Friday, 30 April 2010

When is a weed not a weed?

Ah weeds! The bane of the gardener's life - a constant battle from April to October - turn your back and they have won.
In the lawn two forget me nots have seeded themselves and they stand tall along the path edge. Our lawn mower is ill and is at the doctor's but today the farmer is going to hire a mower as we have so much lawn, so I am afraid that by night fall the forget me nots will be gone.
In my favourite bed of red tulips, which contrary to all gardening advice are left in the ground each year and have multiplied tenfold, lesser celandine has taken root and is now forming complete ground cover (have you ever tried to eradicate celandine?) Solomon's Seal, one of my favourite plants, is pushing up through the celandines too. I have tried moving little bits of him but he always dies - that is his spot and he is sticking to it.
Later on I know a particular patch of robust buttercups will call itself ranunculus and flourish in the border next to its cousin the globe flower.
And who is heartless enough to pull up those heavenly heartsease - the wild pansies - which scatter themselves all over our veggie garden every year and surprise us with their hybridised multi flowers. They come up in such unlikely places - along the pea row, amongst the broad beans - suddenly one day they are in bloom so we leave them to seed and we get another show next year.
No - leave these things in - I say, although whether I say it in desperation because they are almost impossible to eradicate or whether, like Ronald Blythe, I leave them in in the hopes of creating a Giverney effect it is difficult to say. Of course the thing about Giverney is that we mostly see it only in Monet's paintings and they are impressionistic enough to blend the weed colours in so that we don't see them. Have you ever taken a photograph of a bit of your garden? If you have you will know that somehow the weeds don't show up in the photo.
Soon our lane will be lined with cow parsley and Queen Anne's Lace - so far they have not ventured into our front garden. But I know if they do I shall have a job to pull them up because I can see one or two bare patches of soil where a frothy mass of pale cream would look beautiful.

Suckers and seeds, the weeds will win,
we'll 'ave the 'ole world for our own.
Then oh how glorious will come in
the era of the great self-sown. (Ronald Blythe)

I will post photographs later if the sun comes out.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Farmer Digs....

Well, I will try again. Sorry about the blogless heading but sometimes things go slightly wrong. Here we are still tidying up after winter. It was such a bad one that many of the fields were flooded when the thaw set in. The farmers made amental note of where draining was needed and today the farmer began his mission to get the fields drained before next winter.
Tess and I set out to see him in action. As we passed our wood I remembered that the farmer
had told me that ducks had made a nest. In the photograph of the wood above, you will see a fence in the foreground. At the foot of that fence is a huge patch of nettles and a pair of ducks have nested there. 'what a silly place to put a nest,' said the farmer, 'the crows will spot it in no time!' Well, crows might but this old crow tried hard to find it to photograph it for you, but to no avail. This morning there were two eggs, tonight there are three eggs - so they are still laying there. Let's hope we have baby ducklings, but don't bank on it, because - as Beatrix Potter says in Jemima Puddleduck - ducks are bad sitters.
On we went, across the beck. Isn't the water clear? As we crossed the bridge a Grey Heron flew off, tucking his legs neatly back he went about a hundred yards into the field and stood watching us. With the water as clear as that I expect it is easy for him to see the minnows (and probably just as easy for them to see him).
The farmer was off his digger and in the ditch, poking about in the old stone drain. Some of these stone drains are many hundreds of years old and are no longer working.
We left him to it and went along Mill Lane - a track which has existed for at least a thousand years - a track where in the Middle Ages Cistercian Monks would tread, bringing their sheep to graze in the fields.
Then we slipped through a gate and made a detour to the barn to look at the owl box. By the look of it (it is in pristine condition) there is no owl there this year, which is quite disappointing. I understand that many barn owls perished through starvation in the cold winter.
Walking back through the fields Tess was up on her back legs for most of the time, watching various rabbit warrens. Luckily I had her on a long leash, otherwise she would have been off after them.
I see that the cuckoo flowers (locally called milkmaids) are out by the side of the beck. That is always a sign that Spring is well underway. The blackthorn is in full bud and will be out in a couple of days if the weather stays reasonable. As soon as it is fully out I shall take a photograph just to show you how beautiful it looks.
Have a nice evening.

The Farmer digs...

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Isn't nature amazing?

More swallows are arriving every day to take up their residences in one or other of our barns.
Already the first arrivals are swooping down on muddy puddles and carrying the mud off to repair last year's nests.
Any day now the house martins will be back and they will be doing the same to their nests under the eaves of our house.
Then we hope that the swifts will come. We shall no doubt hear them long before we see them - the air will suddenly be full of their high pitched shrieking. What an amazing bird they are. I posted my poem, below, last year around this time, but I am tempted into writing about them again because of an article in the May edition of the RSPB's Birds magazine. The information that the article gives is quite amazing. Did you know the following facts about swifts?

1. Babies born this year will stay in the air continuously until the Summer of 2013.
2. The swift flies about 500 miles each day - at a speed of 25 m.p.h. and will often pop over to France to its next meal if there's nothing to eat over here.
3. Although they have only a tiny beak, when they open it they have a big yawning mouth and can swoop up quantities of insects - then wash them down by scooping up water from a stream.
4. They can live as long as fifteen years.
5. They sleep on the wing, high enough up in the atmosphere to glide and doze - they can't see where they are going as their eyesight is quite poor and they glide for miles overnight.

Isn't that truly remarkable? I saw many hundreds of swifts - or rather I heard them - when I was in Marrakesh a few years ago. Their noise was louder than all the passing traffic in Jma el Fna and that takes some doing.
And a few years ago one baby landed on our lawn. I picked it up and saw that it really had no feet to speak of - its scientific name is apus, which means footless. Had we not taken it into the field and launched it into the air it would have died.

I hope you are as amazed as I was at these facts. Anyway, here is my poem again. I make no apology for putting it on my blog twice - such amazing birds need all the publicity they can get as their numbers are declining and nobody seems to know why.


In Summer
for a while
the swifts come.

Birds of speed
and light,
they nest in the eaves
and come and go
where I am standing
at our highest window.

Blue-black arrows,
they course through
the damp air,
their trajectory
cutting a swathe through
the dancing midge.

These are the real
birds of the air...
eating, sleeping, mating
on the wing,
their ill-formed feet
not suited to the land.

For the time it takes to raise
the next generation
I watch them.
You aptly named creatures,
how I love your speed,
your accuracy,
your mystery...
but above all
your wildness.

One day I look down
and you are gone.
I can hear your scream
high above me;
I look up,
strain my eyes,
try to catch
that last burst of speed,
that last manouvre of
aeronautical perfection
before you head away.

Make the most of them if you have them where you live - they will be gone by the end of July.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Poetry Bus Rolls on.

This week we were asked to write about a relative - and I have chosen my Aunt Nell, dead for many years now but a constant presence in my childhood.

Ellen Louise.

Her dour presence
peppered my childhood;
I shared her name, yet
never seemed to share
her love. No, my share
went to my brother -
she loved him as her own.

I see her long hands,
thin and neatly nailed.
Her shoes were finest kid
as were her gloves;
the ring, she always wore,
the coat of soft fur
I loved to stroke.

When she died
we found her treasure box
under her lonely bed.
In it - a diamond ring
still glittering bright,
some poetry books, gilt-edged
and finest leather,
a faded, sepia rose
pressed to tissue,
a letter - too heart-rending
to read.

All that remained
from a love affair
cut short by war.

Friday, 23 April 2010


Thank you for the comments on poetry. The trouble is that the more comments I get, the more confused I become! It seems that the word means different things to different people. I am reminded of John Cage the composer commenting (I think) on his composition 4'22" (if I am wrong about this I am sure Dominic will put me right) and saying - "I have nothing to say and I am saying it - and that's poetry."
Some people seem to think that form, rhythm and rhyme are all important, others that starting in one style and sticking to it, others that anything goes if they wish to call it poetry.
If you haven't commented yet and can think of anything you wish to add, I would love to hear from you today. When tomorrow comes I shall make a list of all your comments and give to Victoria, the lady concerned.
In the widest possible sense there is poetry afoot in the garden today - it is full of daffodils, all turned in the same direction to greet the morning sun. Forget-me-nots have self-seeded and are making patches of hazy blue here and there - often in the most odd places. Muscari (grape hyacinths) are crowding the sides of the path and shouting loudly that their blue is much more dense and vivid than that of the more subtle forget-me-nots and the tulips are saying nothing - their bright scarlet cups are open to the sun - and that's poetry!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Setting up home.

It is hard being Nomadic. It's alright for those nomadic tribes who have perfected the art of putting up and taking down their sturdy homes - and transporting them without too much trouble. It's alright for the snail, who seems to happily carry his home around on his back; and it's not too hard for the swallow and housemartins, who return to the same place each year and just have to do a major spring-clean on last year's nest. But for the rest of us it is a worrying time.
There is so much to take into consideration. For a start there is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker who comes to our bird table every day. Soon they will have a hungry family to feed and Mr and Mrs have long, barbed tongues that they can pop down a hole to scoop up precious babies. Then there's the bright-eyed Magpie who knows everything and is always on the look-out for a tasty morsel (ugh! I just can't bear to think about it). And, last but not least, there are the farm cats. Although they seem to prefer baby rabbit they wouldn't turn their noses up at a change of diet.
So yes, as I say (or rather tweet) it is hard.
But this year I really think we have found the perfect place. It is in a garden wall which faces due East, so we will get the morning sun to warm us nicely after a chilly night, but then we shall be in the shade all day, just kept warm by the heat in the stones. It is in such a nice neighbourhood. There will be no rowdiness I am sure. Our neighbours are Mr and Mrs Blackbird and Mr and Mrs Hedgesparrow, who have both set up home in a Clematis Montana/Tree Peony complex. At present it looks a bit scruffy but in a week or two it will look really pretty, covered with pink and yellow flowers.
As for our home, well by June it will be totally surrounded by Albertin - a pink climbing rose with a delicious smell. What more could any bird wish for?
Of course this morning when we were cleaning up the few bushes round the door (yes, there are already a few greenfly to be had) "she who provides our food" saw us. As she passed the landing window she spotted us on a hydrangea and she stopped dead. Of course, we saw her immediately, but she poses no threat so we let her watch us. I even popped back into our house just so that she could see where we had set up our home. So now she knows.
But, having discussed it with my husband, we think it is a good thing. Now she knows, she will be sure to provide those fat balls all Summer, so that feeding our family should be made much easier.
So, here I am, sitting on my nest in a warm, dry, cosy stone wall. My significant other is out looking for tasty morsels to tempt me into laying a second egg and I have nothing to do but doze in the early morning sun. It's a hard life being a coal tit.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

It's busting out all over.

In the four days since I walked down the lane with Tess, so many plants have appeared - each day there are more. I took a few photographs on our afternoon walk

The wild gooseberry is in full flower and it is warm enough for a bumble bee to be busy amongst the flowers. Let's hope there is no frost until the fruit has set, although wild gooseberries are so very sour that I am not sure whether any creature eats them or not.
The first of the dandelions has appeared. What a pity these flowers are considered to be weeds because they are such a tonic on a dull day. Our roadsides will be thick with them within a day or two.
One of my favourite early flowers is the coltsfoot. It seems to grow where there is a gritty surface and the flowers always show before the leaves - in fact I am not sure what the leaves look like. Now the forget-me-nots (Mysotis) are beginning to bloom - some a very deep blue and some like the photograph a paler blue.
I also found one patch of Muscari (grape hyacinth) which I guess has been thrown out into the hedgeback with some garden rubbish. They really are an intense deep blue.
Then of course there is the celandine. Jim on Riverdaze had some wonderful photographs of celandine on his blog last week. I have got them all over our front garden and I am so loath to
weed them out as they have woven their way through Primula Wanda and they look so pretty
Maybe when they have finished flowering......
Last but not least - one solitary cowslip. I cannot tell you what a beautiful scent this little flower had Hopefully it is the first of many.
On a different note, this morning was our Writers' Group discussion meeting. Half a dozen of us meet once a month and submit a piece which we want everyone to discuss. As usual this morning was very interesting. One member had written a piece about judging people at face value - this provoked a very lively discussion. Next came a piece from a member who used to be in the BBC Chorus - she wrote about some of the amusing episodes when they sang in live broadcasts. I submitted a poem which we took to pieces and re-arranged. But the really interesting piece was from a lady who does not have English as her first language, but who speaks it fluently. She had written a "poem" - it was very long and was really just a piece of well-written prose split up into little bits. But the crunch came when we had to say what poetry was and why this piece was not it! We got into very deep water and really did not come up with really good reasons. Isn't poetry hard to define?
Stephen Fry in his book "The Ode Less Travelled" says: "With prose the eye is doing much more than the ear." And later "But prose, rhythmic as it can be, is not poetry. The rhythm is not organised." Would anybody like to have a stab at this? If so perhaps I could make a list
of your suggestions. It really does interest me. What do you think?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Down on the farm.

This is a busy time of year for the farmer. After a winter when for six weeks the ground was under deep snow there is much to be done.
First of all the hedges were trimmed. These days we are called ' environmental stewards' of the land, which means for one thing we must not cut the hedges between mid-March and the end of September - and we should leave them a little longer than we used to do. This measure is so that the nesting birds are left undisturbed throughout the breeding season. Some of our hedges are quite high and made up of a collection of hawthorn trees, but some are just made up of hawthorn, blackthorn,field maple, spindle, ash saplings, wild rose and the ubiquitous bramble. And bramble thorny suckers creep out into the field ready to catch an unwary sheep this time of year when their wool is long and pretty messy. But they are all ready to receive the birds now, and already there are two pairs of yellow hammers building in one hedgerow and in between times feeder at our feeding station, just to let us know they are around.
We have aholly hedge at the bottom of our garden and there seems to be a cock blackbird staking claim every thirty yards or so.
Where the sheep have stood in the gateways or at their feeders, which have been very necessary during this bitter winter, the ground has been churned up. There are deep ruts where the tractor has crossed the field to the feeder too. So the first job the farmer did was to harrow all the fields; after which he rolled them all and then spread the whole lot with fertiliser (20:10:10 to be exact). Any bare patches have been re-seeded and then rolled - I think the birds are going to have a fine time on those patches.
Well - all this has been done over the past two or three weeks, when the weather has been just right for such activity. Now all the sheep have gone home, back to the high ground and the freedom to roam where they wish. No longer do they need to teeter along the top of the stone walls in an effort to escape confinement. Where they have knocked bits of wall down still waits to be mended - that will be the farmer's next job.
The blackthorn buds swell by the day and soon the fields will be full of the white, snowy blackthorn blossom. Hawthorn is beginning to show green - where the hedge is young greens up much faster than the old stuff. Bright green and almost in flower are the wild gooseberry bushes which litter our hedges. You can smell the grass growing.
This time of year always makes me think of the Browning poem:

Oh to be in England,
Now that April's there.
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lower boughts and the brush-wood sheaf
Round the elm tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

Sadly, the elm, that most English of trees, is almost gone from our countryside, killed by Dutch Elm Disease. Do you remember that brushwood round the bottom of the bole, and the way it suddenly burst into green at this time of the year?
All around the farm there is a sense of waiting - waiting for the grass to grow into hay or silage, waiting for the curlew to nest in the fields (they are already circling round in their pairs, waiting for the blackthorn to come into bloom - and later on the wonderful May blossom. What an exciting time of year it is.

Monday, 19 April 2010


I have not been putting blogs on this weekend as I have had a run of visitors. The first very welcome visitors though we last Wednesday, when our first two swallows arrived. I was so pleased to see them arrive on the same day, because last year one poor swallow sat on the wires for a fortnight before any more joined it. So far there are no more but it is such a joy when they return to the same barn each year. We have maybe a dozen nests and they go on being repaired and spring-cleaned each year and then we have a hoard of swallows ready to depart each Autumn. Isn't nature awesome - not least because of what Libby Purves in today's Times calls Mount Unpronounceable - what a spectacular sight and what a timely warning that we are not as in charge of things as we like to think we are.

As for other visitors - a niece staying overnight - lovely to catch up on family chat. She brought with her a huge bunch of roses and they have scented the whole house throughout the weekend.

Then also a visit from grandchildren. Gone are the days when I could put the toy farm out on the carpet and they would play with it for hours. They are now 24,21 and 17, so they fill the kitchen and eat all my grapes from the fruit bowl while we are talking. They also managed to relieve me of a heap of Twix chocolate bars. I was very grateful as the news from my doctor is that I must lose some weight.

Now to my inspirational book. Sorry about the quality of the photograph but the book is covered in a shiny plastic jacket, so it is hard to take a good shot of it. If you read Ted Simon's original book "Jupiter's Travels" - about Simon's journey more or less round the world on his motor bike. The original book was the inspiration for "Long Way Round" and Simon had the idea to repeat the journey for his seventieth birthday. It is a fantastic read (I have just read it through twice as I enjoyed it so much) and such an inspiration for anyone over sixty! Do give it a go.

Must go now as I have just had a phone call to say that my grandchildren are popping in on their way to the station. Enjoy your week.

Sorry no Poetry bus entry this week - I have not had the quiet time necessary for poetic thinking.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

You've got to laugh!

It would be quite easy to fall into a Slough of Despond these days. Getting old is not much of a joke sometimes (or as somebody put it very wisely in something I read earlier this month, it is a spiritual battle which you know that you are never going to win). But let's all look on the bright side - for my part my back is getting better - albeit slowly - and my recent MOT at the doctor's surgery is almost all good news (just a high cholesterol to work on). But for laughs you can't get much better than a Prize Winning Reader's Letter I read in a magazine (which shall be nameless) at the hairdressers earlier this week:
A reader wrote a glowing letter thanking the magazine for the marvellous diet sheet they had provided. She said she had followed it to the letter and had a wonderfully significant weight loss. She couldn't thank them enough for getting her started on losing weight. She knew she was on the right path now and was full of enthusiasm.
Her letter won the month's prize which was - a hamper of hand made chocolate worth £50.
That made me laugh out loud. It just about sums up the attitude of these magazines for women. They churn out 'tips' for slimming, looking younger, being a successful entrepreneur - anything which they hope will tempt us to buy the magazine , but it is all so facile - wouldn't it have been lovely if they had said - your prize was to have been a huge basket of fattening chocolate but as you have lost weight and don't want to regain it then we are sending your £50 to charity.
This 'spin' attitude seems to have permeated every little cranny of our lives, doesn't it. I went a few years ago to a make up demonstration given by one of the leading (and very expensive) cosmetic companies. The speaker told us never to wash our faces with soap and water, but always to use their cleansing milk. A woman in the audience was incensed and stood up and proclaimed that she was eighty-four, a farmer's wife, and that she scrubbed her face twice daily with soap and water from childhood - and ' look at my complexion' she said - we looked - it was peaches and cream. 'It's all in the genes,' she continued - 'and I've helped it with good honest fresh air.'
And so to the ultimate in spin - tonight's Live Television Debate between the three party leaders (yawn, yawn). The Times prints a list of the things they must watch - the right coloured tie, always look at your audience, keep a flash of humour there, try to avoid your worst little habits.
I don't think i can bear to watch it - it will be promises, smarm and no straight answers. I think I will settle for finishing my book - which incidentally is fantastic - I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Answers to yesterday's quiz.

As so many of you seem interested, I now feel duty bound to supply you with the answers:

Austen; Browning; Coleridge; De la Mare; Elizabeth I; Frost; Genesis; Joanne Harris; Isaiah;
Sam Johnson; Kipling; Kear; Marie Antoinette; Nelson; Orczy; Pepys; Quixote; Rossetti; Shelley; Tennyson; Uriah Heep; Victoria Regina; Wordsworth; Browning (Fra Lippo Lippi); Yeats; Zola.

Don't think i am exceptionally clever - I compiled the quiz from the Oxford Book of Quotations!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Is it an age thing?

Our Writers' Group had their book launch last week - each of us has written on the theme of railways and we have published a little book called "Trains of Thought." Like the curate's egg, it is good in parts - but at least we have all made an effort and that in itself is worthy.

On the launch evening I did a literary quiz and also made the book cover in the photograph above as the prize (with a writer's notebook inside). The quiz went down very well and luckily only one person got the whole thing right, so I was able to give her the book.

But what really interested me was that I tried the quiz out on various friends and relations beforehand, so that I could be sure it was set about right. My grand-daughter, who is seventeen and doing English A Level (and is far better read than I will ever be) could only answer a few; my son, who has been a keen reader all his life, and - like his daughter - is far better read than I will ever be, got about two thirds of them right and another friend I tried it out on got only a few right. Yet these are all very intelligent, very literary people who read all the time. The difference is that they were all much younger than I am (to varying degrees).

I know that any one of them could have produced a quiz which I could not answer. So that is my question - should the old classic authors and poets still be read by young people?

I thought about how I had got to know the authors and poets in my quiz - and discovered that I had not got this information from school days at all, but from my father, who was himself a very keen reader and who imparted this knowledge to me. If you fancy having a go at the quiz, I print it below. And, incidentally, if you would like to try your hand at making a book cover like the one in the photograph I will print the pattern on my blog with pleasure.
Alphabetical quiz.
A Who said "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possesion of a fortune must be in want of a wife?
B Who said, "Oh to be in England now that April's there"?
C Who said, "As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean"
D Which poet - "Is there anybody there said the traveller?
E Who said "I have the body of a weak and feeble woman.
F Which poet said "Good fences make good neighbours.
G "And God said let there be light."
H The author of "Chocolat."
I "The wolf shall lie down with the lamb."
J Who said, " A man is generally better pleased when he has a good dinner on the table than when his wife speaks Greek."
K "East is east and west is west."
L "The owl and the pussy cat went to sea."
M "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche."
N "England expects every man will do his duty.
O "That demmed elusive pimpernel."
P "And so to bed."
Q Who rode a horse called Rosinante?
R "Better by far you should forget and smile, than you should remember and be sad.
S "Hail to thee blithe spirit."
T "Into the valley of death rode the six hundred."
U Who was 'so very 'umble."
V "We are not amused."
W Who wandered lonely as a cloud?
X Which poet, beginning with a B, said "You should not take a fellow eight years old and make him swear to never kiss the girls."
Y Who had the words "Horsemen pass by!" on his epitaph.
Z J'Accuse!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

All aboard the Poetry Bus.

Fatal Attraction.

It's not that I don't like Sebastian Knight,
no, he's rather a splendid fellow.
But his views tend to be on the far end of right
and he speaks with a very loud bellow.

He 'pops in' at Christmas, to bring us a brace
and stays to consume our whisky;
and if there's a female of more than sixteen
he soon gets decidedly frisky!

He likes 'gals' who are 'horsy' and rather well-bred
with stately or statuesque figures.
And once the whisky has gone to his head
the rest of us get the sniggers.

But one Friday night I was one man short
at a party for my friend, Mia -
whose views are considerably off to the left
and who dresses in combat gear.

Sebastian turned up in full evening dress
and was giving his medals an airing.
Mia arrived in a long gypsy skirt
and very dangly earrings.

I saw their eyes meet, and I knew straight away
just what was likely to follow.
Seb was 'smitten' and Mia was 'blown away' -
They're getting married tomorrow!

Any little Seb/Mia's, as they're growing up
will face a political riddle -
their Mum to the left, or their Dad to the right?
Bet they'll stay in the boring middle.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

A Saturday Walk.

Is there anywhere any silence more profound than that in a Spring meadow on a Saturday afternoon, when the sun is shining, the air is still and it is warm? I suppose in the desert, or in a cathedral might give one the same feeling, but I walk down the meadow, drinking in the absolute stillness, broken only by muted bird sounds, and smelling the grass growing. There is no mistaking the smell of growing grass, is there? To anyone with a manicured lawn I suppose it is not a smell they relish, but to a farmer who is wanting to turn his cows out to pasture, there is no better smell in the world at this time of the year. And, make no mistake, the cows smell it too. Our heifers in the loose housing are restless, their noses are working overtime.

The meadow is greening up nicely, as the farmer would say. Here and there a daisy is opening its face to the sun, but everywhere miniature golden shining suns, otherwise called the lesser celandine, shine out, dotting the field with their magic.

On the beck marsh marigolds are now in full bloom and banks of celandine swoop down to the water's edge. Where the beck goes through our little wood, bluebells are just beginning to come into bloom. Tess and I stand looking along the beck from a vantage point behind a holly bush. Coming towards us, chatting aimiably (as befits a newly married couple) as they paddle along, are Mr and Mrs Duck. He is a smart mallard drake in full regalia, she a pure white. I don't know whether they spot us or not. If they do they take no notice of us. He leads her out of the water and they start their walk up the meadow. Have they got a nest in the hedgebottom somewhere?

Curlew are beginning to pair up and visit the fields where in a week or two, when the grass is a bit longer, they will laytheir eggs. And every year we have a pair of noisy oyster catchers; they too are whizzing round and round as we walk - they can't even fly without making their noise.

As we come back along the side of the hedgerow a blackbird pops out every few yards and flies off. This is a favourite hedge for blackie nests and they are obviously hard at it building an impregnable fortress, safe (they hope) from stoats, weasels and magpies.

As we come out into the back garden the farmer is busy raking up the winter twigs, prior to mowing the orchard grass. On one tree - the cherry - the blossom is almost out. When it is in full bloom I shall photograph it so that I can quote that wonderful poem from Housman's Shropshire Lad - "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now..." Further along the garden the rhubarb is beginning to sprout - as I approach it the farmer tells me it will soon be crumble time!

Tess stays in the garden with the farmer, and with the black cat who has joined us. I come in to put this on my blog before the lovely images have faded from my mind. If there is only one day of perfection this Spring, then this is it. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Night Thoughts.

It is 3am and I sit at the kitchen table, drinking my mug of weak tea, eating my arrowroot biscuit and waiting for my pain-killers to kick in. I am afraid my still-sore back does not care to lie down all night without a break.
My reading tonight is Borderland (Ronald Blythe) and its entries for April - Eliot's Cruellest of Months. Outside it is cloudy, so no frost tonight, and a little warmer and there is promise of a Spring-like end to the week. About time, I say, as the daffodils line up, all in bud, just waiting for a burst of warmer sun to set the off.
Inside, Tess sleeps through my nightly sojourn; I have been doing this for a few weeks now and catching up on my sleep with an after-lunch nap. She makes a brief, accusatory glance at my arrowroot biscuit, turns round half a dozen times, sighs and settles down to sleep again. I eat the biscuit which turns to sawdust in my mouth with guilt at not giving her a tiny corner.
And, I read. Such diverse topics and so beautifully written.
Firstly an entry about April rain; Blythe talks about how it falls 'vertically' "like glass bead curtains" in a cake shop he knew as a child. Do you remember those bead curtains? How they parted with such a gentle tinkling as you pushed through them. Edwin Morgan talks about bead curtains in Port Said - maybe they still have them in some parts of the world. I wish they still had them here - their sound was so much nicer than the muzak you get in shops these days.
Blythe's next piece is about his travelling by train to Hereford and watching April 'slide by' outside while inside watching people. Well we have all done that, haven't we? He particularly enjoys a story which a Granny is reading to her two grandchildren - and indirectly to him too.

When he arrives in Hereford he talks of walking with friends over "a ferocious battle ground" and how Shakespeare records this in Henry IV - how the Welsh women finished off the dying men on the battle field. Gruesome, although long ago, he finds comfort in celandine 'like gold leaf'.
The last piece I read is about Spring lambs (did you know that Beatrix Potter of Peter Rabbit fame said that ' every lamb which is born is born to have its throat cut'.) It is also about dancing hares and about Francis Kilvert, that eager young curate of Clyro in the marches (Kilvert's Diary) in the nineteenth century. I love his diary and read it often - it is such a window on country life at that time - but sad because he died so young.
Kilvert talks about the end of Lent and the coming of Easter Sunday and tells us of how the village women decorated the church for the Easter service with flowers:-
Kilvert enters his church and finds "a round dish full of flowers in water and upon this dish is a pot filled and covered with primroses, violets, wood anemones, wood sorrel, periwinkles, oxlips and a few early bluebells, rising to a gentle pyramid, ferns and larch sprays drooping over the rim, then bands of ivy leaves." I close my eyes, see it, almost smell it, begin to nod off. Time for bed again - but what a rich half hour I have had.
Through the landing window I see the manger full of tete-a-tete daffodils in bloom. Still and colourless in the night I know that when I come downstairs in the morning they will give me a moment's pleasure with their nodding golden heads.

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Poetry Bus.

I Prefer Shades of Grey.

I do not wish to see
my heartbeat;
black ink on a white page.
I would watch for
blips and hiccups.

When it becomes a thin
straight line, my wish
will be fulfilled.

I found this week's challenge very hard - maybe because I am very busy and also still suffering a bit with back pain. I thought the photos were absolutely beautiful, particularly the first one, whatever it was! However, I did not want to miss the challenge - it keeps me on my toes.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Strange Bedfellows.

Let me introduce you to Stove - yes he needs a capital letter and yes, he is a he - there is absolutely no doubt about that. He sits under the mantel in our back sitting room and glowers - that is he glowers at me. I cannot deny that he is efficient - he fills the whole house with a lovely glowing warmth and has, in many ways, transformed our Winter here on the farm. But Stove is a man's man.

I call the farmer "Stove Man" because he deals so efficiently with Stove - cleaning him out in the morning, laying his new fire, keeping him stoked up and answering his every whim. But, you ask, what about your role with Stove.

Well, dear readers, Stove does not like me. With me he is a malevolent toad! If I light him, he promptly goes out or smoulders sulkily; if I have to stoke him up because the farmer is out then he traps my logs crossways on in his belly so that I can't get the lid shut; he burns my knuckles when I try to rearrange the logs in order to shut the door - and on the occasion when I accidentally dropped the opening tool into the fire he positively glowed with glee.

Don't tell me that he is an inanimate object and has no personality, for I know different. I am telling you, one night when I come down in the middle of the night to make a cup of tea that Stove will rise up on his legs and attack me. For that reason I shall keep a bucket of water behind the kitchen door and throw it at him when it happens - that will cool his fury. But when you read about it in the papers, remember that you read it here first!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Out and about in the dale.

Our Writers' Group have produced their first book, published this week (and, like the curate's egg, good in parts) and today it fell to me to drive through Wensleydale to Hawes to ask the local newsagent if he would stock some copies for sale (he would).

This journey was no hardship for the dale is beginning to wake up. Nicely protected from the bitterly cold North wind, I drove along in brilliant sunshine. The fields are beginning to green up and here and there were trees with fat buds, not yet bursting open, but thinking about it.

But best of all, in the water meadows, where the silvery River Ure winds its way, there were lambs. In little groups they raced across the field, stood a moment, then raced back at a given signal from one of the group. Some very tiny ones were curled up asleep in little sunny hollows. And all the while their mums were conscientiously munching away at the grass - they've seen it all before I suppose.

Stepping out into the April sunshine was a bit of a shock as an icy blast cut through the car park. It didn't help that the first £2.20 I put in the parking meter was gobbled up without showing on the clock - so the parking actually cost me £4.40!!! But we British are stalwart, aren't we? After all, it is Easter weekend - and that usually means winter's return.

Today's picture is a long distance shot of our "local" bit of high ground - Penhill. I took it this morning on my way to Hawes - and as you see it is still a bit of a wintry scene. Have a Happy Easter.