Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Busy day.

Today has been a really busy one - this morning shopping for a friend - and then delivering the shopping, which meant a wonderful drive through Coverdale. I took my camera but never managed to stop and take a photograph - sorry.
Coverdale is a beautiful dale and it was especially beautiful this morning because the elderflowers were in bloom and lit the road side. The farmer says he can never remember the elder being so prolific with its blossom. The whole drive was sheer delight. I passed the gallops on Middleham Moor where the racehorse trainers run their horses and I was hoping for some photographs but was far too late. As the farmer pointed out, horses feel the heat too and it has been scorching hot day today.

After lunch Tess and I walked through the fields and I managed to photograph an elder bush in full bloom and a wild rose in full bloom - yes they are doing very well too this year. Then coming back through the front garden I saw that the delphiniums were coming out - what a beautiful blue they are.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with a family History expert who gave me such a lot of information on my ancestors. He has put it all into my computer and now I have to sort it out.

It seems we might have one or two new passengers on the bus next Monday - so do hope everyone is able to climb aboard.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Getting to the bus stop for the Poetry Bus.

It is my turn to drive again next Monday. I don't know about all the other passengers but I do like a lot of time to think about the week's subject - so here is next Monday's challenge for you to mull over in plenty of time.

I had the subject all worked out but then this morning, when I went into town to the Post Office, a funny incident occurred and that changed my mind. Our P O is in the Co-op store and as I went through the door I came face-to-face with our Community Policeman carrying a very large, very ornate chocolate cake. I couldn't help wondering why he had it - was it his birthday and was he going to give all his colleagues a slice, was it a present for somebody, was he a chocaholic?

On my way to Tesco I mulled over this incident and it reminded me of a programme about Tom Stoppard, the playwright, which I saw at least twenty-five years ago but which has stayed in my mind. He was talking about strange unexplainable incidents and how we strive to explain them. The example he gave, if I remember rightly, was that he saw a man in pyjamas walking down the road carrying a peacock under his arm.
He gave a variety of explanations for the incident - of course he never knew whether any of them were correct.

So how does all that relate to our poetry bus challenge on Monday? Well it struck me that we have never had to write about a person. So here are a few alternatives:-

1. You could write about an unexplained incident (as the examples above).
2. You could write about a person (as in 'Old Meg she was a gypsy and lived upon the moors'.)
3. You could write AS as person (as in 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock)

The only fixed criterion is that the poem is in some way related to a person.

I do hope this makes sense - I look forward to reading the poems on Monday. Shall spend tomorrow giving the bus a good clean out - I am not much good under the bonnet but am pretty good at sweeping and cleaning, so the bus should be pristine by Monday. Enjoy!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Larval webs.

As we walk around the fields we keep seeing webs across the hawthorn in the hedges.
Yesterday I took some photographs and sent them to Stuart (Donegal Wildlife - see my blog list) and he has kindly identified them.
He says they are ' almost certainly the larval webs of the Small Eggar moth'### a moth which is struggling to survive as so many hedgerows have disappeared.
So now, on his advice I have sent the photographs on the another naturalist. If you are interested in wildlife I do recommend that you pay a visit now and then to Donegal Wildlife as Stuart has such interesting facts about a variety of natural history.
Here on the farm today has been our Poetry afternoon - at the farm. Only seven of us today but what a wealth of poetry we read. We had Rupert Brooke, Cavafy. Betjamen, Pam Ayres, Pablo Neruda, Tennyson, Chesterton. What is so good about our meetings is that we hear poetry read aloud and often poetry we would never think of reading ourselves. Incidentally I missed out Alfred Noyes - Jenny read The Highwayman and Sylvia read another of his poems about Dad falling into the pond. I had never heard the pond one before although I do remember the Highwayman from my school days. Interestingly Noyes didn't die until 1959. We had a super afternoon.

### After further research, thanks to Stuart's help, I now find it is more likely to be the larval web of the small ermine moth, as the eggar is not usually found around here.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Jumping on the Poetry Bus.

This week's challenge involves signposts. I love them - some of the place names on them are so fascinating that even though you only pass by you become intrigued with the names on the sign.
When I lived in the Midlands I used to pass a signpost to Wyre Piddle - never went there but what a name! And in my childhood there was a signpost to Wasps Nest (a little village). A work colleague used to say he was sorry he had such an ordinary name - he would really have liked to be called Burton Bradstock - and that's a village too.
So, enough rambling on, here is my Poetry Bus seat ticket for this week:-

The Signpost.

No Through Road
it said -
but nobody told the rabbits
or the badger on his evening run,
and the cranesbill
sent its seeds
hurtling on.

So I went,
following the trail
of badger and rabbit,
pushing through
the deepest blue
as the cranesbill
marked a way.

And I found a glade
of dappled shade.
Once through, I knew
that this was as far
as I wished to go.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

R.S. Thomas

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will by now know that one of my all-time favourite poets is R S Thomas. I read and admire the work of many different poets but always, in the end, in come back to Thomas who says (so well) what I want to say.
He is not, on the whole, a descriptive poet - we rarely get to know what anyone looks like in his poems but, by golly, we get to know what they think and feel - or often what they don't think and feel. I suppose you could say that he was a poet of ideas.
His themes are often to do with his love/hate relationship with the Welsh countryside and its people; the narrowness of their lives; their lack of questioning about life.
Several years ago, when I was studying Thomas in depth, I tried an experiment. Last night I remembered it when talking about poetry with my son and I showed it to him. He suggested that I showed it to you. So here it is.
What I did was to look through a variety of his poetry and select one line from each. Then I put those lines together in a 'poem' and I think that the result is staggering. One thing it shows clearly is the consistency of his talent and his constant preoccupation with the same themes.
I shall be interested to hear what you think of it, why you think it works and what you think of Thomas's poetry per se.
I honestly cannot think of another poet who could be taken apart and re-assembled like this and still make complete sense and, in fact, maka a coherent whole.

Poem made up of lines from separate poems by R S Thomas.

When I was a child and the soft flesh was forming,
Like a poem or a composition in music;
I looked as though through a clear window.
You could take me to pieces
and there would be no angel hard by, wringing its hands
over the demolition of the temple.

When I close my eyes I can see it.
I have looked long at the land,
trying to understand my place in it.
At the dark sources I stand now.
The winds of the world are blowing.
The patched gate you left open
will never be shut again.

Well, what do you think?

Friday, 25 June 2010

An Open Letter.

Our task for Writers' Group this month is to write an Open Letter to anyone we like - about anything we like. I have decided to write one to my parents, who both died in 1972. I thought I would share it with you.
Dear Mum and Dad, In the thirty-eight years since you died I have thought of you almost every day and have often thought of things I wish I had said to you when you were still alive.
We were never a demonstrative family; the odd kiss when we met or parted company; the praise when any of us did anything to make you proud (the praise was always muted). I have no doubt at all that you loved us but you never said so and nor did we. 'Stiff Upper Lip' was the family code of behaviour. Hugs and cuddles were for wimps - although I doubt that the word had been invented in those days.
So here are just a few of the things I wish I had said to you all those years ago.
Mum - each time I use your thimble I smile at the thought of your aversion to sewing. The thimble is far too small for me but i still use it because it reminds me of you. You had a real hatred of sewing, brought about by an inferiority complex of marrying into a family where all the girls were either tailoresses or milliners. And I want to say to you - nobody judged you on your sewing ability - forget it - you had plenty of other qualities which they lacked. Your beautiful singing voice for a start - I would often hear you singing when you were pegging washing out at the bottom of the garden. And your stoicism. I look back upon family crises and I know that it was you who was the strong one, you who got us through unscathed.
I like to think that I have inherited that stoicism to some extent, that whatever I am facing on the inside I like to show a strong front to the world
Dad - I think of you every day and thank you for instilling in me a love of Nature. I think of the hours we walked together when I was very young - hours when we identified every wild flower we passed, noted every bird and listened to its song, looked for nests in the banks and hedgerows - I do it still.
And your love of poetry. It was always easy to buy you a present - another poetry book. You would read them by the hour in the winter evenings - often reading them aloud. You could recite many of the old poems off by heart - The Jackdaw of Rheims, The Battle of Blenheim...
I have most of your poetry books still, your name written inside the front cover in your neat, spidery hand.
I still love the anemones which were your favourite, Mum. I used to buy them for you and I can still picture them on the dining table in the little crystal vase you had inherited. And if there were no anemones you would pick wallflowers from the garden instead - the scent of them now brings the picture of that dining room table into my head.
So much of what I am I owe to you both - and I thank you for it. It is a bit late in the day to tell you that I love you both dearly - but I daresay that if I had said it when you were alive you would have both been highly embarrassed. As I get older the memories of you both become stronger. I suppose that is how we live on - through the lives of our children. Rest easy - you were the best.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

All is safely gathered in.

The first batch of haymaking is complete. The farmer makes hay for various field-owners in the village so there is more haymaking to come. But at present he has just finished his own little bit of hay. As I said the other day, he doesn't really need hay but he does like to carry on with the old traditions. The farm cats love the hay barn to sleep in. Also we often get callers in winter asking if we have bales of hay to sell - so every year the farmer makes hay.

Here you will see a photograph of a typical hay meadow. It is not our meadow. I took this photograph higher up Wensleydale yesterday. The field was yellow with buttercups but if you looked hard you could see a red haze was overtaking - that red haze is sorrel, which has suddenly grown tall and is taking over as the buttercups die back. Round here the farmers call sorrel 'sour dock'.

So - our hay is cut, baled and stacked in the barn - and I can't describe to you how beautifully it smells. The weather is set to remain fair all weekend with increasing temperatures, so who knows, maybe the farmer will start round 2 of haymaking. Blackie, one of the farm cats,approached the barn with caution, looking suspiciously at the new crop of hay. But no doubt by later tonight they will both be sprawled out there enjoying the warmth as the hay heats up. The barn doors will be left open for a few days for the heat to disperse, otherwise it can overheat and cause a fire.

Further up the dale, where I took the meadow photograph, they will not be making hay for another couple of weeks because they are protected meadows and the wild flowers have to set seed before the farmers are allowed to cut the hay.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Right Place.

Vita Sackville-West in her Garden Book talks of how and where to place individual plants in the garden. She tells how she spent hours holding up various coloured flowers in various places to see if they fitted into the herbaceous plan, put them there and then, next year, found that they had seeded into different places and looked much better. A violet had seeded into a flight of steps and had flowered elegantly -purple against the grey stonework. I can see what she means - often where flowers choose their own spot they do it with the utmost elegance.
Today Tess and I went over to The Lakes to meet a friend for lunch. We packed a picnic and left home early on a bright, sunny morning so that we could stop and walk up to have a look at Cotter Force (Force being the Yorkshire word for a waterfall). I knew that the wild flowers would all be out on the sides of the path - and there is such a variety. We were not disappointed. The sun was shining and there was not a soul about. A pair of wagtails flitted about in the water, a few rabbits hopped about in the field, and the wild flowers were splendid.
But what struck me most is where the wild flowers had chosen to grow. I have chosen three of them to show you and I think you will agree that each has grown in such a suitable place for my photographs! So thank you campion and foxgloves - taking your photographs meant absolutely no time at all in thinking about the composition.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


I have started my Journal on the first day of Summer and intend to do one for each of the seasons. My little Instant Mobile Printer is working a treat - the small pictures which come out of it have a sticky back so they are perfect for fitting into the middle of the script. You will see page 1 above - when I do a particularly nice page I will show it to you.

Tess and I have just walked past the curlew residence - and the birds have gone. It is all neat and tidy and there is a round depression where the nest has been, so I think it is safe to say that they have hatched and that the parent birds have taken them away. Almost as soon as they are hatched curlew leave the nest, and never return. The parent birds take the egg shells away and leave the nest clean and empty - and that is how it looks today. If it had been raided I think there would have been broken shells around. And, as if to endorse that, when I got into the next pasture a curlew was standing in the beck having a drink and when it saw me both it and its mate flew overhead making distracting calls - a sure sign that there are babies around. So all's well that ends well.

It is another glorious day here - the hay is drying well and the farmer is oiling his baler ready to start gathering it in tomorrow. Somehow haymaking is still the quintessential farming activity - going back thousands of years - we tend to forget hay now that silage has come on the scene. I can't tell you how lovely the air smells when you step out of our back door - and you can't say that of silage-making!

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Longest Day.

Today is the Summer Solstice and the Longest Day. Up here in the North of England it really hardly gets dark this time of year. It is still light at eleven o'clock and by two in the morning the sky is beginning to lighten. By three o'clock in the morning the birds are singing.

For once the Solstice is accompanied by gloriously sunny weather and a slight breeze - just the weather for haymaking, which since nine o'clock this morning has been well underway.

Those buttercups which shone out so bravely in the paddock last week are cut down and lie fading on the ground. The farmer makes hay for various people around here and they are coming out of the woodwork like flies this morning so he is off here and there cutting fields to make hay. It is good to see him because he loves it - he loves the whole process of making hay. In these days of silage few farmers bother with hay but he loves the smell of the cut grass and he loves stacking the sweet smelling bales into the hay barn. In addition - that is where the farm cats sleep and they love a bed of hay bales to sleep on - those cats can twist the farmer round their little claws.

An update on the curlew's nest in the silage field - although the nest is quite vulnerable as the grass is cut all round, Mrs Curlew is sitting tight. I walked quietly up to the nest after lunch and she took off - the four eggs look as thought they might be chipping. If so there will soon be baby curlew. Once they are hatched they leave the nest and never return. I shall keep my eye on things and let you know how things go. Keep our fingers crossed.

The weather forecast says this weather is set to last all week, so everything should be fine for haymakers and curlews alike. Have a nice day!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Poetry Bus tootles on.

This week the bus is being driven by Kat, who gave us the pictures of a rather grotesque statue outside a church in America and then pictures of it being struck by lightning and leaving just a metal framework. There is something allegorical about the series of photographs and I wish I was able to write a poem illustrating this - but the muse is not working too well today. And, being a total unbeliever, probably nearer to Humanism than anything, I would find that hard anyway. So here is my contribution:-

A Bolt from the Blue.

Sometimes it needs
a flash,
a strike,
a conflagration,
to clear away
the dross; to leave
to get back to
bare bones
and see things
for what they really are.

Do hop on the bus if you are reading this and have not had a ride - you'll enjoy the company.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

She is here!

I suppose we all of us have our favourite flower. In February it is the snowdrop for me and in March and April all the tulips. Buttercups take a lot of beating too. But of all the flowers I see there is one which stands above all others and its arrival on the Summer scene is a case for rejoicing.

Rosa Canina - the dog rose - is a simple flower, nothing complicated, just a few petals and a centre of deep golden stamens. She rambles far and wide if left to her own devices, covering hedges, climbing trees, sending briars out into the field to root. The farmer knows my love of the wild rose and always leaves plenty around in the hedgerow for me to see. She can vary between almost white and deep pink. My favourite is the deep pink and today I saw my first one this year in our fields.

Here she is for you to see. Isn't she beautiful?

Friday, 18 June 2010

A New Project!

Maybe it is being a school-teacher for most of my working life; maybe it is just my personality; whatever it is, one thing is sure - I do need an on-going project to keep me busy.
When I was a widow and lived alone, my project was to photograph the Farming Year (1991) and record it in an album with the addition of appropriate pieces of poetry etc. I really enjoyed doing it and still look at the three large albums it took to complete it = and boy, do some of the farming jobs look old fashioned twenty years on!
On our foreign holidays I used to write a diary and take photographs and put the two together when we got home. We have a stack of albums and I must say it is lovely on a Winter Sunday afternoon to sit by the fire and go back round New England or up the coast of Norway without venturing further than the kettle.
But somehow digital photography has put paid to that. I tend to load the photographs into my computer and that's that. That is until my friend, G, told me of a new piece of equipment she has bought - a printer which prints sticky-backed prints 2 inches by 3 inches. G has just been to the Outer Hebrides with another friend, J and she has come back with a little diary showing exciting views, patterns on stones, lichen, shells - all kinds of pictures to stimulate and suggest ideas for her beautiful textile work.
They always say that the friendships that work the best are those between like-minded people - kindred spirits as it were. Well, how is this for an example? I came back home from seeing G's diary, thought about it and was immediately struck by a project I could do. I rang G up to ask her how I could buy one of these little printers..............she had bought two because she knew I would want one!
So - here is my project. I have ordered four hard-backed spiral notebooks (they are already in the post), G is bringing my little machine down today, I have already got out calico, dyes, paints and bits and pieces so that as soon as the books come I can decorate the front and back covers of one book. On the first day of Summer I shall begin in Notebook Number One. Monday morning will see me out and about with my camera and I shall record Summer around here - the flowers that are out, the birds that are about, the work on the farm, Summer days out, maybe even the odd really successful Summer supper, friends who visit. I shall stick the photographs in my little book and write a commentary, find a suitable poem or quotation, maybe a little drawing or two or even a little water-colour painting.
The Notebook will end on September 21st, when I shall begin my Autumn one. Can't wait to get started! Have a good day - market day here and meeting friends in The Golden Lion.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer.

Lazy??? I wish....these last few days I have been busy - in a way, as Bing Crosby would have said (if you are old enough to remember him) busy doing nothing. Yesterday I went out for the day with two friends - through Coverdale and Wharfdale and back through Nidderdale - glorious long views (no good for photography) and a visit to an embroidery/thread shop at the bottom of Wharfedale, of which more on another day.
Today I had to be a the doctor's surgery for nine o'clock and - yippee - I have managed to get my blood pressure back to normal by diet and exercise, so am feeling very virtuous. Then the rest of the morning was spent in The Golden Lion back room with a small (only three today) group discussing our writing - what a super morning we had. Now, in about half an hour, my God-daughter is coming for the afternoon and we are going into town.
But I just had to put this post on. Silaging is in progress on the farm and in one of the fields Geoff, who was cutting the grass, noticed a curlew fly off. He stopped the tractor to investigate, found a nest, and as a result has left one part of the field unmown for her. She is quite vulnerable there in the middle of the field so I do hope she manages to bring her young off. As I walked through the field early after lunch she heard me coming and flew off - so here in the photograph is a picture of her nest - there are four eggs (one is hidden by the leaf). What a nervy existence birds lead - she flew round making alarm calls for a good five minutes after we left her nest. I will keep you informed.
Then as we reached the beck at the bottom of the field we not only heard the ducklings but we briefly saw them. Mother mallard was determined to keep them well out of our way, so she hid silently with them under an overhanging bush. I pushed the camera through and took a photograph. It will be posted above but until I put it in the computer and enlarge it I don't know whether you can see the ducklings or not!
In this hot spell dog roses are popping up all over the place - shall post some tomorrow. Have a good day and, if you are in the UK, make the most of this lovely weather.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Do you remember June days when you were a child? The sun shone hotly all day, there was utter silence apart from bees buzzing and the drone of the odd aircraft passing over, the fields were full of buttercups and the scent of blossom and baby things were popping out all over the fields. Was it really like that or do I just remember the good bits and cut out the rotten cold wet days?
Well, I shall never know. Sufficient to say that today has been a perfect June day here in North Yorkshire. Tess and I meandered along the beckside, pushing our way through buttercups and listening to the birds. At one point we heard the cheep of baby ducks and the cautious quack of mother telling them to keep a low profile. Tess would have liked to investigate but I held her back and let them go on their way.
In places the beck was not visible as the banks were thick with meadow-sweet in bud. In other places the water cress almost met across the water - and we even found a place where yellow water irises (flags) were in full bloom.
There must be baby curlew chicks around for parents were flying low overhead and calling alarm calls. When this happens the chicks find a tall clump of grass and crouch down in it until the danger has passed. Again Tess would have liked to investigate a clump or two, but I kept her on a long leash and urged her on. These little chaps have enough to contend with and are best left undisturbed.
Coming back up the pasture we could see the heifers grazing among the buttercups - they lifted their heads to watch us coming and then followed us to the gate. They are such inquisitive creatures.
The farmer spent the morning weeding the vegetable garden and as you can see from the photograph it is weedless again - but for how long? This afternoon he cut all the privet hedges. The sweepings are there to cart away this evening - another job well done.

Have a nice evening.

Monday, 14 June 2010

A Journey sans camera.

Our journeys are often spent driving from 'shot' to 'shot', always on the look-out for a good view to take for the blog. Yesterday I forgot the camera and in some ways it was an advantage as I could sit back, let the farmer take the strain, and admire the scenery.

The roads on Swaledale are narrow and in Summertime they are usually clogged with tourists; but yesterday it was dull and showery so we risked it - and there was hardly a car on the road.

The bluebells in Bluebell wood are almost over - they have certainly lost their blueness and the undergrowth has grown up round them so that the forest floor is predominantly bright green again.

There are so many blackbirds about and they are so busy. Blackbirds must be one of our most successful birds - there seems to be one every few yards, its beak stuffed with worms, a harried look on its face. Why must they swoop so low when they cross the road? We narrowly miss several and pass one or two dead ones.

On one stretch of road the River Swale runs alongside. When the river is in flood (it can rise twenty feet in an hour) this stretch quickly becomes impassable. Today the river is low. We pull into a lay-by, push through the undergrowth and come out in a small glade on the river bank. Sandmartins are swooping low over the water to collect insects and then dashing into their nests on the sandy cliff bank. They are fascinating little birds to watch - so much of their plumage is sandy coloured and they blend into the bank well. As we stand and watch we become aware of a beautiful smell and see that the glade is full of Hesperis matronalis - Dame's Violet; not a particularly showy plant but with the most beautiful 'violet' smell. It stands tall among clumps of deeper pink silene - campion.

Back in the car we follow the river along the bottom of the Dale and cross it in Gunnerside - most of these villages have Viking names - and on into the village of Muker, usually very busy but today a quiet, sleepy place.

We climb up into the Buttertubs Pass up a very steep road with a sharp drop on the left hand side. On the opposite side of the valley the hillside is littered with stones and sheep - it is hard to see which is which until the sheep move.

As we come down into Wensleydale the heavy dark clouds hide the tops of the hills and the bottom of the Dale is in shadow. Then we reach the buttercup meadows and in the dark light they glow totally golden.

We stop at a little Nature Reserve where there was once a Lead Mine. Lead mining shaped this landscape up to the end of the nineteenth century. Plants which usually grow only on the edge of the sea and sand are well-established here because it was once a spoil heap. The only plant out now (we are a little too early) is Thrift and it is dotted everywhere. As we wander along the side of a little beck the air is full of bird song - but no sound of the cuckoo - we have not heard one this year and time is rapidly running out.

Turning back into our lane we meet a friend coming out and signal to her to turn round and come back. I put the kettle on and we sit and chat for a hour about our holidays. The farmer, meanwhile, takes his tea into the sitting room and watches the Grand Prix - so we are happy all round. My friend has brought a friend's newly published book to show me. It is very beautiful. Maybe I will share it with you one day.



Sunday, 13 June 2010

Catching the Poetry Bus!

Well, here we are at the Bus Stop again - how quickly the week goes.
I have chosen to write a poem about my name. Thanks to Dominic's intervention, you can hear me reading it below!

The Mighty Thistle.

Why have I fallen down from grace
to be maligned
and harried, place to place -
where once I earned respect?

Chopped down and sprayed
and hassled - felt
the viper's tongue -
I still stand upright.
It is wrong
to fell me with a slash
and let me lie.

For I,
who am a National Emblem,
will not die;
but where one spike stood firm
I will put out
another twenty spikes
or thereabout!

Not for nothing
do the Scots
admire my hardiness.
When you're all gone
I'll still be here
in my proud

(Thistlethwaite - my surname - a 'thwaite' is Yorkshire-speak for an enclosure)

The Hardy Thistle by Pat Thistlethwaite

Saturday, 12 June 2010

One swallow does not make a Summer!

Yesterday the sun shone - all day. It was warm and there was a pleasant breeze. Today it is fine but a bit cloudy/sunny. Tomorrow, if I read the weather forecast rightly, rain is coming down from the North.
No matter. THEY (the farmer and our neighbouring farmer) have decided that TODAY is the day to begin silaging our grass crop. So it is all stations go.
As I write the farmer is fixing a new set of cutters on to his grass cutting machine - he has been trying to get a new set for weeks but they only came yesterday. Come mid-day they will all be working flat out to fell the grass. If it rains tomorrow 'too bad' is all they say. And then on Monday, unless it is pouring with rain, the foragers will move in to collect.
It is worth pointing out that a bit of damp weather is not so critical when the grass is being foraged (cut, left to dry and then stacked into an open heap for the cows to help themselves in Winter (it will be covered with tarpaulins and old tyres until then). Grass which is being baled up needs more drying on the whole.
The farmer positively revels is these busy farming days - just like the old times before he semi-retired I shall walk up to the fields with Tess after lunch and take some photographs. Note this will be bravery in the course of duty as it means running the gauntlet of a field of young, very-frisky heifers.
So - text now and photos later (hopefully).

On a tragic note, a little farm boy of ten has sadly been killed on a local farm last week. He was a boy with a passion for rugby and farming, who loved to help on the farm in every spare minute.
Farm accidents do still occur, however careful we are. Sleep peacefully, Gary. Our thoughts are with your family.
Evening update: We set off down the pasture - the heifers were lying in the buttercups and hardly noticed us as we walked through their field. The farmer was well on the way to finishing the big field so I took a photograph and kept on walking out on to the lane.
What a glorious afternoon. The lane was alive with cock blackbirds foraging for food for their young - there must have been one every fifty yards or so - how hard they were working.
As we came level with the beck I just had to take a photograph to show you the beauty - a patch of herb robert, buttercups and cow parsley, with the water behind them - as beautiful as any garden.
I took the opportunity to pop in and see a dear friend, M, who was gardening. I interrupted her work and we sat all afternoon in her front garden, chatting and having a laugh together - lovely afternoon - thank you M.
Then we (Tess and I) walked back across the fields by the side of the beck again. It has got to be the best day of the year for buttercups - they were everywhere - so feast your eyes on my photograph of them where the beck goes under the wall.
We had to walk through a dairy herd, but these are pretty staid ladies and not a single one took the slightest notice of us. The heifers were laid down in the buttercups again and merely watched us through a fringe of golden yellow. What a lovely afternoon we had.
See you tomorrow.

Friday, 11 June 2010

When is a weed not a weed?

I have just been on my after-lunch walk with Tess - down the lane as usual - and I must say it is looking spectacularly lovely. Fringed with a positive froth of my favourite cow-parsley, and in the deep grass beds of buttercups softly glowing in the sunshine (yes - it is shining today), pink campion standing tall in front of a bank of pretty ferns, the leaves and buds of meadow-sweet promising a feast of cream in a week or two. Sometimes 'Nature's Garden' puts on a splendid show, doesn't it?
A vicar once leaned over the hedge and looked into a woman's garden - it was perfection. He called to congratulate the woman who was weeding - 'Isn't it wonderful what God can do in the garden?' 'Ha!' said the gardener. 'You should have seen what it was like when it was left to just God doing it!'
Because, yes, we do like to be in control of our gardens. It is always a temptation to leave buttercups for me. I do love them - and if you call them by their 'proper' name - ranunculus - they don't sound quite so invasive. But invasive they are and that is probably why we call many of our indigenous plants 'weeds'. I have a patch of Trollius (globe flower) - see the photo above - and it is lovely but it doesn't have the depth of yellow of its cousin, the buttercup.
But this week a 'new' weed has arrived. Well, it did pay us a visit a couple of years ago -but this time it has arrived with a vengeance - and it has brought back childhood memories for me.
Many posts ago I showed you our growing manure heap (yes - I am mentioning manure again - )
well, now it has been cleared and spread with the mighty spreader - and where it has been there was a bald patch. Before we went on holiday the farmer sewed it liberally with grass seed. hoping that by the time we returned it would have filled in. No rain while we were away- so no such luck.
At last tiny grass blades are pushing through - and tiny rabbits in their warren not ten yards away in the hedge-bottom, adore new grass shoots (think tiny, tender lettuce leaves for us).
But something else has colonised the bare patch. Goosefoot.
It's 'real' name is Good King Henry - although the name comes from the German Guter Heinrich, and we added the 'King' bit when it meandered over here. The sixteenth century herbalist, John Gerard, said the plant grew in 'untilled places'. Other sources say it is the scourge of manure heaps - so no surprise there then.
But what is surprising is that I recognise it because we had a cultivated patch of it in our veggie garden when I was a small child in Lincolnshire. Remember this is well before the days when veg were flown in out of season - the days when if you lived in the country you ate what was available in your garden. You didn't go buying fancy vegetables!
My mother called it 'markary' - I am guessing at the spelling here - and we ate it as you would eat spinach. Father kept cutting it and bringing it in to eat and it would quickly grow up again.
He often called it 'poor man's asparagus' although I think that was pushing it a bit.
Reading about it in one of my 'flower' books I find it was commonly eaten in olden times (yes, I know I am getting on a bit but that is going too far). The books says it has been replaced by a cultivated form of spinach. But then , reading on, I find that there is a similar plant called Common Orache which the book says was eaten ' until fairly recently'.
So it seems we have a patch of vegetables in one of our silage meadows - so come on rabbits, get it eaten off before the silage men come in - otherwise it will be left for the cows to eat over winter. I shall be interested to see if anyone remembers eating this stuff or whether it was confined to the wilds of the Lincolnshire Fens.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The scourge of Africa.

How many of you watched the absolutely compelling programme 'Make me a new Face' on BBC2 last evening? I expected to be totally turned off and revolted by it, but at the end I felt absolutely uplifted by the sheer bravery and fortitude of these young people. If you didn't watch it but would like to know about it I have put a tentative link on my sidebar. Linking is a new skill which I have yet to master properly, so it will take you to the site by a rather circuitous route - but you will get there - and I promise you that you will be inspired.
Noma is a completely curable disease if it is caught in time - curable by antibiotics - those little pills we take so foregranted.
It starts off as a simple infection, often the result of malnutrition, but if left untreated then it eventually either kills or severely maims the sufferer. That maiming is to the face and believe me it makes grotesque faces for these children. So grotesque in fact that their parents usually abandon them, believing that they have been possessed by an evil spirit.
The star of the show was Mestikma - a little girl abandoned by her parents but fostered by a middle class Ethiopian family (we were in Ethiopia, where many of the cases occur). The untouched half of her face was that of a pretty, bright-eyed little girl. The other half - always covered by a scarf which she held permanently in her teeth to stop it falling off - was so terrible that it is impossible to describe it.
Once a year a team of highly skilled plastic surgeons from the UK make the journey over there to operate on as many sufferers as they can find (markets are trawled to find these people).
At the end of the programme I was left stunned by these brilliant, unflappable men and women who performed these horrific operations using drills, chisels and hammers and who rebuilt to acceptable faces.
In the case of Mestikma they could only do the first of several operations and they will continue next year, but already she looks considerably less grotesque. One other little boy, who had been hidden away by his loving family, was - by the end of the programme - the leader of the gang playing handball with balloons and smiling all over his rebuilt face.
The programme still haunts me - not least because Ethiopia looks such a fertile country (and a very beautiful one). I know they have suffered droughts in the past but at present the countryside is incredibly green and beautiful. So why are they so poor that the children suffer malnutrition to the extent that their features distort so badly?
How can we in the West worry about such trivial things when children in Africa are living such terrible lives?
I cannot help feeling that, like most of these things, it is the politicians who make the crises - these simple country people were living hard-working lives, mostly on the land and yet they did not have access to antibiotics - those life-saving pills which have become part of our lives so that we ask for them almost indiscriminately.
If you have time, do go to the site and have a read about it.
And, while we are on the subject of Television, why is it that TV 'critics' always have to snipe at someone. The programme was presented by Ben Fogle. The Times critic, Andrew Billen, had to put the knife in, calling him someone who lived a life of 'supreme macho selfishness' and complaining that the camera loved his face far too much. Anyone watching the programme could not help but be moved by the way in which Fogle identified with the noma victims and the joy with which they greeted him when he returned to see them.
Read about it - and prepare to be greatly moved.

Farming in glorious June.

June is the month for silaging - for gathering in that all-important first crop nutritious grass and wrapping it and storing it for Winter eatage. There is always a dichotomy amongst farmers about when to make that first cut - do you wait until the grass is really long (and some of that nutrition has been leached out) or do you go for the really nutritious stuff, regardless of length, which will boost the Winter milk yield?
Some farmers around us took the second option. As you drive round the Dale you see patchworks of yellow and green - the yellow is where the grass has already been cut.
Now it has rained all week. Those farmers who have cut will be pleased because the rain will encourage new growth on the cut fields and the second crop silage will be made all the sooner (some farmers manage three crops in a Summer). Those farmers (like us) who have not yet cut are also pleased for the rain because the grass was so parched that it was growing slowly. Most of it has already gone to seed but it is not really thick - this rain should thicken the grass up no end.###
Of course, the weather is never just right for farmers. Today the barometer has gone up considerably but the Dales weather has not caught on yet and it is still cool, windy (North east) and raining outside my window. The forecast says 'improving' - so we live in hopes.

In the meantime the farmer opposite is feeding silage to his Limousin heifers and nuts to his sheep because they have eaten off all the grass. I saw him doing this as I passed the landing window an hour ago and took a photograph - it is of necessity far away and a bit faint - but I was deshabille and it is raining, so couldn't get any nearer.
I took one of my garden from the same spot - so am putting that one on too. The self-sown aquelegia are a picture this year and have so far withstood the effects of the wind.
This is not the blog I intended to put on today - so I may well put another one on later if I find the time. Incidentally - thank you all for your good wishes - I am well on the way to recovery.

### It is worth mentioning that if you do not have a dairy herd then that really nutritious crop of first Spring grass is not needed because suckler herds and growers (animals being fattened for beef) are better not having the really nutritious stuff. Sorry - I really think I have overdone the word 'nutritious' in this post!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A never-ending stream of consciousness.

Isn't memory a strange thing? Somehow I think that the older I get the more important memory becomes. Is this so, do you think or is it just the imagination of an ageing woman?

This came to mind with this month's local Writers' Group Theme, which is to write an open letter.

I thought it would be interesting to write a letter to my parents, who have both been dead for over thirty years. I have started putting the letter together and will share it with you in a few days time, but the whole thing got me thinking about memory.

As we age I think we all become scared of losing memory. I have a friend who has been in the clutches of Alzheimer's Disease for the past ten years (since the age of 52) and who now seems to have no memory at all. I find that particularly scary - I use my 'memory box' dozens of times each day and would feel totally lost without it.

Conrad famously said that ' in plucking the fruit of memory one runs the risk of spoiling its bloom.' I'm not sure that I agree with that - certainly not if one only remembers incidents oneself. I can see how discussing them with another person involved could lead to a spoiled memory - for one thing is certain, our memories are usually highly inaccurate. I think our brain reorganises and 'tarts up' our memories, so that we see them through the rose-tints.

During the 1939-45 war a school from the city of Leeds was evacuated to our little Lincolnshire village - my goodness, were they sophisticated and did we stand around goggle-eyed like little country yokels - yes we did. When Christmas came round their teachers (who had been evacuated with them) decided to put on a play in our village hall - a play the likes of which we had never dreamed of. I - and my friend Janet - were Goody Witches along with four others. We were dressed in black cloaks and black sugar-paper hats covered in stars. We carried besoms and we had our faces made up!!! And we sang:

As we dance we merrily dance,

the goody witches six are we.

To this plan we'll soon agree -


Readers - it was the highlight of my entire life - I would be about six or seven and I can remember it as though it were yesterday.

Recently I asked my friend Janet when we met whether she remembered it. She had absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. Yes, I admit it Conrad, that did spoil the bloom a little.

But without memories of my childhood I certainly could not write this open letter to my parents because our past is a shared one. Until I began school at the age of 4 then almost all our memories would be shared - then gradually the shared memories would become less and less.

An early memory was of during a rook-shoot in our nearby rookery - I recall picking up a warm but dead rook in the garden. These little 'snapshot' memories are the best kind I think.

John Berger said that 'the camera relieves us of the burden of memory' - I am not sure that I agree with that either. I sometimes look at old snapshots and can recognise the people in the frame but have no recollection of the incidence of the shot.

So, I shall continue to enjoy my rich memories of my childhood and my time at home with my parents - and if (as is highly likely) my memories are a bit suspect - so what - there is nobody left to put me right.

What is your earliest memory? If you can recall it I would love to hear about it in my comments.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Here comes the sun!

Those of us who live in cool or temperate climates live such a very different life style, don't we? It was really brought home to me on my recent holiday. Eating outside is something that the farmer and I do about once a year - maybe one Sunday afternoon it might be warm enough and still enough to sit out in the garden with a sandwich.
Summer dresses tend to get washed and ironed and made ready and then only worn on one or two occasions - and usually with a cardi near to hand. Windows get stiff from not being opened, so that when there is a warm day it is a major effort to get any fresh air into the house.
Then we go to Elba on holiday and already, in May, it is hot with pretty much guaranteed sunshine wall to wall. And what a difference it makes.
We sit outside and drink our coffee, we sit on the edge of the sea and eat our lunch with the sea lapping the bottom of our table, we wander along the shoreline doing nothing in particular, look at the fishermen coming in with their boats, look to see what they have caught. Nobody seems to hurry, or worry for that matter - it is all so laid back. I love it but I wonder - if I lived there would I be able to change to that kind of life-style where everything happens at so much a slower pace? I would hope so. It always seems to me that Mediterranean countries have the best of all possible worlds - all the food grows in profusion (having tasted the tomatoes in the photo above I tried to replicate the dish at home but the taste was not the same) and benefits from the sunshine, all the fish is fresh and tasty, and above all you are always warm!

So here I am posting a few holiday snaps to get you in the Medi Mood. Enjoy!

Nearly back to normality.

(whatever that is)
Thanks for all the goodwill messages - and thanks for so many of you hopping on the bus. I have enjoyed reading them all - you by now know me and nature are bedfellows, so I can tell you that reading about nature this morning has cheered me up no end.
I am well again - it was just a bug which caught me quite badly - all I have left to show for it now is a rather bad cold and I can bear that.
Last week's hot weather has left us here and we are now in damp, cool, misty-moisty days - good for the gardens, no doubt. The farmer is finding it difficult not to stand and watch his peas grow as they are growing so fast now the ground is damp.
Thanks again - see you later in the day if I get any inspiration.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Stop Press re The Poetry Bus.

There has been a bit of a crisis on the bus and I have had to appoint a relief driver, as I was taken into hospital suddenly yesterday afternoon. Glad to say that I am home again tonight and that all is well - so thanks to Dominic Rivron who has taken over at short notice and driving through the country lanes, welcoming you all on board.
As far as I can see, the following poems have not yet been linked - I shall ring Dominic in a minute or two and ask him if he can complete the operation for me. I have tried but my brain is a bit too addled to do it!
So thanks to all those on the list on my side bar - plus the following :- Poetikat, Enchanted Oak, Emerging Writer, Jeanne Iris, NanU, Crazy fieldmouse, Peter Goulding, Rachel Fox - hope your names will be on later tonight.
Thanks also to Jinksy for her splendid poem, which cheered me up no end.
I shall pop over and read them all throughout the week, but for tonight that is about as much as I can manage without a good night's sleep. See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Time you were getting to the bus stop!

Two aboard the bus already - the bug and Dominic. I cannot manage to link as I should so I am (hopefully) creating a list on my sidebar - if all goes well you should be able to find them all from there. We shall miss Eejit this week, but we will all be thinking about him - maybe he will post a late entry when he returns home (hint, hint).

Sunday Evening Update:
Numbers are up from 2 to 10, and there's still seat's left if you want to get on! If I've missed you off, my apologies - leave a message in the comments below and I'll add your link to the list.

Links to all the passengers' poems are listed in the sidebar on the right.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Early for the Poetry Bus!

Well, I have to be if I am to be the driver, don't I? Tomorrow will be taken up with giving the bus a clean and polish and setting up the bar - and on Monday morning, early, we shall be away.
So here is my contribution. If you want to jump on the bandwagon (sorry, bus) then feel free to join us. Write a poem on any flora or fauna - actual or metaphorical - and post it on your blog with a link for me if you can (if you can't then just send me a comment - at present my knowledge of links is very limited and only time will tell whether I can do them or not).


You swept into the restaurant;
with your flaming red hair and
bright green eyes
you cut a swathe
through the diners - all eyes
turned your way.

My worst suspicions
were confirmed
when you ordered
rabbit pie.

See you all on Monday. Don't bother to stick your hand out to stop the bus, I am sure I shall recognise you all by your beauty, your elegance and your savoir-faire!

Friday, 4 June 2010

June and the Poetry Bus!

I am so glad I am driving the bus on Monday because a meander through the Dales countryside will not find a better week-end than this. June in all its glory is peppering the fields and I have taken a few photographs to inspire you. So rarely these times do we get what I would call a 'proper' June (and it is set to bring forth thunderstorms on Sunday, so it is only temporary). All these photographs were taken within a stone's throw of my front door.
The pastures have sheep and lambs and young stock. The meadows are yellow with buttercups and grass growing ready for silaging. The lane is bordered with our indigenous wild flowers - clover, pink campion, stitchwort, wood avens, and the glorious bird's eye (germander speedwell) - not to mention my favourite cow parsley, the smell of which fills the air today.
The sun is shining, there is a cooling breeze, the farmer is off to the Auction Mart and I am going with him to wander round the market and meet friends for coffee, before popping in for a hair cut.
Enjoy the photographs. See you all on the bus on Monday morning, do hope the sun still shines.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


As you will see from my new header, the May blossom is out at last and the flower-garden is in full bloom (all but the roses which will be a week or two yet).

Yesterday we had a wet day - the first for a long time as this has been a very dry May. Of course the farmer wanted rain to make the grass grow for silage, but also the vegetable garden was so dry that he was watering it nightly.

However, as you will see from the photograph - one day's rain and everything is growing madly, including the weeds. The onions are desperate for weeding but everything is growing well. We have strawberries in flower, raspberries in flower, gooseberries and blackcurrants beginning to swell, peas and broad beans up and growing, runner and French beans up and growing, lettuce in all stages (under glass to protect from the pigeons) and courgettes coming along nicely. There are leeks in too but they are at present no thicker than blades of grass, so are hard to see.

The veggie garden is the farmer's domain and he should be proud of it. At present he is laid up with a really bad cough but the sun is shining and he is feeling a little better tonight, so no doubt those weeds in the onions had better watch out tomorrow.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

I am driving next week's Poetry Bus!

Yes folks, next Monday I shall be behind the wheel. Don't bother to dress up - we shall just be meandering through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside - at a slow pace - going nowhere in particular. Don't even bother to wait at the bus stop - stand on the side of the road and we shall stop for you. The farmer will be on hand (in his flat cap of course) to hand out home--made blackberry whisky and/or sloe vodka and there will be heaps of Yorkshire Puddings (with onion gravy of course) for those who get a bit peckish.
We shall meander down lanes lined with cow parsley; the fields will be heart-breakingly yellow with buttercups; calves, lambs and foals will frolic in the fields and there will not be a muck-spreader in sight. The air will be full of little flying creatures and swallows, house martins and swifts trying to catch them. There will be bird song aplenty (if our resident blackbird has not sung himself hoarse by then).
Get the picture? So here is the challenge - a new one by bus-standards methinks.
You can write a poem about anything which roughly falls into the category of flora/fauna. Even the humble midge is included, and the earthworm and the tiniest wild flower. Take your pick, so to speak.
If that idea doesn't appeal to you - if you are a city-type and not keen on the countryside, then here is the alternative:- Still use the flora/fauna title but write using it as a metaphor (think Larkin's toad, Blake's rose and Plath's blackberry thorns for inspiration.
The world's your oyster (yes, even they are included).

I have had my first lesson in how to link - still a bit hazy but I shall try. If I can't do it then Dominic has promised to do it for me.
So - next Monday or sooner if you like - post your poem on your blog and send me a comment so that I know it is there - send me a link too if you can and then I will sort out a list.
PS The weather forecast is good so don't bother to bring your wellies.