig saw is on the table when I want a change.
That's my day and I hope you are all doing whatever it is you wish to be doing today. Lovely photographs showing the pure joy of a new arrival have arrived on my computer from Elizabeth of The World Examining Works (see mu blog list) - who has a delightful new grandson. We have a new baby next door to us - arrived on Christmas Eve - isn't it wonderful to greet new babies, especially at Chritmas?
Outside the snow is thawing - as I write the farmer is running the scraper up and down the drive and clearing the slush and ice. I understand from friends who managed to find time to watch TV yesterday, that more snow may be coming our way next week - but let's not think about that.
In the meantime, dear blog friends, enjoy a quiet day - the lull before the storm of New Year's Eve.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Do you remember? (TFE's Poetry Challenge)

Do you remember
about chilblains
and chapped knees
and hot-aches
in your hands?

When ice-crystals formed
on the inside
of the bedroom window
and the cold tap
had to be thawed out
before it ran?

Do you remember
sitting so close
to the fire
that your legs
went red and mottled
like a turkey's dewlap,
But your back was still
freezing cold?

When the lights on the
Christmas tree
were real candles
and smelt strongly of
burning wax - and posed
a real threat of fire?

Do you remember
the ice-cold bedroom,
the ice-cold sheets
and the one warm spot
in the feather bed
where the stone bottle lay,
already cooling?

When you got to know
the turkey - live and feathered
and formed a relationship, so that
when you ate it the flesh
turned to sawdust
in your mouth?

Do you remember
the chestnuts,
pushed through the bars
of the open fire and
roasted in the embers;
burnt, charred bits - but
creamy bits the likes of which
you've never tasted since?

When you were all still here and
gathered round the piano
to sing
the old favourite carols
in suspect harmony
made enjoyable by
the home-made damson wine?

Do you remember?

Switch on the twinkling lights.
Put the turkey in the oven.
Turn up the central heating.
Warm up the bottles of mulled wine
you bought in the supermarket.
Listen to Carols from Kings on the telly.
But always remember.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Cards versus Reality.

Snow scenes, puffed out robins, children playing in the snow, snowdrops pushing through the snow, Christmas trees beautifully lit - of course the cards we receive show perfection in the scene. It would not be the same if the scenes took a "warts and all" approach, would it?
Nevertheless, I had a long think after receiving a very pretty card with a Victorian street scene. It was a nostalgic look at the past, a suggestion that those were the "good old days" and that people lived such wonderful lives. Had my mother still been alive she would have given one of her famous snorts at the scene, because she was born in the Victorian era and she knew different.
My mother, Alice Maud, was one of eight children all born fairly close together so that they grew up as a tightly-knit little family. Her father, William, was a Foreman on the railway and her mother, Rebekkah, the daughter of a farm foreman. Rebbekah had a modicum of education as she read and wrote well, filling in all my grandfather's work papers as he could only sign his name. So you can see from this that they were not part of the desperately poor country population, although only marginally better off.
Mother used to talk of her childhood in a fenland village in Lincolnshire, where the Lady of the Manor used to ride round in a carriage and girls had to curtsy and boys to pull their forelock when she passed. But most of all she used to talk of their childhood Christmas and their stockings, which they hung on the end of the bed.
All the girls (4) slept in a big double bed with a feather mattress. To warm it up at night when they went to bed, their mother used to wrap a shelf from the fire oven in a piece of old sheeting and put it into the bed. On Christmas night they each had one of their father's old socks, darned 'til there was more darn than sock and they were no longer wearable. They hung them in a row on the end of the brass bedstead and on Christmas morning they would have few toys.
Mother spoke of dolls - sometimes made out of an old black stocking - buttons for eyes - a bit of red felt for lips -stuffed with rags and dressed in a dress which my grandmother would have made out of left overs from her sewing. Sometimes, instead, the doll would be made out of a wooden clothes peg - mother still had one for years when I was small. It lay in a drawer in the sideboard and she treasured it greatly.
In addition each sock would have an apple, an orange, a handful of nuts, a few sweets and - if they were lucky - a penny to spend after Christmas. (She used to tell of her father borrowing a penny from her for a "sneck-lifter" to get him into the pub. Once there he would sing folk songs such as The Lincolnshire Poacher in order to get a pint of beer from the audience!)
The children on my Christmas card are all wearing beautiful red or green coats with little fur trimmed caps and fur trimmed bonnets. They have warm boots on their feet and their faces are pressed to the windows of a toy shop which is brimming with toys.
How times have changed now and how those old, outdated class values have all but disappeared, thank goodness. I remember mother being overjoyed when they missed out the verse in the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful", the verse which read:-
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high or lowly
and ordered their estate.
Mother and father had five children, only three of us reached adulthood, but all three of us had good education followed by good jobs and happy and fulfilled lives. I am the only one remaining now and i think often of the old days. Mother was justifiably proud of us all - well she would be wouldn't she, as she could look back to the reality of her childhood. So if she were alive today (she died in 1971) and if she was scornful of my Christmas Card then I hope I would understand why. But we all need a bit of magic at Christmas and I suppose a Victorian scene with everyone well dressed, well fed and brimming with money to spend on toys is no different from showing us a well fed, brightly clothed Santa skimming the chimney pots, drawn by his reindeer and shouting ho-ho-ho!
A Happy Christmas to you all.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Still in snow.

Not much time today but I thought you might like to see one or two images of Wensleydale in the snow. We had to go up through the Pennines to Hawes this morning. We have had no snow all weekend but what we had last week is still there. However, the roads are just about clear and have been gritted and salted, so we set off in good heart.
The forecasters tell us that this week's snow is coming down from the Arctic and entering in by the North West and as we are in the East we have missed most of it. But as we neared Hawes, which is West of here and high in the Pennine Hills we began to see a deterioration. By the time we got to Hawes - a small market town - the roads were much harder to negotiate and by the time we got to the farm gate we decided that the incline was too much to bear and we went no further.
So enjoy the photographs, all taken from a moving car as the farmer was not inclined to stop for the photographer.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to.........

Tavistock in this case. This is the prompt for our next month's Writers' Group, so I am trying it out on my blog. There are, of course, two distinct meanings to "funny" - funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. I can't imagine why the same word is used for both as there is no similarity that I can see. However - I digress - a very strange thing happened on the way to Tavistock about twenty years ago:

We were holidaying in the glorious Devon countryside, meandering through the pretty little towns, staying in old picturesque pubs overnight and moving on next day. One day, sitting over breakfast looking at the road map and wondering where to go next my husband (who died in 1991) spotted Tavistock and remembered that his ancestors came from there

His ancestry was French and the first one to settle in this country was one, Jean, a soldier in the Napoleonic campaigns who was taken prisoner and put into jail in Exeter. He had been a gardener in the Tuileries in Paris but after the war he decided to become a gardener in England instead of returning to his native land and he got aj ob in Tavistock. While there he met and married a girl called Mary, they raised a family - and the rest as they say - is family history.

My husband remembered that in the research he had done the couple had been married in a small Roman Catholic Church in Tavistock - I think it was called St.Mary's but after all these years I can't be sure. After the wedding they had been befriended by the priest who had, over the years, become a great personal friend.

"Wouldn't it be good to find that church?" I agreed and we set out on our quest. The church was not difficult to find. It was very small and no longer in use as far as we could see. The graveyard at the side of the church was thick with brambles and obviously had gone totally wild.
We decided to take a look, reasoning that the priest may well be buried there, even if Jean and Mary were not.

It was a warm, sunny morning; the air was fresh and full of the smell of the sea as we pushed through the creaky gate and began our search in the undergrowth. After a couple of minutes we found we were being watched by an elderly man who came up and enquired what we were doing. Upon hearing our story he insisted that we go round the back of the church where the priest's house was and where he and his wife now lived.

Like the churchyard, their garden had been allowed to run riot and the house was almost hidden by all kinds of climbing things - roses, clematis, convolvulus - a riot of colour in the Devon summer. The lady came to the door and welcomed us in. She was a tiny, elfin lady as I remember and had such an air of feyness that it was hard to believe that she was real.

The house was old and rather tumbled-down but it was full to bursting with books - they covered every shelf, every flat surface, every chair, every floor - and amongst them well-fed cats slept here and there. We were made so welcome, given tea and cakes and the couple listened eagerly to our story of the family history. They explained that the man (I think the couple were called Mr and Mrs Johns, but it is all a long time ago) had been a master-thatcher and that now, in his sixties, his health was poor and he was waiting for a heart transplant. Mrs Johns seemed older than that but so sprightly, dashing here and there, full of life and such an interesting lady.

When we mentioned that we were looking for the priest's grave they took us to it immediately. It was clear of brambles, well-kept and obviously cared for. Well it would be said Mrs Johns because he was her dearest friend.

Back in the house drinking even more china tea from beautiful porcelain cups she told us that he still lived in the house and that she encountered him on the stairs most evenings, where they had the most wonderful chats. She told us that she confided her worries to him and that he was so helpful in sorting out her problems. Seeing as how he had been dead for a couple of hundred years we were not sure how to respond to this, but she took us up the winding narrow stair to show exactly where they sat and chatted - a small landing with two chairs placed by the window.

We left after a couple of hours although they were such lovely people we could have stayed all day. Only a few weeks later we saw in The Times one day that Mr. Johns had died before he could have his heart transplant. I wrote to his widow and received a charming reply which added that her friend, the Roman Catholic Priest, send his love too. She was apparently getting great comfort from him. We never heard from her again.

She will have been long dead now but I can still see her face as she stood at the door on that lovely Summer day and waved us goodbye. Did I really see a face at the landing window watching us - or was it a trick of the light?

Friday, 18 December 2009

I like robins on my bird table.........

...but not "round robins" inside my Christmas cards, if you don't mind!

Bernie asked in the comments to yesterday's post how I felt about printed letters put inside my card telling me the family's news for the year. Well, I have to say, Bernie, I hate them.f any of you reading this send a round robin then I apologise for hating them and I would be interested to hear your side of the argument as to why you send them. In the meantime here is my round robin:-
Dear sender of my latest round robin letter,
Thank you for your Christmas card. It is years since we met but I have such happy memories of our fun times together when we lived near by. It is lovely to get your card and to be reminded of those times - and also to hear that you are both well and still enjoying life. The renewal of such friendships each Christmas is a precious thing to me.But please don't send me your round robin letter. I appreciate that you are both busy people (your round robin is full of all the things you have done this year - it makes me tired just reading through them!)) but in the time it must have taken for you to compose, type and print the robins.I think it would have been possible for you to just write one line on each card - something like -"remembering the old days", or "we are both well, hope you are". or even just "happy Christmas dear old friends." But I really don't want to know every day out you had, every holiday in detail, the exploits (always, always "good", "clever" or "highly imaginative") of your grandchildren and a list of their exam results (always, always top marks).

Apart from the fact that I have never met any of your children, let alone grandchildren, I am also quite busy writing my cards and putting a little personal hand-written note on each one, and when your letter (three pages long) falls out of your card on to the carpet my heart sinks in anticipation of a long and - frankly - rather boring read.

Please don't think I am ungrateful - I do want to continue to hear from you and to know that, like me, you remember the good times we all had in the old days. I just wish you would keep it brief. This letter comes with love - and remembering the happy times together.

What do You think of round robins? Answers in the comment box please, not on a postcard and certainly not in a round robin.

##cannot resist putting this photograph on - it is my kitchen window this morning. As we have double glazing it has taken almost all day to thaw and there is still a patch as darkness falls. Deep snow and freezing outside - I have not been outside the door all day - Tess adores the snow and comes in covered in bobbles which drop off on the carpet.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas.

Yes - you've guessed it - we awoke to a sprinkling of snow this morning - very pretty. Within half an hour it had gone and the sun was trying to break through the cloud. Then suddenly the sky went dark and we had a huge blizzard. And that more or less set the pattern for the day.
I went into our little market town and parked while I went to the Post Office and did a bit of shopping. When I returned to the car it was covered in deep snow.
Yes, it is very pretty but I have to say that ten minutes of it is quite enough for me. I hate driving in it and I am scared of falling when I have to walk in it, so it does rather hamper my life.
More Christmas cards have arrived today - we are getting a dozen or so at each post. So far we have had fifty three cards and out of those only six have any religious motif whatsoever (even the one I get every year from a vicar friend was not a religious card!) There are robins galore and plenty of stage coaches and snow. Isn't it odd the things we associate with Christmas?
There does seem to be a preoccupation with Christmas in Victorian times on this year's cards. They all make it look so jolly - roaring fires, carol singers, lighted windows glowing into the snow. I think it is all a pipe dream really because cold snowy weather would be pretty awful before the days of central heating.
I remember as a child sleeping in a bedroom without heating (if you were really, really ill you might get a fire in the firegrate) and in the morning the water in the jug on the washstand was often frozen on the top. If this happened then you had to use the water our of your stone hot water bottle (which had been down at the bottom of the bed all night and was therefore luke warm) to pour into the bowl and wash with. We thought nothing of it, of course, because it was the norm. But today, looking back on those conditions, they all seem a bit primitive.
But I do love Christmas cards, whatever the picture on the front is. I have moved around the country quite a bit in my job and have left friends all over the place. I only hear from a lot of these people at Christmas and it is such fun to catch up on their lives.
I hope when I awake in the morning the snow has gone and that we have our usual warm, damp spell over the festive season. But I am not getting my hopes up.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Christmas Presents.

Do you collect presents as and when you see them throughout the year, carefully hiding them in a drawer until it is time to wrap them? Or do you make a list in early December of possible presents and then go searching? Or do you wait until the last minute, push out into the crowd and desperately search for something special?
And what about receiving presents? If they come early do you put them straight under the tree and leave them until Christmas morning? Or do you sniff them, shake them, feel them all over until you think you have guessed what they are? Or do you sneak them open early because you can't wait? (yes, G, if you are reading this, I mean YOU)
The giving and receiving of presents is such a lovely tradition and we all treat it in a different way. I like to start about mid November and collect presents as and when I see them. I keep a list and cross them off as I buy them. And when I receive a present I put it under the tree and wait for Christmas morning.
So here are a few questions for you to think about:'

What is the best present you have ever received? You know, and I know, that it has absolutely nothing to do with monetary value and everything to do with how much care the giver has given to choosing it, or making it.
What is the best present you have ever given? And the same rules apply.
Will you keep all your presents for Christmas morning?
Do you leave food out for Santa and his reindeer? If so - what.
Here are my answers:
The best present I have ever received is probably the first present the farmer ever bought for me. It is a slender gold bracelet and I love it dearly.
I think the best present I have ever given - and by that I mean the one that was the most successful as far as the recipients were concerned - was when I gave my son and his wife an etching last year by a local etcher - Piers Browne. It was totally unexpected on their part and luckily they absolutely loved it. When this happens it is such a joy.
My presents - and the farmers - will sit under the tree on Christmas morning until all the chores are done, the dinner is on cooking and there is a cheery log fire in the grate. Then we shall open them one by one, taking it in turn.
The tradition here is to leave out a mince pie for Santa. As for the reindeer - they have very efficient noses, so if they are hungry they can smell out the hay in the hat barn. That'tt give the farm cats a nasty shock!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Times were hard.

Today is what my mother would have called "a raw day". It is foggy, damp and grey - it would be impossible to see indoors without the lights on and outdoors it is positively depressing. "Not fit to turn a dog out," as the saying goes, although Tess doesn't seem to notice the weather - only the rabbit smells.

As I set off for Tesco this morning the farmer was cleaning out the cattle in the loose housing, scraping the channel into the midden, shaking up new straw and generally making them comfortable. And driving along I thought how lucky we are these days in farming and how very hard it would have been seventy years or so ago.

This morning he sat in the heated cab of his tractor, radio full on, a mass of handles and nobbles to pull or push in order to activate scrapers, forks, all manner of appliances. The only job he did by hand was spreading the straw and he could have done that by machine had he chosen to do so.

When my father-in-law was a young man the milk cows were kept three or four to a barn in various fields and he would tramp over the fields in all weathers, his milking stool on his back, to milk the cows early in the morning. Then he would carry the milk back and pour it into the churn., When hehad milked them all, he would harness the pony, heave the churn into the trap and take it to the station ready to be put on the train. Then he would come back and go round all the barns mucking out (throwing the muck out through the "window" on to a heap), feeding up and doing general maintainance jobs. By the time he had finished it would be time to start again for evening milking. Life was hard but because he had always done it he took the way of life forgranted and enjoyed it.

This farm got its first tractor (a "fergie" naturally) in early 1947. Up until then every job had been done - literally - with horse power. The photograph is of the last horse on the farm. I talked to the farmer about it - he is not sure who is on the horse - it could be him and one of his brothers or sisters. But he is sure of the date - around 1945, two years before the advent of that first tractor. He can barely remember its arrival (he would be almost three years old) but he does remember that, although it made life easier, some jobs were still done with horses because it was easier - for example weeding the turnips in the field (the horse would not trample the soil down to the same extent that a tractor would). As far as he can remember they still used the horses until the last one died and only then did they use the tractor for everything. A far cry indeed from farming today and one that it is good to remember on such a bleak day.

Monday, 14 December 2009


Christmas draws nearer and I am slowly working through my mental list of things to do. I do the same things each year, much to the amusement of some of my friends (you know who you are!) and get great satisfaction from getting everything done by Christmas eve. I am not sure why I do this - we always have a quiet Christmas with just a few family and friends, but I do like the whole place to look festive.

One of the things I do is to make sure that the house is full of plants - mainly flowering plants. Often Christmas Day here in the UK is damp and dismal and I like to see flowers everywhere to cheer things up. To this end, today the farmer and I set off for our local nursery straight after lunch.
It is a very wet, dismal, cold day here. Perhaps somebody can explain to me why this should be so. Our weather forecasters say that a ridge of high pressure sits over the British Isles, forcing the Atlantic storms to be deflected into the Mediterranean area. So why, with high pressure (and the barometer confirms this), is it very cold, very wet and very dismal?
However, the journey, whatever the weather, is a lovely one = ten miles of beautiful scenery, hills, rivers, forests, very little traffic and at the end of it greenhouses full of plants. I have taken a photograph or two so that you can see them. There were the conventional poinsettias, but also ones with pale pink or cream bracts. (after deliberation I chose the conventional red one). There were bowls of hyacinth bulbs grouped in threes. There were miniature cyclamen and there were azaleas. What a feast.
The top photograph shows what we chose to bring home. A large, pale pink azalea in bloom but with lots of unopened buds; two bowls of hyacinth bulbs - one blue, one pink; three miniature cyclamen - all pink; one poinsettia with red bracts.
Now they all sit on our wide window sills in South facing rooms where they get the maximum light - so near to the Winter solstice there is not a lot of light available up here in the North.
For the benefit on UK readers - the whole lot cost only £18. I can assure you we shall get far more value from them than that.
So now it is on to phase two of my mental list - wrapping the presents and delivering the local cards - shall start that tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

How do you cope with this?

"Getting old is like falling in love for the first time - you have to discover it for yourself in all its density and richness." (Martin Amis)

One thing is for certain - we all get old - everything on the planet does. But how we approach it and how we deal with it is such an individual thing. My brother, Jack, used to say that from the moment we are born death has got his eye on us. I used to think this a morbid view of life (although my brother enjoyed life immensely for his allotted sixty-six years), but just maybe it is a healthy attitude to construct because we are none of us immortal; some have longer than others but maybe quality is much more important than quantity here.
Martin Amis went on to say, in a debate on "Literature and Ageing" at Manchester University's Centre for new writing, that in one's mid-fifties death becomes intrigued by you and "starts sniffing you up."
Do you, dear blog friends, find approaching old age a depressing prospect, or do you embrace it as the inevitable consequence of being born and make the most of it? Alright, so signs of vigour are waning: my knees creak when I climb the stairs, I feel the effects of walking up the incline in the lane in my hips, which seem to stiffen instantly in protest, and I no longer stand on a chair to clean high windows being all too aware of the consequence of a sudden dizzy spell. But on the brighter side of that my eyesight is no longer good enough to see the cobwebs on the high window anyway!
Clive James says that at 70 he seems to have found a new form of strength. Hs says, "I want to retain the right to feel vigorous when all the signs of vigour are on the way out!" He cites another form of vigour - vigour of mentality - and I would agree with that.
Regardless of one's life style one has to do things more slowly. Therefore one has more time to think and to mull over the pros and cons of issues that are of concern - to decide what is really important and to discard triviality.
Both physically and metaphorically, if walking down the lane these days means going more slowly, then it also means having more time to notice the ephemera - the skeletal holly leaf, the cleverly-marked feather, the last harebell in the hedge-bottom, the last rosehip, glowing like a ruby, in the hedge. I can stand and listen to the robin's shrill little song and enjoy it while leaning on the field gate and gathering strength to walk back up the hill.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love (to go back to Martin Amis's premise at the beginning of my post)? I certainly do. In fact another aspect of growing old is that one can view such events through rose-tinted bifocals.
And how do you deal with ageing? Regardless of your age now, make no mistake you are ageing and we all have to cope with it on a daily basis. Do you embrace it, make the most of it, value it for what it is? Well I am pretty certain that readers of this do exactly that - after all you are not just sitting by the fire in your slippers and dozing, are you? No, you are out there doing things, writing about them, constantly thinking, "what can I put on my blog today."
As some one once said (surely it was a Yorkshireman!) - live each day as if it is your last but spend your money as though you are going to live for ever." Not sure about that last bit On the day that death comes knocking on my door I don't think I want a purse full of money - a clear conscience is much more important. Have a lovely Sunday wherever you may be spending it.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A Saturday Walk on the wild side...

How wintry everything looks, and how damp and dreary everywhere is. in spite of the lovely sunny day. There is a brilliant blue sky with white puffy clouds and very little breeze to disturb the trees. But it is cold.

Along the hedges there is little green to be seen apart from the leaves on the blackberry briars, which cling on as the briars stretch out into the fields. Here and there blackthorn has a few yellowing leaves, but other than that the hedges are bare. Along the lane-side tall ash sticks look quite incongruous. I read somewhere the other day that these sticks, if left for a couple of years, make very good walking sticks. Ours will disappear when the hedge-cutter comes round to trim up the laneside - and when that is will depend upon the weather conditions. A heavy tractor going slowly along the hedgeside creates havoc with the grass, so it is best done in hard, frosty weather.
Where a line of mature alders mark out the course of the beck their tops show a deep red in the sunshine - this is the tiny cones which form and if you look closely there are also small catkins - evidence that although the sap is not rising at present, it will do so before too long.
Where our beck goes under the lane and out into the fields on the other side, we stop for Tess to investigate the smell of a stoat, which has just crossed the road in front of us. All the beckside foliage is dead or dying and the beck is still very full of water from the recent heavy rain.
At last we find something in flower - the ivy, which looks so pretty in the afternoon sunshine.
Under the scots pines there are hundreds of fungi, many of them snapped off and upturned from where the dogs have run about. And in the front garden a helleborus argutifolius is just coming into flower with its yellowish-green bells.
Gina on BT blog has a picture of a daffodil in bloom in her garden. Our tete-a-tete daffodils are pushing through optimistically - time and the weather will tell whether they flower early or not
And Dark Lady rose still has one last bloom. I can see her from the kitchen window. I did think of putting her in water on the sill but decided not to - quite rightly as she has lasted a good fortnight and I have had pleasure from looking at her every day.
We are not back from our walk long before visitors arrive and then the farmer returns from his day shooting with his friends. He tells me to go outside with the camera as there is a splendid sunset: How well the skeletal trees show up against that blazing background.
##If you enlarge the bottom picture on the right you may be able to see a pheasant standing in the grass towards the bottom left of the picture. He was, of course, down here to escape the guns.


I am having severe problems with my Blog List. I get somebody's site on to my screen, read the blog, leave a comment, come off the site and click on the next one. But before the next one has time to come up on the screen the one I have just left returns, and returns, and returns and I can do nothing to get rid of it short of pressing control, alt, delete and shutting down and starting again. I can't find out what is happening - I don't think it is me pressing the wrong button as I did every move very carefully yesterday and it still happened. It is so frustrating as I so want to read all your lovely blogs, which get more Christmassy by the day.
Has anyone got a solution or anything I can try, please?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Season's Greetings from the farm.

Post early for Christmas is the message from the Royal Mail, so I have posted my Christmas cards for here on the mainland - ones for abroad went a week ago. So today I am posting our chosen card for this year on my blog. We have been into Bedale and as it usually looks so Christmassy there I took my camera - guess what? - thick fog by the time we reached the place.
So here is our Christmas Card for 2009 - and I post it wishing all my blogland friends a wonderful build up to Christmas, a happy time with family and friends over the festive season and a very happy 2010. The photograph was taken by me in February 2009 - the farmer is feeding the sheep in deep snow. It is not a very good quality photograph but it was a very dull, grey day and I think it conveys the feeling of Winter. Marmalade rose asks if the farmer demanded a fee for posing - the answer to that is no he didn't, I think he was flattered to be used for despatching to various parts of the globe.
Merry Christmas one and all.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Christmas Magic.

Seen yesterday:

The alder,
stripped bare in Winter,
twinkled with stars
in the midnight sky.

The ash,
leafless but hung with keys,
played host to a flock of goldfinches
- their red and gold patches
shone in the mid day sun.

Sometimes nature puts on her own Christmas show. What we really need now is a white Christmas (even if it is only hoar frost)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Big Boys' Toys.

The farmer's long-awaited new toy has arrived today and he has played with it all afternoon.
You can see it in the photographs - arriving on the low-loader, being unloaded by the farmer in his tractor (I must say it was pretty scary seeing him backing up that ramp to the lorry.) Then I took a photograph as he passed the kitchen window, tootling off to the top pasture.
In case you don't know what it is (clue: I have not mentioned manure on this blog for at least a fortnight) it is a slurry spreader/tanker. That means it sucks up the liquid manure (which includes the water from any washing out of cowsheds) stores it in the tank and then - on command- shoots it out into a spray across the field. If you haven't caught the sharp edge of this when driving past a field then you haven't lived! It is (or rather was) a bright royal blue - but after three tootles it is already showing signs of splattering.
What is really making me laugh is that our neighbour, Steve, has also got a new slurry tanker - his is red - and guess what - he is also spreading this afternoon, so they are riding up and down adjacent fields spreading like mad. Don't tell me that farmers grow up into men - they are all boys at heart with their great big machines.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Let's talk Art today.

Two interesting and rather heartening pieces of information on Art today. The first is the winner of the Turner Prize - an annual award of £25,000. Richard Wright, at forty nine near to the upper age limit for entry, no longer paints on canvas but paints his highly original but transitory paintings on to walls and ceilings on the understanding that they will later be removed.
He says, "My work is not for the future, it is for now." His latest work, and the one that bagged him the prize is a huge wall of abstract mural in an intricate gold-leaf design and two much smaller red designs painted above an opposite doorway. Congratulations go to him for such a beautiful piece of work and such a change from recent winners.
The other piece of artistic news I read today concerns something which has literally sprung up overnight outside the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo.
Thirty pencil cypress trees - all potted - have sprung up in a makeshift forest. They are surrounded by a box shaped hoarding with life-sized images of larger trees. Passers by are encouraged to stroll between the trees and imagine they are in a forest - this is helped by mirrored backdrops.The display is an effort to help city dwellers think about the issues of deforestation. Over the Christmas period children will be encouraged to hang their home made decorations in the trees and in January it will be the venue for a dance performance.
They will be there until the end of February when they will be dispersed and planted in various neighbourhood green spaces. What a refreshing idea.
If you wish to read more about either of these two stories go to day's Times on line.

Monday, 7 December 2009

"The Goose is getting Fat".

Well folks, we are really into the countdown to Christmas now, aren't we. I read that today is designated as the day when the most people do their Christmas shopping. I am afraid I am an early bird. I love the build up to the christmas festivities but I always do my Christmas shopping early to save any hassle. That way I can enjoy the next fortnight just doing pleasant little things like hanging up decorations and icing the cake. I also read that this year a lot of people are doing their shopping on the internet to save the rave of trawling round the shops.
The article said that shopping on the internet makes them much more discerning (???) I would not do that as it would mean credit card shopping to extremes and thus deferring payment of Christmas until January - and I wouldn't like that hanging over me all Christmas. But I suppose I am old fashioned.
As I told you the other day, the farmer has to drive into our little market town each morning to collect the daily papers. That way we can get to read them over our breakfast - one of the special times of day when peace reigns supreme in our household (until 8.10am when Tess gets out of her bed, stretches, sits by the farmer and makes teeny noises which, being interpreted, mean "come on it's walk time!" Well this morning I persuaded him (don't ask) to take the camera, because next to the newpaper shop is our gift shop, Serendipity. Every year there is a window-dressing competition and every year Serendipity win it. So this morning, for your benefit, the farmer stood in the wet, dark market place and photographed each of the three windows. He apologises for the poor quality of the shots, but you get the general idea I am sure.
What is your favourite bit of Christmas? Is it putting up the decorations, dressing the tree, cooking the bird, singing carols? Would you like to share your favourite bit with us today?
## Serendipity is even more exciting inside - beautifully set out - but I am reminded of Derrick's wish last week - he wished that people in his gift shop would buy rather than just look - I expect it is the same here.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

New Poetry Site.

I am busy today and so short of time. But I am just posting a short blog which may be of interest to all of those would-be poets who are missing TFE's Monday Poetry Bus (oh how I am missing that sense of direction it gave me).
Poet in Residence (see my blog list as I am useless at links) has a new project which I am quite excited about. If you go to his site and click on Poetry Twenty Ten on his side bar (it is a little picture of a shop with someone entering at the door) you will be able to download a Print your own pamphlet about his poetry twenty ten project. It has already got me thinking, so if you feel deprived of Poetry stimulation that's the place to go!
Have a good Sunday evening by the fire. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Textile Art - suggestions appreciated.

Last week I posted my poetry book. In case you missed that entry, I have written what I consider to be the best of my poetry into a notebook so that when I have departed this life my son can have it as a record. I then decorated the cover of the book.

Now I have made a wallet to keep it in - you will see it in the photograph. I have used the same African fabric and put the same design on to the front. The "gusset" is made of green felt which also lines the wallet. Now all I have to do is to put on a fastener. And it is here that I would appreciate your help if you are into textiles.
I should have put the fastener on before the lining, so I have to be careful what I use. If I use a button fastener then I can anchor it with a flat button to lie on the felt. The farmer suggests some sort of magnetic fastening or velcro (don't really fancy either very much); my friend who is a past master at textile art suggests a toggle fastening with elastic. I wonder whether anybody sells "findings" for such wallets like they do for beaders. I really would like to put something in the centre of the flap which will really set the whole thing off - but at present I am out of ideas.
So this post is asking: Do you like my book and wallet? and How would you consider fastening it?
It is another lovely day here today. The farmer and I have just taken Tess round the fields in the sunshine and now I am settling down to read a few blogs. Whatever you happen to be doing this weekend - enjoy it! (Do hope it is not Christmas shopping).

Friday, 4 December 2009

Infinite variety and pure beauty.

As I sat up in bed drinking my morning cup of tea this morning and looking out of the South facing bay window at the sky, I thought of Edwin Morgan's description of the sea as having Infinite Variety - and decided that the same words could be used to describe the sky.
There was no breeze to speak of and most of the sky was a clear silver grey/blue, On the South-Eastern horizon were bubbles of black cloud and as I watched they moved imperceptibly to let through slivers of palest apricot. Yes, the sun was about to rise, and as we are getting very near to the Winter solstice it was rising in the South East. There was no sound that I could hear and the scene was one of utter peace and tranquility.
The bedroom door was wide open and opposite, the bathroom door( the bathroom has a West facing window) was also open. And fairly high in the North-Western sky a fairly full moon was shining.
At 6.59 the first faint ray of the sun lit up the black cloud. At the same time I noticed that the moon, shining through our Scots Pine trees was casting the most beautiful silver and black striped shadows on the bedroom carpet.
All of this was enhanced by reflections in the mirror on the dressing table and the mirrored door of the wardrobe. The bevelled edge of the wardrobe mirror had become a prism of reflected colour. Outside the silence was broken by the hoot of an owl in the pines.
Just for that moment the effect was breath-taking. I am writing it down while it is still fresh in my mind. It was truly a moment of pure beauty.
I have had such a moment before - once when the farmer and I were driving in the Dales in a thunderstorm the sun came out in the thundery black sky and as huge raindrops were falling each one was catching the light and showing brilliant colours. The backdrop was a vivid rainbow. I have never forgotten that either.
After my post yesterday about global warming I must say it was very heartening to see such a wonderful sight this morning. By two or three minutes past seven it was a very "normal" dawn - the first rooks were beginning to come over, a car passed, the farmer's car lit up the bedroom window as he came into the drive after fetching the daily papers from the newsagents. The world was beginning to turn again - but just for that minute everything stood still for me in the beauty of the scene. Have a good day.
Do you have such an earth-stopping moment you can share with us?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Gaia hypothesis.

I can't help thinking that many people pay little attention - or at most lip-service, to the problem of Global Warming. It is so easy to think that as individuals we can do little to counteract it and that while the big industrial nations continue to fill the air with pollution we might as well forget it and say "fiddle" as Nero did when Rome burned.
Many years ago - around 1984 I think - I had reason to go to Chengde in the very North of China. Stepping off the train we were immediately unable to breathe properly because of the heavy pollution. Factory chimneys all around the town were puthering out dark yellow smoke and all the inhabitants were wearing masks. It was a misty, frosty day and all that pollution was at ground level.
China, and many other nations, have made progress since then. Today in "Eureka" magazine there is an interesting article by Ben Miller talking about the Gaia hypothesis (James Lovelock) and I must say that I do agree with a lot of what he says. Gaia is a holistic theory about the ecology of our planet. I shall be interested to hear what you think about the following.
What Miller has to say is that the planet is not in any danger at all from Global Warming. At
6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes our planet has experienced being frozen and being so hot that crocodiles swam at the North Pole. Indeed, it is not the planet that we are concerned about - it is our survival as a species.
He argues that yes, we have managed to get to the top of the food chain. How have we learned to do that? By ganging up on possible rival species both "human" and animal. But what is so special about us he asks. We seem to see ourselves as the supreme beings on Earth and to feel that the whole natural world revolves around us, whereas Gaia argues that we are just one component is a self-sustaining system.
Now, in order to survive as a species, it seems we have to learn to all work together in our common interest. Can you see that ever happening?
And if it doesn't then, as Miller says, eventually we will have what he calls "catastrophe die-off!"
Maybe it would be for the best, he says. Maybe we have gone as far as we can and it is time to hand over to a more intelligent, more highly-developed species who will respect the planet.
We, in planetary terms, are of little importance. Evolution, he says, doesn't care. The planet will survive and we will all become fossil fuel for the next lot of inhabitants to burn.
What do you think to that for an hypothesis?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Name your presents!

Santa is busy compiling his lists, feeding up his reindeer for the long journeys ahead, polishing the skis on his sled, keeping to his strict diet so that he can manage to squeeze down the narrowest chimney, instructing his elves......I won't go on get the picture.
Here in Cyberland money is no object. If all we do is "think" things then they become relatively inexpensive, don't they?
I don't know about you lot out there but I honestly can't think of anything I want to put on Santa's list this year. I do always have a Christmas charity (usually a cancer one as a dear friend died of the disease a few years ago). But I have to say that it is rather nice to sit round a log fire on Christmas morning, the turkey in the oven, a glass in my hand and take the presents from under the tree and open them. Such a lovely feeling - especially if they are books.
So here is my task for today for you to do. Choose yourself three cyber presents - money no object, doesn't matter how fanciful they are (yes, girls, you may choose George Clooney if you wish) - just tell us all which three presents you would like to find under the Christmas Tree on Christmas morning.
I'll start you off. Well, one thing I really would like (hint, hint to the farmer) is a really good, bright floor lamp with a magnifying extension so that I can embroider in the evenings; another thing I always admire is a really, really good fountain pen and a supply of good quality ink (yes, I know everyone communicates by e mail or writes with a biro but this is cyberland remember) and to go with it some really top-quality writing paper and envelopes - wonderful;thirdly - well a supply of fresh flowers throughout the year would be rather nice.
I began to think of fanciful things - all my family back round the Christmas table (I am the last remaining one as I was by far the youngest); my past dogs - Oscar the pointer and Algy the pug (both long dead now) falling out with Tess over who sits nearest the Aga; a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem would be wonderful too. - Oh how long a fanciful list would be.
So here is your task for this evening, dear readers: Compile your cyber santa list - money no object. Three things you would like. And if you fancy naming three things in the category I have called fanciful, then please do that also.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The North wind doth blow.........

''''and we shall have snow.
And what will the robin do then, poor thing.

Just one of the weather rhymes which peppered my childhood in the pre-weather forecast days.
I suspect that the sophisticated weather forecasting only really developed during the Second World War. The farmer and I have been discussing this over the past few days.
Prior to Sunday's torrential three-inches downpour we watched the TV forecasts on Saturday evening. The weather forecaster on our local TV station said that there was rain in the South of the region and that it would creep up the country during Sunday - but that she thought most of North Yorkshire would escape it. Less than five minutes later we watched the National Weather forecaster. She said that rain would spread across the region from the South and she issued a severe weather warning. Well she was the more correct of the two although the farmer is pretty sure that our deluge came from the North East, not the South.
Do we really need this intense preoccupation with the weather (we British are reputedly obsessed by the weather anyway)? In pre-forecast days
farmers had plenty of weather signs which they took note of and which were almost invariably right.
In Winter, if the wind blows from the North then it is likely to have snow on it, coming from Arctic regions. In Lincolnshire which is on the East Coast, we knew that an East wind in winter meant snow blowing in from Russia and The Urals. And believe me, in Lincolnshire, where I spent the first twenty years of my life, when it comes from the East - it is jolly cold (as we used to say, there is little or no high ground between the Urals and us).
Almost always, if we wake up to damp, dismal fog here then by lunch time it will be raining, and the rain will clear the fog away.
The old folk lore is pretty accurate too - Rain before seven often means that it is fine by eleven.
If the dawn is a fiery red then it often means rain is on the way. If the sunset is fiery red then it usually means another fine day tomorrow.
The ultimate in "daft" forecasting occurs today in The Times (where would my blog be without my old faithful daily paper?) Each day Paul Simons has a Weather Eye column and in it, today, he talks about what this winter is probably going to be like - can somebody reading my blog please tell me what possible use this kind of forecast is:-

There is a fifty percent chance of a mild winter here in the UK, and thirty percent chance of it being a winter of average temperature and a twenty percent chance that it will be colder than normal. But, on the other hand, it might start out mild but then in January or February it might turn a lot colder. Poor old El Nino is once again to blame.

I suppose there will be some equally daft people who place bets on which it is going to be. Me,
I'll stick with the farmer's expert and well-used folklore eye, and take to heart his usual comment on any kind of weather - "we have to take what comes."

On a different note - sad the demise of Borders bookshops. The demise of any bookshop is sad and I suspect there will be more as more and more people go on line to order their books. For me there is no greater pleasure than wandering around a bookshop and browsing (and trying not to spend too much money). This year the farmer and I spent a morning in Barnes and Noble in Baltimore. It was absolutely heaving with people - the cafe was full to overflowing and there was a real buzz about it all. I managed to control my spending and only bought a complete Emily Dickinson Poems and Barack Obama's book about his early life.
The previous summer, on a scorching hot day, the farmer and I spent a similar morning in Borders in Scottsdale (Phoenix). Two floors of books and various other lovely things, lovely cafe with delicious cakes and lunches (we had both as we were there from eleven to three!) and I think you could have counted on your two hands the number of people in the shop - it was virtually empty.
When I got to the check out I was informed that they no longer took credit cards. It was the day before we flew home and we were almost out of dollars. We therefore had to put all the things we hoped to buy back on the shelves and we left with just one purchase = Steinbeck's Travels with Charley - worth every single dollar! I can't help feeling that that day was somehow significant to their eventual demise. But sad all the same.