Sunday, 31 January 2010

Spread a little happiness.

"We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than we have to consume wealth without producing it." So said George Bernard Shaw.

Thanks to Poet-in-Residence and before that to Bill the Ostrich at Usually Confined I have received a Happiness award (see side bar). These awards are gratefully received and I thank everyone who has given me one over the past months but I have decided that enough is enough and I shall just leave them on over this weekend while I fulfil the obligations demanded by this last one, but then on Monday I shall say goodbye to them all and try to put a few more things on my sidebar, thus testing my computer skills to the limit.
So, to meet the Happiness award - I have to say ten things which make me happy. I find that very difficult. It all depends what is meant by happiness. The Dictionary defines happiness as a state of contentment. If you look at it that way then all I can say is that I am totally content all the time. Why should I not be?
I have had two happy marriages. I no longer need to work. Teaching children was always wonderful work but I never enjoyed the stresses and strains of working in a very large Comprehensive School with a huge staff, with often a lack of communication between them, the negotiation of capitation each year - all these things combined to take the gilt off the gingerbread.
Also I have time to blog. When I left school in the early fifties I was desperate to write and dearly wanted to be a Journalist. Conditions at the time and family pressures meant that I never fulfilled this ambition. Over the years I wrote for various Educational publications, Womens' Magazines etc. and whilst I enjoyed that it was always a chore getting copy ready, sending it off with s.a.e.'s and then waiting for months, even years sometimes to find out whether it had been accepted or not. Now I can write every day from the comfort of my own chair - no getting it typed up and sent off - my readers accept what I write at face value and tell me in their comments whether they agree or not. Looking up references before I write, reading your comments, changing my opinion in the light of what you say or at least letting me see things from a different angle - all this keeps my old brain ticking over and gives me a huge amount of interest. Some bloggers set challenges - write a poem for example - and this gives me a huge amount of pleasure too.
I have a group of readers who are not themselves bloggers. They often send me e mails with their comments. They are old friends and I appreciate their involvement. In fact I am trying at present to persuade one friend to open a blog for himself as a way of helping him through a difficult time in his life. If I manage to persuade him then I shall let you all know about it as he writes some really interesting stuff on old churches.
So there you have it. I can't list ten things which make me happy - I just am. But over and above that sometimes I can become positively euphoric. So here are things which top up my cup of happiness:-

It is wonderful when all my family are well, happy and doing what they want to be doing. That gives me an extra kick.
I do like a sudden pleasant surprise - the first snowdrop, the first really warm day, shutting the farm gate behind us when we set off at the beginning of a trip abroad, a surprise visit from an old friend or a grandchild, a piece of textile work finished and pleasing, a poem of mine being aired on someone else's blog (thanks 2010!). And I get a thrill each time I drive into our market town, up a hill and over the top and suddenly the whole dale opens up before me - and I swear it is never the same twice - it can be sunny, foggy, misty, cloudy, snowy, hazy - it is always different and it always gives me a kick.
There are not many advantages to getting old but for me at any rate there is one. I no longer have to strive for anything, I just have to accept what comes my way, push myself physically to keep going and be happy that I can still enjoy life. Enjoy the rest of Sunday.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

are you coming for a walk with us?

It is so long since we went for a "proper" walk - this is the first weekend when there has not been snow and ice around. So, come on - wrap up well, coat, wellies, scarf, gloves, woolly hat - the lot because there is a keen North wind blowing straight down from the Arctic.
We'll go down the farm yard and into the pasture - let's get the worst bit over first as that faces due North and yes the wind is jolly cold. Looking up the hillside I must say it looks very wintry in spite of the sunshine. There is not a sign of Spring anywhere. The ground is rock hard and bumpy so it is not even easy walking. Although Tess has her eyes and ears open, there is no sign of a rabbit anywhere.
Soon we are down to the beck. It is still quite full of water and fairly fast-flowing. The banks are brown and dead and as we approach a grey heron takes off lazily, tucks his feet in neatly behind him and lands in the next field. He knows we are no threat.
In the wood there is barely a sign of Spring. Here and there green snowdrop blades push through and several clumps of blue bells are beginning to come up, but they are slow to move. It is sheltered here from the North and there is already a little bit of power in the sun.
Along the beck side the farmer has piled up Nature's winter prunings ready to collect them for a bonfire. The twiggy bits are not thick enough to burn on the wood-burning stove but they will make a jolly old bonfire for a chilly day.
As we set off up the pasture I look back and am pleased to see that the line of alder trees along the beck side are showing red, which means their catkins are beginning to form - always a pleasing sign. In the nearby field I can hear the guns. Tomorrow is the last day of the pheasant shooting season and our two shooting syndicates have joined forces to shoot at both sites. I went this morning to have coffee and cake with Dominic and as I went down the lane past his house I met the shooters changing sites - twenty or so four-track vehicles full of grown men with boys toys - guns. How can they shoot the pheasants, already in their breeding plumage and looking so majestic in the sunlight. The answer is - they can - they all have bubbles of roast pheasant in red wine coming out of the top of their heads. I am pleased to say that although the farmer goes along for the ride, he does not shoot. I waited for all the vehicles to pass and thought how glad I was not to be a pheasant.
By now Tess and I are beginning to tire - it is hard work walking on this uneven rocky surface. We can see the farmhouse in the distance and quicken our pace. I decide to go in through the walled front garden and - joy of joys - a winter aconite has pushed through the mulch of pine needles and has a fat yellow bud. There is a sign of Spring after all.
Back at the bird table three cock pheasant are pecking lazily at the food on the ground - they saunter away and stand under a bush as we pass, ready to resume feeding when we have gone inside. They are such exotic birds in their chestnut coats and green hats.
I had seen evidence that a sparrow hawk had been plucking and eating what looked like a collared dove down by the beck - well they've got to eat and there would be more of a meal in a dove than a blue tit.
Speaking of blue tits, it is Big Garden Bird Watch weekend, so for one hour either today or tomorrow I shall watch the bird table and count the highest number of each species which I see at once. This morning there were sixteen blackbirds - hope they come back in the morning for my survey. One of them has a white wing feather, a white splash on its back and a white streak above its bill. I am surprised it has lived this long as it really stands out in a crowd.
Come back in, take your coat and wellies off and come and sit by the wood burner - I'll make you a cup of tea and you can have a scone. It was nice to have your company on my walk - do come again.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Hooley with Nooley Day

It is TFE's big party today - everyone is invited, so pop over (see my blog list) and say hello. I am going in leathers on the back of Christy Moore's motor bike ( does he have one, I ask). TFE asked us all to write a poem featuring a red car as a red car features in the book. So here is my offering - done at the last minute yesterday (yes, I know, it shows) - inspired by Christy Moore's "Among the Wicklow Hills". Maybe inspired is the wrong word - but at least the lyrics to that fabulous song gave me the basic idea.
Do pop along as he questions the author on her new book.

The Road to Redcar.

The road to Redcar's filled with moving cars,
I see a little red one in the frame;
A figure in the driving seat looks anxious;
the passenger is wondering why he came.

Chorus: Tell everybody,
We're going to paddle in the sea.
We're going to wander
along the sandy strand.

We reach the sandy shore and find a car park,
the little car fits neatly in the space.
We both get out and take our shoes and socks off.
We really like the look of this old place.

Chorus Tell everybody.........

Beneath our feet the sandy shore is gritty;
the sea is icy cold, and pretty rough.
We struggle on, two oldies from the city,
determined not to say we've had enough.

Chorus: Tell everybody..........

But then we see our feet are turning blue.
This North sea really is the very pits.
There's nothing left to do but find a towel,
dry our feet and go for fish and chips.

Chorus: Tell everybody................

(with apologies to "Among the Wicklow Hills)

Thursday, 28 January 2010

goodbye January.

I shall not be sad to see you go. It is now a month since the Winter solstice, so the sun is getting a little stronger and is visiting us for a little while longer each day. That's got to be good, whatever February throws at us. But there is still only a little warmth in the sun's rays.

Shine out pale sun;
push through the thin grey cloud
and let your weak light
fall on the sharp green blades
struggling in the hedgebank.
I have just been down to Masham to our Feed Merchants - one of my favourite little drives as it goes through such pretty countryside. Tess came with me and as I drove I looked out for any signs that Spring might be just around the corner. I saw few.

You have to be very close to the bushes and trees to see that they are beginning to be in bud. From a distance they are stark and bare. And the roadside verges, although almost clear of snow, are dirty and dead-looking - no vestige of green unless you get really close.

The rooks are very active. In the summer they pass overhead very early in the morning and fly updale to their feeding grounds. In the depths of winter they hang about round the fields, where ever there is a chance of food - particularly sheep food. But now they are becoming much more active. Most farmers are in the process of mid-winter cleaning out of cattle sheds, which means that manure is being spread on the fields - manure means worms and the rooks know it.On my drive today some of the fields were black over with rooks, sometimes they rose as I drove past, skimmed over the top of the hedge and flew in front of the car in their hundreds.At night, when they return to their roost a little way down the lane from us, already they are cleaning out the rubbish from their nests and falling out over housekeeping arrangements. That is the first sign!

One other sign - the Game Shooting season ends on January 31st and the pheasant will be safe for another year. At least they would be, except that the cock pheasants have already got their smart breeding plumage and they are all along the lane falling out with each other and vying for female attention. I passed three dead on the lane on my way back, their chestnut plumage sparkling in the weak sunshine. Oh foolish birds.

Paul Simons tells us today in the Times to watch out in the UK over the next few days for brilliant and unusual sunsets. These will be caused by nacreous clouds high in the stratosphere, so high that the sun shines on them long after it has sunk below the horizon - and we get the reflection. There was certainly a beautiful sunset last night with unusual shades of pink and purple. The bad news is that often these clouds herald another icy blast of winter. Ah well, we can't have it all ways. But at least in my photograph you will see that my snowdrops are coming along nicely. I would hardly say they were out, but at least they are showing me what colour they are going to be when they make that last little burst forth.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

All Stations Go.

Very busy few days here on the farm.
Are you a creature of habit? If you are retired and can choose what time you get up, do you vary according to how long you sleep in? Do your meal times coincide with when you feel hungry?
Well, I can tell you that here on the farm we live by the clock. In the days before we had Foot and Mouth disease, when the farmer milked twice a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year, our day started at 6am.
Now, of course, he is semi-retired but after sixty years or so of working by the clock, old habits die hard. He does manage to stay in bed until 6.30am - but , my goodness me, if he wakes and it is twenty to seven he leaps out of bed and says "We're late!"
I stay in bed for my morning cup of tea (courtesy of the farmer) but always get up just after seven. As I draw the curtains back our neighbouring farmer is going past the window in his land rover to collect his daily paper - he is a creature of habit too you see.
But all that has gone to pot this week because our neighbour has a lot of cattle and they are indoors for the winter. This is mid=winter cleaning out week - and who is helping him? My farmer. This means collecting the papers half an hour earlier so that they can "get going" and how odd it seems not to see his land rover when I draw back the curtains. Sad isn't it, that I am so ordered - well that is what my friends all think (don't you, those who read this blog - you know who you are), but actually, I enjoy the discipline of regular meal times etc. it makes it easy to plan my day.
The cleaning out of the beast is also run like a military operation. Because the land is so wet and these large tractors make such a mess of the land, all the manure is being moved to a dry piece of land a couple of miles away from the farm. One of them digs out the manure and fills a trailer while the other one drives to the heap they are making; then the one at the farm fills another trailer and starts out towards the heap. When they meet on the narrow lane, where it is difficult to pass, they swap round, changing tractor driving - all done like a military operation.
And as this same chap had a big new tractor last week, the farmer is enjoying driving this big monster up and down. You know what we have said about big boys toys in the past!
Today is a busy day for me. This morning we are proof reading our first publication as a writers' group and this afternoon it is our poetry reading afternoon. I am quite looking forward to that - eight of us all sitting quietly together round a fire, drinking tea, eating biscuits and reading each other our favourite poetry. Can't think of anything better, can you?

#My friend, M, had the operation on her hand, is home again and very cheerful. She thanks you for all the kind inquiries.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Would we be able to share our universe?

I have been reading the Times again. It is so often the source of my daily post, particularly at present when there is little stirring on our daily walks and the farm is just ticking over waiting for some warmer weather.
I read today that scientists are predicting that the first earth-like planet outside our solar system may well be detected before the end of this year. Conditions have to be just right -
the planet does not have to be too large (they are likely to have too turbulent an environment);
it has to have a star to orbit and it needs to be at an optimum distance from that star - if it is too close it will be very hot and the water on the planet is likely to evaporate; if, however, it is too far away then the water will be ice. This planet will most likely be found by Nasa's Kepler spacecraft. In fact there may very well be more than one planet which is both about the same size as earth and is also in a "habitable zone."
It does rather bring science-fiction to life doesn't it?
I remember the moon landing and how exciting it seemed. On the day it was happening we were visiting my aged parents and we rushed down the path to the door, dashed in expecting to see the television on, only to find that my parents were not at all interested - in fact I don't think they believed it was really happening.
I do find the idea of other habitable planets really very exciting, but I am less than excited about the other thing I read. Professor Peters who is a Lutheran Theologian at a seminary in Berkeley, California, says that if we were to find intelligent life on another planet he is sure that the first question we would ask would be, "How can we exploit them?" This, I assume, is the cumulative "we", in other words our elected leaders rather than we as individuals. I find that rather sad to say the least.
He goes on to say that we would be slow to trust beings from another planet and, as he says, mistrust breeds violence.
And what if that civilisation proved to be further advanced and more intelligent than us - we would probably have to prepare ourselves to be subservient. And again, that collective "we" would not like that as would most likely fight. Revolutionary spirit would grow and spread and then I suppose it really would be "War of the Worlds."
In the light of this I can't help feeling we would be better staying at home, so to speak, rather than looking what is out there. But then on the other hand I suppose like Mallory said when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, we need to explore space "because it is there."
Any views on the subject?

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Love of Friends.

I have been to see an old friend this afternoon. We have been through a lot together and given each other support but I don't see as much of her as I used to do. With the awful weather we have not met since a few weeks before Christmas. But, of course, we were into our full "chat" mode immediately we met today - but then we would be, because, as I said, she is an old friend.

There was a time when we were both widows and living alone. Our houses backed on to each other and were separated by one of the ubiquitous stone walls up here. In the day time we spent time chatting at the wall, we went shopping together, and in the evenings we could see each other standing at the sink doing the washing up - it was all very comforting.

Sometimes we would behave like teenagers, sitting up talking half the night, getting up in our dressing gowns and sitting chatting all the morning - those were the days, eh M?

Now we are both remarried, but it has not made any difference to our friendship. There is something about old and trusted friends that is such a comfort, isn't there? There are so many different kinds of friends - I count you all as my bloggy friends and am so grateful for your friendship - but over and above all friends are the one or two who have shared your troubles, given support, never questioned your decisions and always been there for you. I think George Washington said it better than I can:-

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them
your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."

Well, M, you "plant of slow growth" tomorrow you go into hospital for an operation on your hand.
I shall be with you in spirit,

Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Walk on the Scruffy Side.

I intend to leave a note for myself:-


The farmer and I have just been for our Sunday afternoon walk down the lane with Tess. The snow has largely gone except where it has been swept on to the verge by the snow plough. In the farmyard it has almost disappeared except for a large heap in the corner, where the farmer pushed the snow out of the way with his tractor. And I have to report, dear readers, that the snow that is left is FILTHY. In our little market town the snow plough cleared the roads and put the offending heap of snow on to three spaces in the central car parking area. It is now a black, weeping mountain, littered with the odd cigarette packet and the odd drinks can.

Then, yesterday, I read an article in the Times by Stephen Bayley who suggests that London is now the dirties and worst-managed city on Earth. He speculates on the really dirty streets and particularly the pavements and reminds us that places like Paris and Berlin manage to wash the pavements early each morning. I must say I have seen this happening in Istanbul and in Beijing too, so why can't it happen here?

Another thing he points out is that where there have to be traffic barriers of any kind, for some reason in England they have to be weighted down with bags of sand on the 'feet' - and this he reminds us in the country which bred Isaac Newton.

The other thing which now litters our lane - a result I suspect of very bad conditions on the local roads, so that everyone walked their dog/s down our lane - is dog poo. Sorry about this, but great heaps of it are now revealed on the grass verges. Luckily, before too long the grass will begin to grow and will cover it up.

Apparently Ruskin so despaired of the filth on the London streets that he took a brush and swept them himself. I suppose I could do the same down our lane - and I suppose I could take a hair dryer out to the heaps of snow and melt them quickly. But I can assure you that the view down our lane is pretty depressing at the moment.

We came back through our front, walled garden only to find that the voles have carved up another vole city on our lawn - we hadn't noticed it before but they have had a real beanfeast.

On a more cheerful note - nine long-tailed tits hanging on our fat balls at the bird table created the most beautiful pattern - they were all facing in the same direction and their wing markings were absolutely beautiful, so that cheered me up a bit.

The Burn's Night supper was most enjoyable and we had a splendid chat. For those U S readers who have informed me that they don't really know what haggis is, and what are neaps and tatties - the answer is that haggis is made of oatmeal and some quite unspeakable parts of animal (offal I think) and herbs - I personally would not eat it under any circumstances - it is mixed together and boiled in a sheep's stomach or some such. Neaps are turnips and tatties are, of course, potatoes. The haggis might have been a no-no for me, but there were some sublime puddings on offer.

Couldn't resist posting this photograph of Tess, taken a few minutes ago. I think it is fair to say that looking at her, she obviously does not have a care in the world. Have a nice Sunday.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

She may very well pass for 43........ the dusk, with the light behind her!
So runs the old Gilbert and Sullivan song - a very sexist remark in these politically correct days I am afraid. The same goes for the old rhyme:-
Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for his living.
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
is happy and wise and good and gay. Who would use "gay" in that context these days?

Tonight we are going to a Burns Night Party. These particular friends hold one every year on the nearest Saturday to January 25th, There will be neaps and tatties to eat along with the haggis, lots of puds and nice conversation. There will not be dancing or bagpipes - we are all too old for the former and the bungalow is too small for the latter.
But just taking Tess for a walk up the lane a few minutes ago (when I noticed, entirely by the way, that rabbits have chewed the bark off many small bushes and saplings which shows how hungry they got during the snow) I got to thinking about what I was going to put on my blog today and about Robert Burns.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us
An' ev'n devotion! (From Ode to a Louse!!!)

I wondered - do we ever see ourselves as others see us? Maybe the only place that this truly occurs is when we catch sight of ourselves in a shop window. Correction - sometimes I catch sight of a bent old lady hobbling along, head down, hair askew - only to realise a moment later that that bent old lady is me.
Because of course there comes a time of life (which I have long-since reached) when in order to look at oneself in the mirror one has a check list:
Dim the lights to 'favourable' - check.
Stand up straight - check.
Pull in tummy muscles - check.
Put on a pleasant expression - check.
Take a quick peek in the mirror. Other than that - avoid the mirror as you would the plague.

I can tell you though, from my somewhat advanced age, that there is suddenly a day when you don't care any more. Time has taken its toll of smooth skin, slim waist, thick luscious hair, shapely legs and you say to yourself "I am what I am and what the hell!"

But what about the inside? I would think that we never ever know how others see us in that respect. I know what I think I am like. I know that I try to adhere to my rule -"to thine own self be true". I think I am a fairly generous spirit and I think I am quite good-natured - but then, don't we all think like that? Is there anybody out there who thinks they are terribly mean, bad-tempered and thoroughly objectionable? I doubt it. I guess we all go to the grave with our secret selves intact. We can't tell anyone what we are like - actions speak louder than words after all - and everyone will have their own opinions of us.
Have you noticed in Obituaries nobody ever speaks ill of the dead? However much of a curmudgeon a person is, once they are dead their good points rise to the surface like oil on water and their obituaries become glowing.

So, here's to you Rabbie Burns, two days early, I raise my glass of single malt - I might find you hard to read in dialect but my goodness me you put into words one or two things that are so true - and none more than this.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Musings on St. Oswald and Bones.

Yesterday's post about bones being brought back to this country for analysis generated a lot of discussion. Opinions seem to be divided but on balance I think we all agree that these bones were an important find. Joanne of Titus the Dog sent me a very beautiful piece of poetry from Anglo Saxon times - the language is wonderful, the celebration all seems to be about winning a battle and leaving bones behind as they leave - but things were ever thus. And she does point out that Athelstan's reign was the first in which the country was united.
Dick puts me in a spot by asking me about the cult of St Oswald! I know little about St Oswald other than that he was a leading figure in the Benedictine Revival in the tenth century. I am not a Google person, so I got out my Oxford Companion to Literature. This is what it says about St Oswald:- He became a Benedictine monk and accompanied the Archbishop of York on a journey to Rome. (My goodness me, what imagery that conjures up - a journey to Rome in the tenth century was no mean feat and not to be undertaken lightly). In 961 he was appointed Bishop of Worcester and founded Benedictine Monasteries. He later became Archbishop of York but loved Worcester so much that when he died his remains were buried there.
I remember seeing his remains in the magnificent cathedral there.
After reading the excerpt from the poem which Joanne sent me I read a few pieces of poetry from that time and it does seem to me that most of the poetry was written in celebration of winning battles (I am sure somebody will correct me if I am mistaken). Sadly, it does seem as though as a species we are destined to be involved in wars. What millions of bones must lie deep under our soil where they fell in ancient battles - all somebody's sons, brothers, fathers, lovers, husbands. And yet we glorify this loss of life in poetry and prose.
Then of course I thought of Wootton Bassett and our men coming back from the war in Afghanistan; of the people who line the route, paying homage to the fallen, throwing roses in their path. Nothing changes, does it? The fallen are still somebody's loved ones and deserve our honouring them.
I hope Titus the dog will publish that poem for you to read - the language is so beautiful and Joanne obviously loves the Anglo Saxon period. Keep looking on her site - and I will give her a nudge in the right direction.
It is a grey, wet day here in The Dales, not particularly cold, just plain miserable. Keep warm.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Old Bones.

I read in the Times that old bones have been found! I have never really understood why bones matter. My view of life is that once you have died, if your bones lie in the ground then they are part of the great scheme of things and not to be disturbed. They have, sort of, gone back to whence they came. But it appears that bones are an important part of history.
The year is AD 937 - King Athelstan has just become the first "official" King of England after winning the battle of Brunanburgh (are you still with me?). In order, I guess, to consolidate his position, he sends his two sisters - Eadgyth and Adiva - to Germany, to the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I and suggests that Otto choose one as a mate. Otto chooses Eadgyth and she lived with him in Saxony, as queen, until she died, aged 38.
Now archaeologists have discovered bones in a tomb which they think might belong to Eadgyth and have returned them to the University of Bristol for analysis.
It seems to have been a successful marriage - they had two children -Liudolf and Liutgarde and Eadgyth seems to have been responsible for introducing the cult of St Oswald to Saxony.
If you are wondering what happened to poor Adiva, who was not chosen by Otto - well she was married off to some unknown European ruler and disappeared - no bones found here.
If you wish to know more then try the University of Bristol web site - the bones I believe were on show yesterday at "Princess Eadgyth and her World".
In all this my uppermost thought is that it might have made for a better life (more food, clothes etc) to be royalty in Saxon times, but by golly you were likely to be sold off if you happened to be a woman. And if royalty died at 38 in those days, I wonder what the average age of death was here in Saxon times? Have a nice day.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Survivors? You bet!

Last week, when we were under a foot of snow, I did a post saying that I worried about how the small mammals = voles, shrews, field mice etc - would survive. I thought that if they came up to the surface they would be so easily seen by hungry predators and if they stayed down their holes they would starve.

Now the snow has almost gone and the fields are green again. And guess what there is in our large pasture? I think we could call it "Vole City"! a whole community of small mammals has created a series of 'roads' under the snow. They have obviously done this by eating away the grass; road building and eating ones dinner all in one go, so to speak. And every so far there is a little hole back down into their underground homes. Don't you think that is clever?
I should have had more faith in Nature - she has obviously equipped these small mammals with terrific survival instincts and they have made full use of them.
Maybe the situation is not so good for rabbits - they seem to be very thin on the ground. The farmer, of course, is pleased about this (they say that 10 rabbits eat as much grass in Summer as one cow) and he assures me that the strongest will still be around. Natural selection at work there I would say - isn't Nature clever?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


The snow has almost gone, at least for the time being. There are still stripes of old snow under the stone walls where the sun, still weak and only paying us fleeting visits, has failed to reach. Elsewhere in the fields there are patches where there is a dip in the ground and the snow was deeper; and where the snow in these dips has melted icy pools stand, the ice thick enough for the birds to practise their skating. Old snow is a sorry sight, dirty round the edges and pock-marked on the surface, where it has begun to melt and then changed its mind.
We think of it as bitterly cold, but actually it is quite kind to the plants in our garden because it covers them with a comparatively warm, white blanket which protects them from the hard frost.
And now that that blanket has gone the garden is a sad place. Soggy, slimy dead leaves drape themselves over everything. There is hardly a vestige of green.
But wait! Look closer and you will see that some things are stirring. Tiny sharp green blades with a little bulging white tip are pushing through in familiar places, where they appear every year. Yes the snowdrops - aptly named this year - are there and will soon be out if the sun gives them a bit of a boost. In the manger under the landing window the tete-a-tete daffodils are well up, their leaves standing proud and straight and advertising "we are hardy!" And the helebore are well out and telling us that they don't mind the weather at all. "We are not called the Christmas Rose for nothing," says Niger. And Argutifolius pushes her long blossom out from a circle of dark green, very dead-looking leaves as if to say that she will not be outdone by Niger.
On the trellis the winter jasmine has survived "bloody but unbowed" and is just beginning to pick up her head again.
Yes, Nature has her survivors, and should we get more snow then they will hide under its blanket and wait for the right day to say - Spring is on its way. If the weather improves then they will soon be joined by those other harbingers of Spring - the pulmonarias, the primroses and the Lenten roses. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Busy old fool

...unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows and through curtains call on us?

Yes, the sun is shining today on the melting snow. I cannot remember a day when I was more pleased to see it. Doesn't it make you feel better?

I have been reading about whether or not it is possible to teach Creative Writing - the jury seems to be out on this one. I would have said not, but having read all the articles on it I can see that perhaps it can be taught to some extent. After all, if one wishes to be a Composer then Music College is a good place to start; similarly if you wish to become a painter then it seems sensible to go to Art School - so why should it be any different?
It transpires that quite a few of our present day writers who have won prizes or written best sellers have themselves done M A's in writing creatively. Ian McEwen was Sir Malcolm Bradbury's first pupil (Atonement). Adam Foulds andKazuo Ishiguro and Ann Enright too have completed courses.
In The Times yesterday David Lodge argues for and against. He agrees that writing skills can be improved with expert tuition but he goes on to say that a good writer will have certain innate faculties - sensitivity to language, the ability to recall all he has seen or heard, and the ability to make connections between what he calls "disparate phenomena" which he argues is at the root of all creative activity.
I would agree with this but I would add something else as well. In addition to all these attributes then the creative writer - particularly if he/she wishes to write a play or a novel - needs staying power and discipline. It is said that we all have at least one novel inside us - that may well be true but how many of us have the talent to stick with it day in, day out and get it all out of our system and on to the page?
As for me, I find that this daily blog-write is enough to keep me going with my creative writing - and you are all kind enough a) to read it and b) not to correct my spelling/grammar/mistakes.
I have just read a book from the library in which some pedantic soul had made many alterations by crossing out the offending word/phrase and writing the correction in the margin.
To misquote Winston Churchill - this is something which doesn't occur in blogland and is something up with which I would not put!


Saturday, 16 January 2010


The weather today is absolutely disgusting - raining, snowing, sleeting, melting snow, floods in the fields, wet and squelchy everywhere. Oh, and did I mention that it is also cold? It is a day to stay indoors and do jobs. So that is what I am doing.
I have tidied my files in the computer and put everything neatly in folders; somehow that is not as satisfying as doing it in "real life" - I haven't got a neat pile of folders sitting on the shelf, just on a cyber shelf I suppose.
The thaw is promoting some wonderful icicles - look at these lovely ones over our shower room. I read in the paper that someone threatened a man with a huge icicle but that it would not come to court because the evidence would have melted - not sure whether it was fact or joke!
I have started on my next project. Now that I have written out my poetry and made a bag to keep the book in I was searching for my next project and hit upon the idea of making one or two books - one may be to chart happenings on the farm, this one to be done in photography, writings and embroidery; also one on my family history which can be passed on to the next generation. So I have started by making a book cover - or at least a front cover. I have posted a picture above - not finished but work in progress.
Fiona of Marmalade Rose (see my blog list) has a new resolution to sew for at least twenty minutes as day and she has now got a group of sewing ladies to join her in the resolution. What a splendid idea for this weather and what a good discipline. My personality is such that unless I have the discipline of some project or other to keep me going in this weather I will end up sitting in front of the wood-burner toasting crumpets or lolling about doing nothing - and that will never do, will it? (Please don't answer that)
For my bloggy friends in Melbourne, I see that yesterday was incredibly hot and that forest fires are a real possibility in the hot dry weather. From my desk here in the awful weather I find it hard to imagine what the heat is like - but I do send you my commiserations and I do hope you manage to keep cool while we are all huddling round the fire.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Nature - red in tooth and claw.

John Clare wrote: Withering and keen the winter comes
While comfort flies to close-shut rooms.

I'm not sure how much comfort there would be around in Clare's day; interesting he speaks of rooms being "close-shut" but I expect there would be draughts aplenty. Now we can really get snug and warm and shut out the wintry weather. I am not a lover of this weather but I do try not to complain, especially today after hearing about the absolutely dreadful news from Haiti.

That the poorest country in the Western world, where hardship is a way of life for almost all the population, should suffer such an appalling tragedy and that aid to help them cannot get into the country should make even the coldest of us thank our lucky stars that we were not born there.
Apparently the air port has been largely destroyed and they can only cope with one plane at once and have no aviation fuel to refuel planes - and each plane takes about six hours to unload.
As the farmer pointed out though, television cameras and reporters seem to have got there - the news media are in the front line at arriving at these catastrophes. I am torn between being appalled at them showing close ups of a devastated people and thinking that it is important that the world should know.

But nature is red in tooth and claw, natural disasters do occur, especially in countries which sit astride faults in the earth's crust. Even in our own back gardens tiny crises occur every day - earlier today a sparrow hawk swept through, snatched a blue tit feeding on the fat balls, stood on the snow-topped hedge, plucked its catch and ate it. Bad luck for the blue tit but the sparrow hawk also has to eat and it is not its fault that blue tit is its food.

Someone writing in The Times chastises another letter writer for singing the praises of the greater spotted woodpecker which has arrived at his bird table and is giving him hours of pleasure. The writer points out that that same woodpecker in a couple of month's time will be settling on the side of the tit nesting box, sticking his long barbed tongue through the hole and pulling out a nestling for breakfast.

That Darwin preached the doctrine of natural selection - the survival of the fittest -may be of some comfort when watching the blue tit being plucked on the hedge, but I am sure it is of no comfort at all to the poor people of Haiti who, after suffering so much tragedy over the years, are now faced with the biggest tragedy yet - many of those survivors" forced to stand by helpless while their loved ones lie buried nearby. And the world's track record for dealing with such tragedies is not that great. How many people who suffered in the tsunami are still waiting to be rehoused? And how many people who were made homeless by the earthquake in Pakistan are still living in tents? And what is the weather like in the Himalayas where people live in such conditions? Life is cruel and we must be thankful for our close-shut rooms.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


You have no doubt read about animals getting stuck - sometimes a cow gets in muddy ground, or a sheep falls down a cliff and gets stuck on a ledge - and the firebrigade or some such organisation has to be called in? Well a similar mini-crisis has occurred on the farm yesterday; not an animal I am glad to say (there is not an animal about in the fields in this deepsnow)
The farmer took his new slurry tanker on the back of his "best" tractor to help out a neighbour yesterday afternoon. The ground under the snow was soft and soon after arriving in the field the tractor and the tanker both sank "up to the waist" to quote the farmer.
He came back home and collected his second-best tractor to try to pull it out, to no avail. So there it is sitting deep in the snow, both the tractor and the tanker.
The "relief force" arrived at dawn in the shape of another friend who has that magic thing "a winch".
The farmer has just returned - still on his second best tractor - apparently the dawn visit was "just an assessment of the situation" - all will assemble at ten-thirty this morning in a gigantic effort to heave the whole caboodle back on to terra firma.
I'll keep you posted! Would love to photograph the effort, but it is three fields away and those three fields are a foot deep in virgin snow. But I will try to photograph the wounded as they return to the farm.

Lunchtime update: Our meal times are set in stone, so when it got to twelve-thirty and the farmer had not put in an appearance I began to imagine dire scenarios. The tractor had sunk further into the mire with the farmer in it; the tractor had tipped over and the farmer was trapped; there had been an accident and somebody had broken an arm/leg/hip. At a quarter to one home he came with tractor and tanker, followed by second best tractor driven by the friend and a four-track driven by friend's son - all home safe and sound. When he came in I rushed to see what difficulties had held them up so. "Difficulties?" - "Oh, we had it out of the mire in no time, we've just been chatting."
Feeling very sorry for him I had baked a plum pie for lunch (farmer's favourite usually banned because I do try to watch his waistline) - I was tempted to tip it over his head, but as I love it too, we ate it dear readers- with custard!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Our World in Black and White.

According to the Weatherman, there is a battle going on over our heads between a large block of cold air which has settled over the United Kingdom from the Arctic and a block of warm air floating up from The Azores. As with any battle there is fall-out; in this case it is heavy snow, which is scheduled to fall on Devon and South Wales as I write. Elsewhere the "Great Freeze" is said to be giving way to the "Great Thaw". Here in the Yorkshire Dales, for "great" read "little", for most of our snow is going nowhere yet.

Consequently, today we are living in a black-and-white world. The privet hedge outside the kitchen window - a yard away from where I stand - is a dull green, but elsewhere everything is black or white, with the odd touch of grey when a collared dove lands near enough to be seen.

The silent voice of snow, as Ronald Blythe calls it, fills in the bulk of the landscape. Here and there the black skeleton of a tree stands out in all its beauty, as though drawn by the artist's pen; its shape, its every branch and twig seems carefully etched against a white background.

At the top of the field there is just a suggestion of a copse of trees. I know it well. The trees all bend to the East, shaped in their growing by our prevailing West wind. But now, in the mist, I can see only a faint smudging and as I watch even that is erased as though the artist sketching the scene has decided, with artistic licence, to rub them out - and has gently drawn the eraser over them.

There are two cock pheasant in the field. I know them too. These same two stroll down the drive to our feeding station each lunch time in all their finery, to dine. But now, as they stand out in the middle of the white field, they are black - a sketched outline filled in with pencil hatching. No hint of colour.

On the farm gate a few garden birds sit, identifiable only by their shape - there a blackbird, there a jackdaw, there a finch of some kind. No vestige of colour visible.

And in the lane two tyre tracks shine out like Whitby jet, black and glittering, although whether with damp or with black ice it is difficult to tell.

There is a drawn quality to our landscape. It is as though I am looking at the "real" scene, rather like a drawing of a naked figure, without clothes, without jewelry, without any kind of finery, with no adornment - so that we see it as it really is.

I hate this damp, icy drizzle, this mist that comes and goes at a whim, this dark world where we need the light on all day. But just for a little while I look out and realise that I am seeing the bare bones of the landscape. But then the greater spotted woodpecker arrives at the peanut basket and his red nape adds a faint touch of colour to the scene.

Time to light the wood-burning stove and get buttering the crumpets.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Leopard never changes it spots.

Last night, while browsing through a book, I came across this story:-

A Spartan was journeying to Athens and as he walked along he met and came face to face with a stranger. They passed the time of day and then the Spartan enquired where the man was heading. "I am going to Sparta." he said. "Have you come from Athens," the Spartan enquired? The traveller said he had, so the Spartan asked him what the people of Athens were like, as he was on his way there.
"They are not nice people in Athens, you won't like them, they never smile and are always ill-tempered," he said. "That is why I have left Athens and intend to live in Sparta. What are the people like there?"
"I am afraid you will find the people much the same there." replied the Spartan.
The moral being, of course, that one takes oneself wherever one goes and things will always be as you see them.

I was instantly taken back to one of the first schools I ever taught in - in the days before Comprehensive Education. This was a girls only Secondary Modern school and this story was a favourite of the Headmistress, who told it each year to the intake at assembly - always making the point and emphasising the moral to be gained from the story.
This Headmistress, who shall be nameless, was a stickler for good manners and had been made in the same mould as the Matron from the nearby hospital. These ladies were a force to be reckoned with and were not to be questioned lightly. Let me desribe to you morning assembly.

At 9.10am a bell was rung. In each form room the whole form stood to attention. The form monitor led the way and the whole form filed out in single file and walked quietly down the left hand side of the corridor to the assembly hall - the form tutor bring up the rear of the crocodile.
This, it goes without saying, was all done in silence. Once in the Assembly Hall the girls sat without speaking and the form tutors filed onto the platform and sat in a half circle, leaving the chair in the centre for the Headmistress.
At a given signal from the Second Mistress (a slight incline of the head) the Head Girl would leave the Assembly Hall and walk down the corridor to the Headmistress's Office and knock on the door. We could hear this clearly from the Hall and when we heard the Headmistress's door close the whole school, teachers and pupils alike, rose to attention. The silence continued as the Head walked through the Hall and took her place on the platform. Only when she sat down would we all follow suit. If, on the way through the Hall, there was any kind of whisper, cough
or movement, she would stop and the end of the row
, look down to the offending pupil and say,
"Perhaps you would like to go and sit outside my room. I will speak to you after assembly." and the offending girl would creep out.
Those were the days, eh? Of course, they are long gone and most people would agree that not a moment too soon. And yet, and yet...........those girls always got good jobs when they left school. A mention of which school they had attended usually meant that they got the job. It is an understatement to say that they had guidelines which they followed but they knew exactly where they stood - and I am not sure that that is a bad thing.
When I attended Teacher-training college I had a Lambretta scooter to get to college each morning (this was West Midlands College in Walsall) and before I could go wearing trousers I had to get special permission from the Deputy Principal. She listened to my story about wet weather, poor road conditions and riding a scooter; she deliberated long and hard and finally issued her verdict. I could wear trousers as long as a) they were worn with decorum and b) I changed into a skirt before attending lectures!

Now it seems that anything goes both dress and behaviour wise and, of course, we can't turn the clock back can we? But I would like to know what you think. That there are severe discipline problems in many schools is a fact Have we perhaps gone too far in the opposite direction to the rules and guidelines I have given above? Is there perhaps a happy medium? And if so, is it possible that we can ever attain it?

Going even further back into the history of teaching - a friend's mother qualified as a teacher after leaving University in the early thirties and actually taught at the High School which I attended in Lincoln. When she began her teaching career, she and her friend who started on the same day as her, were invited to the Head Mistress's evening soiree for new staff. They went and felt slightly overawed by the whole thing. The next morning, there was a notice onthe Staffroom Notice Board, which read: "Will the two young ladies who attended last night's soiree without hats and gloves, and wearing lipstick, please report to Miss..............'s Office at breaktime.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Little Drawstring Bag.

Thanks to Fiona of Marmalade Rose, who gave me a link to a site, I have made a nifty little drawstring bag. If you are into sewing and find making a neat, orderly drawstring back difficult then this is the pattern for you.
However hard I have tried in the past I always find it difficult to get things in the right order when making a bag, but this one, with detailed instructions, is quite foolproof. If you would like the link, then let me know.
Sorry it is such a short post today but it is so cold here and I am typing in the hall before the central heating has come on. Need I say more.
PS It has a lovely neat lining in it too.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Spare a thought for our mammals.

As this hard Winter sets in and yet more snow is forecast, we are feeding our garden birds more and more food - sunflower hearts, peanuts and mixed seed in the feeders, a string of hanging fat balls and a good scattering of oats, suet, sultanas and food scraps on the table and under the bushes. We have a sense of responsibility for a huge range of our local birds, who seem to spend almost all the daylight hours in and around our feeders and we hope that we are giving them enough food, and enough variety to sustain them through this bad spell of weather.
But an article in the Country section of our local paper, The Yorkshire Post, today makes interesting reading. Whenever there is a "big freeze" then populations of birds and mammals suffer. One good thing in our area is that the beck shows no sign of freezing at present, so species like kingfishers and herons will still be able to fish. Also several fields around us have more or less been left and are consequently full of tall seed headed plants and tufts of rough dead grass. This kind of environment helps because there will be areas where the snow has not penetrated and where the ground is still soft enough for long beaks to probe for food and where little mammals can also scurry.

The article speaks of the danger to the small mammals - field mice, voles, the small animals who cannot move around easily in the deep snow. They find it hard to move and if they try to move on top of the snow then they become very vulnerable to predators like hawks and owls, who are also suffering. As to rabbits, the farmer says that this kind of weather always "sorts them out", as only the very strong and hardy survive.
The photograph above shows the hedge just beyond our feeding station. I took the photograph from our kitchen window and I must say I never look at that hedge without seeing something moving in it, for it is a haven for birds and mammals. There is a little snow under the hedge but not much and a sharp wind keeps it fairly clear, so that there is usually some open ground for small mammals and birds to forage. I have yet to see the wrens on our bird table, yet I rarely look out without seeing one scratching in that hedge bottom. With the snow behind it is easy to see anything moving in there. Now we are scattering a bit of wheat under there - hoping that field mice and voles will find it and have a little feed.
I think hedgehogs are the lucky ones as they hibernate. There are usually quite a few who hibernate under the hay in our hay barn. At the rate we are using the hay for feeding the hungry sheep, the hay will soon run out, so I hope they won't be exposed. If they are the farmer will quickly put a good layer of straw over them to keep them safe until they wake up. As for the farm cats, who sleep in there for much of the day as well as at night in this weather, they will have to search for somewhere else warm. If all else fails they will no doubt move in with the heifers on a warm bed of straw.
On a completely different subject, I have finished reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, this year's Booker prize novel. I found the first hundred pages rather hard going but once I got into it I found the whole thing absolutely fascinating as a picture of life in Tudor times - we all know the basic facts about Henry VIII and his struggle with the R C church over annulling his marriage to Katherine and his marrying Anne Boleyn, but Mantel's dealing with the subject through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell and her background to the period which is so very well researched, is absolutely rivetting. I thoroughly recommend it as a brilliant read for this "stay by the fire" weather. Keep warm!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Birds have personalities too.

Conversation overheard at the bird table this morning:

Are we in the right place
said the fieldfare
as he looked at the snow on the ground.
I thought we came here from Norway
to get away from that white stuff around.

Yes, you're in the right place
said the blackbird -
and I think we're related too.
You'll find plenty to eat at this restaurant
but you'll have to watch what you do!

The robin won't let you near his patch;
he's ready to fight to the death.
He'll guard his little beef-suet stash
down to his very last breath.

The titmice are all very helpful
as they dart from the seeds to the fat.
If you stand underneath they might drop some.
But you'll have to watch out for the cat!

The finches all come in a cluster,
their entrance is a bit of a shock.
They might have a lot of bluster
but they do add colour to the flock.

If you hide in the holly and wait
you might see the long'tailed tits.
They pop in on their way past the gate
and they cover the peanut bits.

You'll have to watch out for the big boys.
When they come, they come in a gang.
The crows, the rooks and the jackdaws
You could say they arrive with a bang!
They scatter the food to the four winds
and they go as fast as they came.
They make such a mess of the breadcrumbs,
you'd think they were playing a game.

There's two birds you've got to watch out for,
the woodpecker gives a sharp peck;
and then, of course there's the sparrow hawk
who roars through at the speed of a jet.

But the waiter and waitress are friendly.
I wish we could say thankyou, and sing.
But meanwhile we'll just eat what they give us
and we'll give them a song in the Spring! Happy eating, birds!

Friday, 8 January 2010


Minus eight outside, but the wintry sun is shouting out through the house, pouring golden light into the rooms and, for a while, making me think that it is Spring. And here am I, sitting by the Aga with my morning coffee and a shortbread biscuit - and being seriously seduced. Rather like the supermarkets, who start putting Easter hot-cross buns and chocolate cream eggs near to the doorway (two for the price of one) in January, so through the door this morning comes THE SEED CATALOGUE.

Oh, look here - a new kind of broccoli - Brokali Apollo. What a clever idea to call it after the god of light, the god of music and song, the leader of the Muses - yes here he is with "tasty and tender stems".

Or shall we have a medlar tree - "good central lawn feature", large PURE white flowers - oh let's make a hole in the front lawn and plant one! Hang on a minute - "truffle-like flavour" - surely for that we can read "earthy".

Provencal salad mix looks interesting - all those succulent little leaves which pop up so quickly that, unless you are Peter Rabbit, go to seed before you have a chance to cut them.

I like the sound of Pixie cabbage - is that a cabbage for pixies, or is it a tiny cabbage? Whichever it is the photograph shows it without a single caterpillar hole. And I do rather fancy Yin-Yang french beans (French, with a name like that?) -tender green stems in Summer and black/white beans to dry for Winter. Oh, and look at the wonderful picture of Canterbury bells - cup and saucer mixed in pink, white and blue, the "perfect cpttage garden flower." I accost the farmer as he comes through the door, "let's reorganise the garden. Get out the cheque book and we'll send for these things - I've made a list!" The farmer, who has the middle name of "Voice of Reason" raises his eyes towards the brilliantly blue Winter sky and says, "Forget it! Come down to earth and make me a coffee!"

Every year I get seduced by the seed catalogue just as my father did before me. My mother always called him the armchair gardener and I am very much like that myself - how I adore reading Vita Sackville West's Garden Book, particularly the bit about the young man turning up at her door at Sissinghurst, flinging open the back doors of his van and revealing a sea of pansies - all of which she bought. My pleasure seems to come from reading about it, rather than planting said pansies. I posted a poem about the armchair gardeners a long time ago. I make no apology for putting it on again:-

The Armchair Gardener.

Swathes of poppies,
banks of delphiniums,
frondy ferns and a
cascade of pools.

He planned it all from the
comfort of his armchair,
while outside
the golden dandelions
and a rash of purple thistles
painted their own canvas. (for my father, John Henry, who died in 1972)

Thursday, 7 January 2010


When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipt, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl
To-who! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all about the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marion's nose looks red and raw;
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl
Then nightly sings the staring owl
To-who! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Yes, they had it rough in Winter back in the sixteenth/seventeenth century. I don't much fancy whatever it is Greasy Joan is keeling in the pot. In fact the only cheery thing, apart from that staring owl, is the thought of crabs hissing in the bowl - and that sounds a bit gruesome.
I love this poem and learnt it off by heart when I was very young. Just as I recite Browning's Home Thoughts from Abroad to myself every Spring, so this Winter poem sticks in my mind and keeps cropping up. The icicles in the photograph are on my climbing rose just outside the front door - New Dawn she is called and that is quite appropriate as I took this picture just as dawn was breaking and got my slippers and the bottom of my trousers covered in deep snow in order to take it! (Yes, I know, I shouldn't have gone out in my slippers, but it was only two steps).
When I think about it Shakespeare had a poem or a line or two to fit more or less every season and occasion didn't he?
Maybe we are spoiled these days (the farmer thinks thus) as we view the snow from our centrally heated rooms and order our groceries on line to save us a journey (well we do in this part of the world but I can't help thinking of people in remote Himalayan villages, who suffer much worse cold than this for most of the year without our mod.cons). But I do enjoy looking back.
Who remembers school milk? (In the days before Mrs Thatcher, the milk-snatcher as she was called by some). It used to be delivered to the infant classroom door in a crate when I was in Infant school. The milk monitor would drag it in at playtime and we would sit round the open fire with its nursery fireguard and drink our milk. The milk bottle top was a disc of waxed cardboard with a little circle in the middle which you pushed in so that you could get your straw into the milk. And - joy of joys - sometimes the milk would be frozen! A big lump of milky ice would be rattling about in the bottle and, if you were lucky, you could dip your straw into the thick layer of cream on the top and enjoy an iced cream. Oh, those were the days - brings tears to my eyes to think about it - but don't let anyone call them the good old days from the comfort of their reclining arm chair and their television set!
Talking of the sixteenth century I am still ploughing through Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" - a Christmas present. I am not finding it an easy read but it is such a sterling work that I am making myself read it. And I can't help thinking about the part where Thomas Cromwell, who has already lost his wife to the plague, sits by the beds of his two young daughters as they too die of it. Certainly makes that coughing drowning out the parson's saw in the poem above more meaningful - it seems if you coughed people immediately thought you might have plague. Good old days, my foot.
PS. Hands up those who used to make pom-poms by threading wool through the milk bottle discs? Oh, and while I am on about such things, what about making little wool mats by tapping four tacks into the top of a used cotton reel and doing French knitting through the reel and then coiling it round? We had simple pleasures in those days, didn't we?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Streams of Consciousness.

It was William James, the American Philosopher (and brother of Henry James the author), I think, who first coined the phrase "stream of consciousness". The phrase was adopted between the two World Wars by the "stream of consciousness writers" - in particular Virginia Woolf.
There is little doubt that we all have a stream of consciousness; the trouble is that sometimes it streams past so quickly that ones best ideas have vanished into oblivion before they have been given the light of day.
James went on to say that, although he liked the term "stream of consciousness" he felt that as it streamed through ones mind in such an irregular way - sometimes crowds of thought and sometimes very little - it was perhaps more akin to a bird flying, perching, flying again and so on. My previous husband used to liken my stream of consciousness to the life of a butterfly - similar kind of idea I suppose.
But I was reminded of it today when I read the last two posts of Loren (In a dark time the eye begins to see.. see my blog list) in which he speaks about a Forum in the States to encourage writing. If you go to his site there is a link and it is well-worth a good read through.
I, for one, could not live without writing. And blogging has become a way of crystallising my thoughts on various subjects, so that now I almost feel that I couldn't live without blogging. It has so many facets to it:-
I am able to practise my writing skills.
I can crystallise my thoughts.
I can be on the look out for photographs to take.
I can learn computer skills as I go.
It gives me a discipline in that I try to blog every day.
It opens up communication throughout the world - I m in contact with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Eire,France, Venice. That contact has so often made me get out the Atlas to check exactly where somebody lives.
And, best of all, it has been instrumental in making me a lot of new friends. And for anyone who reads this and thinks, "ah, but they are only virtual friends" I am sorry, but I don't agree. I have met Elizabeth when I went to New York, I occasionally meet Fiona, who lives fairly near to me, I have plans afoot to meet Denise when she is coming this way - and I cannot think of a single person I blog with who would not be welcome at my table anyday.
For somebody like me, who is house-bound in this kind of weather, and who let's say is not getting any younger, it has been a revelation. And I would say to anyone who doesn't think they can muster up the words necessary to blog (see the comments on Loren's site) - switch the computer on, make yourself a blog and put your fingers on the keys - something will come, something of your stream of consciousness will exhibit itself on the page - and remember that practice makes perfect - it will get easier every day.
So, thank you dear blog friends for reading me, for encouraging me and for giving me yet another raison d'etre.

If Winter comes......

...can Spring be far behind. Feast your eyes on my sitting room window sill as you look out on a very snowy world. I may well put a post on later in the day when I have something to write about but in the meantime I hope this photograph cheers you up if you are one of those people who is finding this snow very irksome. For those on the other side of the world who are enjoying temperatures in the thirties, please waft a bit of this heat Northwards.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Six inches and rising......

This morning we awoke to another six inches of snow and now, three hours later, it is still snowing. The good news is that the temperature is just about on freezing, so it is not quite so cold, although it feels worse with quite a brisk North wind.

Tess was keen to explore it, so I let her out at 8 o'clock (just the time that the sun rises!) - you will see her in the photograph standing in the snowy dark.

The cattle are snug and warm in their loose housing. The side is open to the elements but it is the South side and there is a roof, so they can see the bad weather without experiencing it. They have a plentiful supply of silage and seem quite happy to sit in the deep straw chewing the cud all day. The sheep - pedigree Swaledales, bred for such conditions - seem quite impervious to the bad weather; some of them have a few inches of snow on their backs but they wander about quite happily. It made me think of how these days one can judge whether a house is fully insulated or not by whether there is still snow on the roof! Of course, typically, they choose to be in the field farthest from the farm, on the top of the hill, open to the elements and will little shelter. The farmer goes up there on the tractor every morning with four bales of hay, 2 bales of sheep nuts and the dog. (Tess would love to go but is barred - this is serious work stuff for border collies only). They all come to eat the hay but only about half of them are interested in the sheep nuts. They would rather paw and scrape at the snow until they find a blade of grass to eat.

Our lane is pretty impassable this morning. The wind blows the powdery snow through the gates and across the lane so that any clearing away of snow is quickly filled up again. But we don't need to get out, apart from collecting our newspapers. If we have to be without them all day I shall suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms, but the farmer can always go on the tractor if all else fails.

He listened to the weather forecast yesterday and as a result we went down to the Feed Merchant and stocked up on feed for the birds, the hens, the farm cats and the dogs, so we should all survive happily. He has just put out a dish of oats, a dish of currants, a dish of chopped suet plus various bits and pieces (garlic bread for one - wonder whether it gives the birds garlicky breath?) and he has filled all the feeders with peanuts, sunflower hearts, mixed seed and fat balls - so hopefully the birds will also survive. I have just watched two cock pheasants in their full winter plumage, stroll through the farm gate and down the drive to the feeders looking for all the world like a couple of smartly dressed young men strolling down the road to their favourite restaurant. Picking their way carefully through the deep snow, they appeared to be chatting casually to one another.

Meanwhile, on the sitting room window sill Spring flowers - azalea, hyacinths and Christmas cactus- bloom, carefully shielded from the weather by double glazing. Have a nice, warm day

##photos. The road to the Feed merchant yesterday - the road is clear but the woodland is still snowy. Tess in the snow at dawn this morning. This morning's view from our front door.

Monday, 4 January 2010

2010 Poetry Challenge.

Poet in Residence (see my blog list) has set a challenge for poetry - the project is called 2010 and can be reached from his site. I will try to set up a link when Dominic finds time to come round and help me. In the meantime, if you would like to join in the challenge visit Poet's site for details. Here is my first offering and is a poem following my theme earlier in the new year about how the snow has outlined the old rig and furrow farming methods in the fields.


I stand on the step
and look across
to where the snow
has scraped the field

Blackened lines delineate
the rigg.
Snow lies deep in the furrows;
snow, that temporary mortar
for dry stone walls that surround
this little world.

Here the foundations
of a house.
-small rooms,
-thick walls,
sited in the hollow
of the hill that reveals
its skeleton past.

Harsh the conditions
when men
shaped this landscape.

Their bones now lie
in narrow graves.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Just when we thought it was going.......

........there is a further five inches of snow. Yesterday, after a pleasant sunny morning with drips, at about half past two it began to snow - heavily. It snowed until five o'clock and put down five inches of new stuff which blew about in the sharp easterly wind, blocking up doorways and covering windows. Now, this morning, it is snowing again - no blizzard this, just gentle flakes. Meanwhile, the farmer is whizzing up and down the drive with the tractor and bucket, shovelling up the snow by the load and dumping it on the side of the lane. I have mixed feelings about this - yes it is nice to have the drive clear but the heaps of dirty snow on the sides of the lane do destroy that lovely, white, pristine scene - and they do take a long time to go when the thaw finally arrives.
Birds have flocked to the feeding station - woodpecker and fieldfare were here before it was properly light - and we keep putting out fresh supplies. The black farm cat does his prowl to see if there is any food which takes his fancy, while the birds move up into the branches of the trees to watch him warily.
When the farmer went out with the dogs at daybreak I stuck the camera in his hand and asked him to take one or two photographs from the back door. I love the one of the Christmas wreath on the door - looking like a Christmas wreath should look, I suppose. The view down the farm yard doesn't seem to have a single footprint on it, but no doubt, when the farmer does his rounds, he will find fox prints - for the fox also keeps his eye open for any food that is going.
Goint back to my earlier post "What are we creating", where I questioned the idea of feeding the birds - Gina, of BT (see my blog list) asked her step-daughter, who works for the RSPB, for her view and she has kindly printed it in the comments. It seems that the official view is that it is sensible to feed them - and certainly in this weather many would not survive without our help. Yesterday there was a dead chaffinch under the bird table. There is no doubt that in order to keep warm they have to feed constantly in this cold.
Today will be another of those days when the sensible option will be to sit by the fire with a good book (I am still ploughing through "Wolf Hall" so I have plenty to go at). Luckily there is still plenty of good food left from Christmas and New Year, and a full freezer. And let's face it, the snow does look so pretty when you don't have to go out in it. Keep warm!
## Looking at the photos you will see that the one of the front walled garden is facing due South just as the sun is rising; the one looking down the farmyard is facing due North, where our weather is coming from - the sky says it all, I think.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Not quite fluttering and dancing.......

A friend brings me daffodils when she comes to our New Year's Eve dinner party. Is there anything in this world which signifies Spring more than daffodils? When Shelley wrote," When Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" romantics siezed on it as an expression of hope. I must say I think that phrase often when there is a blizzard outside.

Today, the flowers which Wendy brought for me, sit on the kitchen window sill and are just beginning to open. Outside, the tete-a-tete daffodils I planted in planters outside both doors and which had poked through their gravel topping and put forth an inch of green shoot before Christmas, are now hidden under six inches of hard snow which covered them a fortnight ago and shows no sign of moving any time soon.

I read somewhere this week that when Britain was at its lowest ebb in 1942; when our soldiers had been forced out at Dunkirk and there seemed to be an imminent threat of invasion; when fuel was in short supply and there was a spell of really wintry weather, Winston Churchill remarked that whatever the situation, in order to keep up morale two things had to be brought into the country at all costs. One of those things was lipstick and the other was the early daffodils imported from our Scilly Isles.

So, while daffodils are not yet in Wordworthian mode, i.e. "fluttering and dancing in the breeze", they are opening their buds on my kitchen window sill, and I say thank goodness for that.

Friday, 1 January 2010

A brand new year.

Last evening we sat by the fire with family and friends and saw the New Year come in. We watched the rather splendid firework display on the television - it does seem as though world capitals are competing for attention with their ever more spectacular displays. It was a beautiful show and it was lovely to see the faces of the people watching, who had been standing in the cold for hours waiting for it to start. I do like the idea that London Transport were providing free travel home on the underground until something like 4.30am.
There is a little bit of me which thinks of the huge amount of money spent on such displays and wonders if the money couldn't be better spent on helping - for example - the homeless people on the London streets - but maybe I am being a killjoy.
Last evening there was quite a snowfall and my guests had to unfreeze their windscreens before starting off on the journey home, but at least the weather was seasonal. And we had a glimpse of the blue moon (only occurs when there are two full moons in one month) in its partial (very partial) eclipse. I took a photograph of it and I show you it here. Not a very good effort, but the moon, with that hazy halo, was looking her very best to see the new year in.