Sunday, 31 October 2010

Birthday outing.

There is something very nice about being born on Hallowe'en. First of all everyone remembers your birthday as it is on a special day; secondly a lot of people envy you for being born on such a day; and thirdly I notice every year that the best Autumn colour always occurs around that date too. So a triple whammy.

Today the farmer took me out on a special trip to mark the occasion. The weather here is warm, dampish and dull - but fine. I took photographs whenever I had the opportunity, specially for my blog. In some of them the colour is very flat - sorry about that but it is the best I could do given the weather conditions. So here goes:-

We decided to go over to the East Coast to see the North Sea. We saw it from the air the other week and later on from the Dutch coast, but it is several years since we actually saw our nearest coastline - and Tess had never seen the sea!

Our first stop was in Great Ayton. There are several pretty little white foot bridges over the River Leven in Great Ayton - it is such a pretty little place. Its great claim to fame, though, comes from the fact that Captain James Cook, the 18th century naval explorer went to school here. We had a coffee and walked Tess along the river bank - new smells and new excitement for her.

Then we went along, over the North York Moors until we came to the coast. We avoided Whitby - for one thing we have been there many times and for another, this week is a special Goth week-end and we didn't fancy getting caught up in that. So we went further down the coast to Robin Hood's Bay.

After a delicious lunch in the Victoria Hotel (roast pork since you ask) we had to tackle the walk down to the sea.

There is a steep descent to the sea, mainly by a series of steps. We both have dodgy knees and going down was hard. But it was worth it. The sea was calm and tranquil and we had a lovely walk along the beach. We managed to persuade Tess into the edge of the sea for a paddle, but frankly, she was much more interested in the smells.

Oddly enough, the walk back up from the sea was exhilarating. We avoided the steps and walked up the road as quickly as we were able. It was hard work but we made it - and we worked off some of the roast pork's calories into the bargain.

On the way back we had to make a detour. We chose to come back a different way and because of the detour we came past Byland Abbey. It is some years since I went there and it is a lovely peaceful place. And only a few miles further on we drove through the village of Coxwold. As we came to the Vicarage the farmer slowed down and opened the car window. I stuck the camera out of the window to take a photograph of Shandy Hall for you. Sorry it is a bit wonky, but we were moving at the time. Laurence Sterne (1713-68)lived here and preached in the fifteenth century church opposite. It was here that he wrote Tristram Shandy. The last time I visited the Hall had some plants for sale and I could not resist buying a herbaceous geranium called Patricia (my name). I am pleased to say she flourishes every year in my front garden.

The autumn colours, particularly the beech, were at their very best - I took a shot out of the car window for you to see - but by this time it was almost dark. We put our clocks back one hour in the UK last night and by four o'clock there was little light left.

We came home. The farmer walked the dogs. I put the candles into my pumpkin and stood him out in the garden, where he is glowing as I write - ready to welcome my son and his wife on their return from holiday any minute now.

A lovely, memorable day. Thank you to all of you who sent me birthday wishes. November tomorrow - Christmas before we know were we are.

Photos - top to bottom, left to right:

Autumn on the River Leven.
Great Ayton.
The sea at Robin Hood's Bay.
A Garden in Robin Hood's Bay.
Tess's First Paddle in the sea.
Autumn on an empty road.
Going down to Robin Hood's Bay.
Shandy Hall.
Byland Abbey ruins.

Friday, 29 October 2010

and things that go bump in the night......

Why should we have any fear of the dark? Somehow darkness is synonymous with all the bad things and daylight with all the good things. I have to admit to fear of the dark; it is quite irrational and my sensible self tells me not to be so silly. But my 'real' self still does not care to walk down the yard in the dark. I am quite happy on the walk down to shut in the hens but I am pretty jumpy on the return, having a stupid feeling that I am being followed. And in the middle of the night if I find it too warm I would love to put my foot out of bed on to the top of the duvet to cool down, but dare I do that? No - irrationally I wonder if there is a hand which might grab hold of my foot.

I once admitted to the farmer that I had never been for a walk in the moonlight, so one night, when it was a full moon, we went for a walk across the fields. It was so beautiful. It was a still, warm night and light enough to see exactly where we were going. My little black pug, Algy, was still alive and he came with us - and wherever he went we could still see him. It was, as they say, "as light as day." All colour had gone from the scenery, everything was in monochrome. The trees were still. Only the water in the beck sparkled and moved along at its usual rate. I count that walk as one of the most perfect I have ever done. But, dare I have done it on my own - sorry but no. Don't tell me I am stupid about it. I know that full well. But it doesn't make it any easier. And with Hallowe'en coming up this weekend - well the feeling may well be worse than usual. We have lovely bats flying about here - only on or two but they fly swiftly and silently up and down the yard, just above one's head. I love them and would love to stay out and watch them for a while, as long as the farmer is there too.

What are your views of the dark? Am I the only one to be afraid of it? I do hope not - there is safety in numbers. I just wonder if the fear goes back to my childhood in the fens of Lincolnshire. Our only toilet (I am writing here of the 1930's) was an outside toilet at the bottom of the garden. Going down to the toilet was, for me, a major operation - only undertaken when I could wait no longer!
I would gather all my strength and courage for the return to the house, open the toilet door and make a dash for it, never stopping until I opened the kitchen door and the light poured out. Then I would breathe a sigh of relief that I had made it unscathed.

So whoever said, "From ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night - the good Lord deliver us" certainly hits the nail on the head for me. What about you?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

"There's nothing worth the wear of winning...... laughter and the love of friends."

Hilaire Belloc was right I think - and the older I become the more I think.

As a friend and I drove through the murky weather to Windermere we got to talking about the qualities of friendship. What makes a good friend? How much do we need friends? How important are they in our lives?

We came to the conclusion that maybe women need friends more than men do. Do you agree with this? We went through men of our acquaintance and could think of very few who seemed to have a circle of friends.

What is a friend? Well that in itself is open to discussion isn't it? I have one friend I have had since the first day I started school at four years old. We have never lost contact. We now live far apart and rarely see each other, but we talk regularly on the telephone, share our problems as well as our gardens and other interests in common.

As to what makes a good friend - well, I suppose we meet many people in our everyday lives but occasionally we meet a kindred spirit and the spark of friendship is ignited. My circle of friends up here in the Dales is very important to me. We meet regularly, chat, go out together, help each other along. Our Saturday mornings spent in the bay window of The Golden Lion pub drinking coffee and looking out upon the town which we all call home (or thereabouts) always seems to me to be such a civilised enjoyable activity. I think we all need the support of each other and the Saturday mornings just seem to me to be the cement which keeps the wall intact.

At no time is a friend more important than when one is bereaved. Losing one's partner in life is a bit like tearing a limb from a tree; the wound takes a very long time to heal. Friends help enormously. So-called friends whom you thought were friends but who now cross the road rather than confront you as you grieve, are best consigned to the 'have-been' heap. Often this lack of contact is because people really don't know what to say. If you are a true friend you will think of something.

So long may friendships continue as far as I am concerned - as Emerson said - a good friend is THE masterpiece of Nature. So raise your glass to my toast for today

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Through the fog!

Yesterday a friend and I went to Windermere to visit another friend for lunch. It is about a two hour journey from here and through the most spectacular scenery, so we always look forward to it. But yesterday was different. It was a dull, misty, wet day. Still - nothing ventured ...we went all the same.
Going over the tops from Wensleydale into the Trough of Bowland was - well let's say 'atmospheric'. We were literally up in the clouds. Ingleborough, which I had hoped to photograph for you, had completely disappeared. It rained all the way there and the whole time we were there - so no photographs of Lake Windermere either.
But we had a delicious lunch (thank you P if you are reading this) and set off back, still in the pouring rain.
We called in a nice cafe and had a cup of tea and a wander round their shop - then back through the thick cloud again and down into Hawes and Wensleydale. Then lo and behold the sun came out - great sun spots lit up various hills and clumps of trees and we came back home in fine form after a lovely day out.

Today has had a different emphasis as I have had a tooth removed at the dentist. I must say that, as always, I got myself in quite a lather over the whole affair and when it came to I never felt a thing - not even the needle going in. Nevertheless, when I came to write the cheque out after the extraction I was shaking so much that I couldn't sign my name properly. (not sure whether that was fear or the cost of having a tooth out!)

Now I am back home. I must also say that the trees today are at their very best. The horse chestnut is still making a good show but nothing here can vie with the beech - alright the deciduous larch is trying its best to impress among the conifers but the beech has held on to all its leaves and they have turned into bright copper
pennies. What a show. This week is always the best week for Autumn colours but I don't ever remember the beech being so spectacular. It almost made me forget my tooth extraction!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Sunshine makes all the difference.

We do get some awful weather here in the UK. The worst for me is the cold damp, dark days we often get just before Christmas, when you need the light on in the house throughout the day. But, when you think about it, maybe we need those awful, dismal days in order to appreciate the brilliant ones.

Yesterday was a brilliant one. Cold, crisp,a light Northerly breeze cutting through the air, wall-to-wall sunshine - and wonderful Autumn colours. We were going out to afternoon tea and the short journey meant driving across the top of the Moor. Down in the valleys the Autumn colours were at their very best and the low sun was showing up amazing contours on the fields. Many of the fields round here still have vestiges of lynchets and rig-and-furrow farming methods and a low sun shows them up to perfection. I wish I could have taken a photograph - but taking it into the sun would have made it impossible.

When we arrived at our friends' house and walked towards the front door the view was spectacular. So I did take a photograph of that - for today's blog. The horse chestnut tree on the green chose yesterday to put on its Sunday best too and the castle in the back ground flew a celebratory flag. All that AND delicious cake - lovely conversation - what more could anyone ask for on an Autumn Sunday?

Tomorrow I am hoping to go with a friend to Windermere for lunch - quite a long journey but a lovely one in this weather. Unfortunately the weather is set to turn warm, windy and wet tonight - we shall see.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

They're their gangs.

The fieldfares have arrived.
A few years ago I went to a talk on "Birds of Morocco" - lovely slides but few birds on them and the commentary went something like this: "There was a huge flock of XYorZ here but as I took the photo they all flew off!" Since then we have called this kind of thing 'a Morocco experience'. Well, I had a Morocco experience this morning while on the phone to a friend.
My first big fieldfare flock of the Winter swooped in and landed in a hawthorn tree which is laden with berries. It is a very bright morning and as they landed I saw the bright white side of their underwing. In no time at all the tree was full and they were scoffing the berries as though they had not fed for a week.
After the phone call I dashed outside with my camera - they were only on the far side of the paddock; but the action of shutting the back door startled them and away they flew before I had tie to click.
Of course, the photograph above shows you why they had landed. This is a very good berry year here and fieldfares love the hawthorn berries, the holly berries and the crab apples - and our trees are full of them. They also eat worms and insects on the ground. But they are profligate feeders - as are all birds I suppose. They come in - mainly from Scandinavia -and they eat all the berries. Then, when the ground is frozen hard there is a shortage of food for them as theworms and insects are not available then either. I do wish they would concentrate on the worms now and leave the berries for the frozen days to come. Still, there is a plus side because really bad weather often forces them to come to the bird table and then we get a much closer look. They are such exotic and wild looking birds and I love them. Funnily enough I have seen them in Scandinavia in the summer and there they seem quite tame and will eat from around your feet.
So, welcome fieldfares - your cousins, the redwings, have been here for a week or two. I look forward to seeing you swooping about the fields with your chak-chak-chak call for the next five or six months. Could you please leave a few berries on the holly so that we can bring them inside at Christmas?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Waiting at the bus stop for the Poetry Bus.

This week's theme (Argent) is to choose a relation and write about them in a poem. No contest as far as I am concerned as I had a very colourful uncle (my mother's brother) who really was the black sheep of the family and caused them all no end of embarrassment. He was a loveable rogue and although he sailed the whole of his life close to the wind, by the time he died he was much respected as a countryman through and through. He was rarely completely sober in his young days and would earn his pints by dancing on the table in The Angel pub. He died in around 1960.

A Lincolnshire Poacher.

Dance on the table, Tommy,
while away the night,
till a clear moon rises
and the stars add their light.
Then you'll blend with the hedgerow
as you set about your work
and you'll reach the salmon river
where the silver salmon lurk.

Dance on the table, Tommy,
dance the night away;
when the night's at its blackest
and the dawn's far away -
you'll be down in the furrow
with the wild, brown hare.
You'll be hoping that he's caught
in your cruel snare.

Dance on the table, Tommy,
faster, faster still
till the cold, white frost
sparkles bright on the hill.
Then you'll set out with your sack
and your killing twine.
Pheasant tastes delicious
with a good, red wine.

Dance on the table, Tommy,
fill your skin with ale;
for you won't go a-poaching
till the sky turns pale.
Then you'll set off with your rod
and hope no-one's about,
and you'll end up with a catch
of a fat, brown trout.

Dance on the table, Tommy?
Tommy'll dance no more;
for the grim, old reaper
has scythed him to the floor.
And the Lords and the Gamekeepers,
who heard his passing bell,
will be there at his funeral
to say their last farewell.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Another day.

Two pieces of news before I start on today's post. First of all it was a lovely evening yesterday - the talk went well and the celebrations were very enjoyable.
Secondly - Morning AJ makes a suggestion regarding Archaeological finds - in case you don't go back to read the comments page I reproduce it here, with thanks to Morning AJ - she says if you wish to start looking for finds from the past it is a good idea to start kicking mole hills - moles dig up soil from quite deep down and you never know what little treasures you might find. I shall certainly try it in the future.

Today, at long last, I have managed to find a day when my friend was free and I was free and together we have been out for a drive round the countryside and lunch in a lovely pub.

We drove through the lanes to Fountains Abbey near Ripon, not to look round the abbey, which I have featured on my blog before, but to go to the National Trust Gift Shop to start our Christmas shopping. Then it was on to the Grantley Arms for lunch. We were the only people there but the atmosphere was lovely - warm, sun pouring through the windows and a wood-burning stove going full pelt in the hearth.
Delicious soup - Tomato with a hint of smoked paprika eaten with a caraway seed roll. Following this pan fried loin of pork for me and beetroot and halloumi mille feuille for my friend. Lovely coffee and chocolates to finish with. I joked with my friend that when she read the menu she said 'LION' of pork - henceforth this will be what I call it - it sounds so exotic!

We came back through Ripon to call at the embroidery shop - and there I was able to do quite a lot of Christmas present shopping as they had so many nice little gifts.
Then we had a walk along the Ripon canal - such a pleasant little backwater and so pretty. These little backwaters are so rarely visited - we tend to pass within a few yards (the main road runs alongside, separated by a few trees).

The canal basin is basically the end of the line - it doesn't go any further. Certainly at this time of the year there is no traffic at all on the canal, apart from a few ducks. There are several pretty flats alongside - what a lovely place to live, especially at this time of the year with the autumn colours. Don't you think my duck photograph looks a bit like an impressionist painting?

We had a lovely day out - the deciduous larches along the way are all turning the most beautiful golden-yellow. At our pub stop the leaves on the Virginia creeper were dropping off. They were huge and a deep red - I wish I had photographed one to show you all.

Back home for tea at 5pm with a chocolate pig wrapped in pink shiny paper as a present for the farmer.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How long?

Tonight I am speaking to our local study group about the village beck. It says something for our village that this is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the group's foundation, and it is still going strong.
There have been people living around the beck for thousands of years - as with any settlement, water was the main reason for them being here. To show that we have proof of people living here I am taking along some artefacts which have been found on our farmland over the years.

By popular request (well, two or three people have asked) I am therefore posting the photograph showing those artefacts. They are:-

A Neolithic stone axe head found in one of our fields when it was being prepared for ploughing. It would have been bound to a wooden handle. The stone is identified as probably coming from the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District - maybe a hundred miles away. A tiny flint tool chipped to a sharp edge. This was found on my garden wall. There is no flint in this area - so how far did the owner of this little knife walk - and where did he come from? Two crotal bells - one of which is probably sixteenth century (the broken one) - this would have been hung round the neck of a horse most likely - although it could have been on a child. The other crotal bell is in much better condition and is probably much later. On the right hand side of the stone axe is a Victorian horse bell. The little round object with a hole in the middle is a whorl weight. You still see these in nomadic tribes where the man is riding on the donkey and the woman is trailing along behind spinning as she walks. This whorl weight would have been fastened on the end of the spun thread to keep it taut. Finally - a clay pipe. There are masses of these everywhere, usually broken as they are easily snapped. This one is interesting because it has a heart logo on the bowl. There is a good site about clay pipes on the internet and from there I discovered that the heart was a symbol of one of the earliest Farm Workers' Trade Unions.

They will all be together on the table tonight - as I said yesterday - time is all in the mind really -= today they are all here now.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Time stretched itself out a bit.

This morning I had a hectic schedule. I had to have Tess to the dog parlour for stripping at 9.30 (a half-hour journey), then back into town for my own hair appointment at 10, then a quick rush round the shops and back to the dentist for ten minutes past eleven. After that it was home, get a quick lunch and be back at the dog parlour to collect Tess at 1pm. Oddly enough it all worked out well and I had plenty of time to spare. I even got to the dentist half an hour early and was able to sit and read one or two swish magazines, which always litter their table in the waiting room.

Then after collecting Tess I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to read David's Yorkshire Post. I smiled at today's article by the poet Ian Macmillan. He writes in such an amusing way and today he is writing about time. He speaks of all the ways we chart time with out looking at the clock. That set me making a list.

The farmer and I are really creatures of habit. As he milked a dairy herd for forty years, his body clock needs no wrist watch or ticking grandfather clock to tell him when to get up in the morning. If he is not up and dressed by half past six then he is 'late' - but for what I don't ask.

He brings me a cup of tea in bed and then I get up as the digital clock on the bedside table goes on to both 00's at 7am. The farmer who lives opposite is also a creature of habit and he always drives across his field and goes to collect his newspaper at 7 - so invariably, as I stand in the bedroom window putting on my dressing gown, Geoffrey drives past on his way for the paper.

Lunch is an unmoveable feast at 12.30 and tea at 5pm. When the farmer is off across the fields hedging or fencing or cutting down tree branches for the logs this winter, he needs to know exactly what time to come home for his meals. It makes sense to keep to a routine, but for me, coming to such a routine late in life, it was not easy at first.

Time is such a funny thing, isn't it? Sometimes things go slowly and sometimes they whizz past. The run up to a holiday abroad always seems endless to me. I count the days and think it will never come. Then suddenly departure day arrives and before you know it you are back home and the holiday is just a happy memory.

And what about time going back through the ages? Tomorrow evening I am talking to a group of people about the beck which runs through our fields. In order to get over the point that people have lived here for thousands of years, I am taking with me a box of little 'treasures' which David has found in his fields. Here is a list:-

There is a neolithic axe head (bronze age) from about 3000BC; a tiny, carefully shaped flint knife (stone age?); a whorl weight, used for holding down the thread on a hand-spinner. Made of lead there are plenty of these about and could date from any time in the last thousand years; a clay pipe - again there are plenty of these to be dug up but this one is interesting because it has the logo of an early farm workers trade union on the side. There are also a couple of sixteenth century crotal bells. Finally a fob which I wear on a chain but which was probably lost from a pocket watch chain. It is silver and hall marked 1835.

They will all lie on the table together tomorrow night. What a huge stretch of time will be represented there and to think that none of the people involved in these things would have even the slightest notion that they would all end up being represented together on a table in the twenty-first century.

TS Eliot seems to have neasured out his life in coffee spoons. I am not sure how I would measure mine - there are so many ways - places I have lived, jobs I have had,
hobbies - the list is endless but however you do it it involves time.

Time, that elusive thing that is so important to us all and yet impossible to catch, just a notion floating about in the air for us to catch hold of and order our lives by.

Tess knows all about time, although she cannot put it into words. When the farmer puts down his morning paper and picks up his mobile phone it is walk time. When I load the last coffee cup into the dishwasher after lunch she appears at my feet as if by magic for her afternoon walk. At dusk David can whisper that he is going to shut the hens in - or even tell me in sign language, but she is still at the back door before he is!

Are you a creature of habit where time is concerned, or do you wander through life able to make your own haphazard timetable?I would love to know - there might even be a correlation between time-keeping and blogging. Do you put your blog on at the same time every day, or when you have a spare minute. When you have time pop over to my blog and leave a time-based comment and let's see where it leads us.

###Message to Trace if you read this - thank you for visiting my blog - I would love to leave a comment on yours but can't find any way of leaving one.

Have a nice evening.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Words, words, words.

This morning I have been to one of our monthly writers' meetings - The Discussion Group. There are usually just short of a dozen people at our Writers' Group - at the Discussion usually no more than four or five. What it entails is giving in a piece of work early in the month - one copy to each of us so that we have plenty of time to read and think about it. Then we meet and discuss it.

I love it - it is my favourite meeting of the month. We meet for two hours and get some really meaty discussion going about language, presentation, punctuation, style,
content - absolutely everything and no holds barred. I come home after the meeting really fired up and ready to write.

Why do so few people want to come to this meeting? I think some don't wish to discuss their work, they are happy with it as it stands. Some people are not willing to hand out copies. Fair enough - but they certainly miss a lot.

Today we began by discussing the first chapter of a book on the first World War, which one of our members is writing. It is a novel and is the sort of thing I would never read and yet discussing the minutae of the first chapter made me realise that I would probably enjoy a book of that nature if I allowed myself to get into it.

Then we discussed another member's account of his school days in the 1940's. He has no desire for publication and is writing it to leave behind for his children to read. It was fascinating and brought my own school days (in the same period) into focus. We had a lively discussion on the morals of the day, on the discipline in school -so wide-ranging and such fun.

Joan's poem, which she put through my blog on to the Poetry Bus last Monday, was the next thing and the odd word here and there was questioned and maybe modified.

Finally we talked about my poem, Luggage, which I put on my blog last Monday. We thought about superfluous words in poetry and as a result I cut out a couple of words and I feel it reads much better for it.

If we want to become better writers (let's face it, if we were really very good writers now we wouldn't be blogging our work, we would be publishing it)then I think the more we discuss, the better we will get. I think we all need to learn to take constructive criticism on the chin. (I was going to say 'like a man'!!!, but maybe better not.)

I haven't done a poem for the Poetry Bus today - it was a good prompt - to write a poem in a place where we have never written before - I was going to choose my coffee stop last Friday morning, but got chatting. I need a nice quiet time so that I can empty my mind - such a time has not occured this weekend. So I put here last Monday's entry 'Luggage' again with the one or two words deleted.


In my hand luggage
I carried
the pain of Guernica,
the suffering of its people,
the death of comrades.

In my baggage
I carried
the reasons why,
the solidarity,
the dashed hopes.

On the carousel
they go round,
and round.
There is no-one left
to know
or care.

(on the death of a Spanish Civil War veteran).

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Short of time.

What started out as an invitation to pop round later tonight for a glass of wine and a chat has rapidly developed into pop round tonight and eat with us. So I have little time to put a post on tonight as I chop and mix salads and carve up a hastily cooked joint of ham. Eight jacket potatoes have just gone into the Aga oven and an apple crumble waits to be put in a little later. Two bottles of wine are chilling and the table is set. There is something so nice about eating with friends on a Saturday night and sitting round the log fire chatting afterwards. And it is all the more enjoyable if it is done on the spur of the moment like this. If I had made a dinner party arrangement a fortnight ago I would now have been cooking an elaborate meal; as it is ham, jackets and salad will be just as enjoyable and far less work.
It has been a gloriously sunny day here today but with the wind in the North East it is very cold. Somebody from the US (sorry can't remember who but you were right) said the other day that snow was heading our way. SNOW? IN OCTOBER? It seems there are snow showers forecast for the coming week - shall have to get my thermal vests out of their summer hibernation.
Have a good weekend.

###Sloppy typing and reading., Well-spotted Jinksy and Peadar - both noticed I had written 'eating the friends instead of 'eating with friends'! Did the rest of you skim over it, as I did and read what you thought I had said? Or were you all too polite to point it out? Thanks anyway to J and P - I have corrected it above.
Incidentally - there was nobody young enough at that table to make good eating anyway! And here is the photograph to prove it.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Time stands still.

I wrote this poem several years ago. As you must all know by now, I am besotted with the countryside. When you love it as much as I do it is very hard not to write about it in a sentimental way. In my view sentimentality has absolutely no part to play in any art form and therefore I try my level best (with varying degrees of success) to keep it out of my work. I have put a version of this poem on my blog before but I was just sorting out a file of my writing and I came across it. It seems to me to be an appropriate poem to follow yesterday's visit to the Arboretum in Autumn. I have altered it somewhat since last time.

Autumn comes to the hills.

There comes a day when
time seems to stand still.

The last few flowers on the meadow cranesbill
have turned to spiky seeds.

The tall,dry heads of the dock
line the verges like policemen.

The meadow sweet has lost its creamy smell
and turned to brittle brown.

The dying green of the trees is
changing to vivid hues.

On the hills the clouds flirt with the tops
and a faint mist marks the beck's course.

Everywhere is cool and still,
only the clear song of the robin
breaks the silence.

Then the wind rustles through the trees
and time moves on again.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Autumn colour at Thorpe Perrow.

Today a friend and I have walked round Thorpe Perrow Arboretum near Bedale. It is only a short drive from here and each time we go it gets better.

It covers 85 acres and has some of the largest and most spectacular trees in the country and the National collections of walnut, ash, lime, laburnum and cotinus. It is the home of Sir John and Lady Ropner, who live in a magnificent house at the centre of the arboretum, overlooking the lake.

After our walk we went into the cafe and had a bowl of ham, savoy cabbage and puy lentil soup with a roll each - that was delicious and two hours walking round had made us quite hungry. On the way out I bought some dwarf wallflowers, came home and put them into tubs straight away, along with some daffodil bulbs that have been in a bucket and have been shouting to be planted for the last month. Altogether a satisfying day.

The autumn colours were beautiful and there were so many different fungi. There os a fungus foray at the weekend and they will certainly have plenty to choose from.
Rather than try to describe what we saw I am putting on twelve photographs - hope you enjoy them. I am sure they will benefit from being enlarged.

## I love the way they discourage people from swimming in the lake - the crocodile
is most realistic!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Media - the good and the bad.

This morning I ate my porridge whilst watching the chile miners being brought to the surface - a pretty tearful breakfast, I can tell you. What a wonderful feat of
engineering which has allowed these 33 miners to see the light of day again after
700,000 tons of rock trapped them for 69 days. (They are not all up to ground level yet but we live in hopes that it will all end happily).
The Atacama desert is a pretty unforgiving environment to start with - these chaps would have had a pretty awful life down that mine in normal circumstances - my goodness me, they are tough - and they have needed to be over the last 1600 hours. I suspect that this is an area where men have to be seen to be tough - and they have not disappointed.
There seems to have been a marvellous community spirit down there too - as all the men wanted to stay at the head of the shaft to welcome their comrades. But they are being taken to a field hospital instead. And don't let's forget the brave rescue workers who went down to them and who are staying until the last man is brought up.

Where did I get this information? You know, of course. I got it from the television live broadcast this morning and from The Times which I read from cover to cover every day. The media can be a wonderful thing, bringing this amazing feat live to our living rooms.

Why then did that same media - The Times, yesterday - find it necessary to go all the way to the Scottish Islands in order to pester, and photograph, the grieving
parents of Dr Linda Norgrove - the brave woman who has tragically been killed in
Afghanistan? They had said they did not want to make a statement. They have maintained their dignity throughout and have apparently been well-supported by the local community. But it is still thought necessary for us to see Linda's parents out walking with their dogs. And still maintaining their dignity, I might add. You could have forgiven them if they had set their dogs onto the photographer.

There is a line which should not be crossed and I really feel The Times has crossed it this time. I am sure our hearts go out to the parents and sister of Dr Norgrove - but I am equally sure that we would rather not see a photograph of them,

P.S. If you have enjoyed the few poems by my friend Joan Cairns which I have put on my blog recently - go to Poet in Residence's blog today (from my side bar) where he has done a feature on Joan and her poetry.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

'Make Mine Milk' - the campaign.

Time was when we were a dairy farm - before we got Foot-and-Mouth disease and our whole herd was slaughtered within the space of two hours. The farmer milked his herd at 6.30am and 5.30pm 365 days in the year. In Winter this meant all day spent swilling out the parlour, cleaning out the housing, putting down fresh straw, feeding - then starting all over again. Calving meant tramping down the field in the dead of night to see a cow's progress or help her to calve. Calves had to be fed and watered - the job was never-ending and by golly you had to like it to do it.

Now, because the returns on milk price are so low, many small farmers have quit the industry. A small herd is just not financially viable and it is impossible to make a living unless you have a large herd.

Also milk seems to have gone out of fashion here to some extent. When we were kids we had school milk - remember those days. We used to have cardboard bottle tops with a pushy hole in the middle - they were fabulous for making woolly pom-poms too.
When the weather was frosty the frost used to cause the cream to expand and push out the top - it used to be so good to eat - just like ice cream (which it was really, I suppose).

When we were in The Netherlands the other week we realised how much more to the fore in diet milk is there. Our friends gave us glasses of milk to drink; how long is it since you drank a glass of milk? It was cold and delicious and I wondered why we never had it at home. Our friends also drink Buttermilk. I searched at Tesco's this morning and eventually found a small carton, labelled 'for cooking'- well nobody has told our friends that - they drink it daily as part of their diet.

At present there is a Make Mine Milk Campaign aimed at getting people to drink more milk- particularly low fat milk. It is aimed primarily at teenagers and mums - after all milk is such a good, whole food. But somehow it has gone out of popularity.

Various celebrities are involved in the campaign and there are various prizes to be won etc. If you want to know more about it you can go to Twitter@makemineMilk or to

Round here most of our dairy farmers sell their milk to the Wensleydale Creamery for making cheese. It is good to think that real Wensleydale cheese is made from genuine Wensleydale milk, isn't it?

I do urge you to try a glass of cold milk - I so enjoyed it and wondered why I had ever stopped drinking the stuff. Do you remember the previous campaign 'Drinka pinta milka day' -

Monday, 11 October 2010

Another poem for the Poetry Bus this week.

My old friend, Joan Cairns, has given me another poem for this week's theme. If you haven't heard of Joan before on my blog here is a brief resume:

Joan is almost 89, still amazingly active, well-read (Guardian every day from start to finish), well-informed and feisty with it. She always asks me what the bus theme is and if it appeals to her she has a go.

This week the theme is a newspaper headline - she saw this headline in The Guardian on October 8th - so here is the poem:-

"The Woods are Wonderful."

When I must leave
let it be in peace
whatever the season.
It may be the whiplash of Spring
in the sharp air
or the soft brown silk
of Summer's dusk.
Shall I be wrapped
in October's cloth of gold
or the sweet innocence of Christmas snow?

I will lie here
where the trees will bless me,
shroud and absorb me,
till I become
a vigour and a stimulus
for next year's lkeaves. Joan Cairns.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Fruits of Autumn?

This year, here is North Yorkshire, the fruits have Atumn have been plentiful. There are heavy crops of hawthorn berries awaiting the arrival of the fieldfares and redwings; the elderberries are looking particularly luscious; conkers lie thick on the ground under the horse chestnut trees (don't children play 'conkers' any more?); rose hips are already very bright red and stand out like sentinels in the hedgerow.
And fungi! They are everywhere. Yesterday there was a huge patch on our side lawn. I had thought to photograph them this morning but on going out all that remains is a patch of brown/black goo.

But a couple of days ago some friends and I walked round our bottom meadows and in one corner, near to where the beck flows through, some of the grass blades were covered with a brightish yellow spongy froth. Needless to say I had forgotten to carry my camera (always carry a camera - you never know what you might come across).
Yesterday the farmer and I walked over to the spot to photograph it - the yellowness had gone and the spongy quality had hardened - but the fungus (for that is what I assume it is) was still there. Nearby were some almost transparent little 'mushrooms' so I photographed one of those as well.

I have asked Stuart Dunlop (Donegal Wildlife on my side bar) if he know what it is. In the meantime if any of you readers out there know what it is, please let us know in the comment box. The farmer can't remember ever seeing it on the grass before.

Have a nice Sunday.

2.20pm. As I predicted, Stuart Dunlop of Donegal Wildlife has correctly identified the 'fungus'. I am not sure you will want to know that it is commonly called 'Dog Vomit Slime Mould'! Ha! says the farmer - there is a heap of it at the back of the garage and there was me thinking the dog had been sick. (Sorry about that). Its proper name is myxomycetes and it was thought to be fungus but recent research has suggested that it moves around in a manner similar to amoeba (remember doing amoeba in biology at school?) It reacts strongly to light. Thank you for the help Stuart.
We learn something new every day in blogland.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Catching the Poetry Bus.

We are asked to take a news story and expand on it. So here goes with my effort:-

The headline: One of the last surviving British members of the International Brigade who fought in the Spanish Civil War has died in his late nineties.


In my hand luggage
I carried
the pain of Guernica,
the suffering of the people,
the death of comrades.

In my baggage
I carried
the reasons why,
the solidarity,
the dashed hopes.

But on the carousel
they all go round
and round
for there is no-one left
to know
or care.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Looking for clarity.

There is an interesting article in today's Times magazine, 'Arts and Ents'. It is an extract from Stephen Sondheim's book with the very long title - "Finishing the hat; the collected lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (1954-1981) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges and whines and anecdotes" A high price too (£30)

He sets out the principles of lyric writing as laid down by Strunk and White in "The Elements of Style". Surely these are principles which relate to all poetry writing. Sondheim suggest they should be written in stone; I shall type them out and fix them in a clear place on my notice board and hope - or rather aim - to follow them.

These are the principles:

Content dictates form.
Less is more.
God is in the details.
and all three in the service of CLARITY

I sometimes wish I had reached an age when I could just write what passes for poetry and leave it at that - but I don't seem to have reached that age yet. I am still constantly trying to improve the 'poetry'I write. So henceforth I shall try hard to stick to these rules and see where it gets me!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Autumn colours.

This afternoon Tess and I did our usual two mile walk to Forty Acre wood - no goblins about today but plenty of Autumn colour. It was a glorious day with a clear blue sky and I took my camera in the hope of finding something to show you all.

The ash trees vary enormously. Some have already lost their leaves and are just festooned with brown 'keys' (seed heads) which look pretty awful. But some of the young sapling trees are bright yellow and look marvellous against the deep blue sky.
At the entrance to the wood there is a young copper beech tree and it has turned the most beautiful bronzy yellow. The seed heads of cow parsley are still standing and look quite dramatic too.

Along the side of Forty Acre the pheasants gather in their hundreds. I have such mixed feelings - the farmer shoots with a syndicate and is quite keen on the sport. But Forty Acre is part of a huge estate where corporate shooting parties pay large sums of money to shoot there over the winter and consequently pheasant are bred in their thousands. At this time of the year they are still fairly tame as they don't yet see man as a threat so I was able to photograph them as they wandered up the fence side. I hope you can just about see them in the photograph.

The elderberrries are ripening on the bushes - what a feast there will be for the fieldfares and redwings when they arrive any day now. I shall tell you when they come - they usually come fairly soon after the last swallow has departed - and they are long gone from here at any rate.

The hawthorn leaves are turned red and yellow and orange. They fall off quite quickly so we need to make the most of the next few days for their colour. In the front garden there is still a lot of colour. Gertrude Jekyll is in her third lot of bloom - she is such a pretty pink rose - and my schyzostyllus is a mass of red flowers - such a bright red that it almost hits you in the face. And the cheerful yellow redbeckia also gives a bright patch of colour at this time of the year.

But my favourite is the little viola - it is just coming into bloom and I hope to see it in flower somewhere throughout the winter.

We returned from our walk and shortly afterwards a friend called with her two dogs, Millie and Gem, so we set off across the fields. Unfortunately the farmer had spent the afternoon spraying slurry onto the fields - you can imagine what the dogs smelled like by the time we got home!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Final Poem for the Bus last Monday.

Well thank you for all your comments, I deliberated which version of my poem to put on. I have decided - thanks to reading you all - that really a lot of it is best left unsaid to the imagination. Short and sweet seems to be the order of the day. I shall certainly never forget the sight. Here is the poem:-

Young fox,
sleek, slender,
cocksure -
you streak
over the wall.
No slinking,
lurking in
impenetrable places
til darkness lends you

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Middle earth calling............

Do you believe in the little people? Of course you don't (TFE excepted!) and yet - and yet. I used to love the books 'The Little Grey Men' and 'Down the Bright Stream', both written by 'BB' (the pseudonym of W Watkins-Pitchford) and I also enjoy both 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings'. Alright, so that doesn't make me a believer in such things but it does add a certain piquancy to one's afternoon walk.

Yesterday was the most glorious day here - warm, sunny, light breeze, clear air, big skies. Tess and I walked the two miles down the lane to Forty acre wood, The wood was magical, sun streaming through the trees, a long vista down the ride, pheasant everywhere, even a roedeer among the trees. We saw not a single human being on the whole walk, just grey squirrel, pheasant, partridge, deer, rooks a plenty, rabbits by the score. On a day like that anything is possible.

Coming back the lane is very slightly uphill and I am beginning to tire (not Tess, she is totally tireless) so I try to engage my mind in some serious thinking so that I am not thinking about the gradient all the time. Remember I had just seen that magical wood, some beautiful ferns, a lovely patch of big toadstools - oh yes, anything is possible on a day like that:-

Cloudberry and Sneezewort were out in Forty acre wood collecting produce for their winter store in the old tree trunk. Cloudberry had his little wheelbarrow and Sneezewort a sack over his shoulder. There was much to collect for the elderberries were ripe - just ripe enough to make their favourite wine; the rowan berries glowed red on the changing trees - they had to gather those before the mistle thrushes got there; the hazel nuts were so ripe that they were beginning to fall onto the ground - that would never do, the pheasants would soon clear them up.
Here and there were patches of fungi - and of course these little gnomes knew exactly what was eatable and what was poisonous. They were both very busy when suddenly Sneezewort put a hand on Cloudberry's shoulder and said,
"Shh! There's a human coming, I can feel the ground vibrating."
Pushing their spoils under a pile of beech leaves they crept quietly under a nearby fern, and watched as the human, with her little dog, approached.
Now gnomes are not awfully keen on dogs with their powerful noses and they began to tremble as they saw the little black nose approaching. When it reached the fern it
stopped, sniffed once or twice, then - much to their surprise - the little dog gave a jaunty wink and whispered,
"Your secret is safe with me. Us non-humans have got to stick together."

If you believe that you will believe anything. But do believe one thing - yesterday Forty acre wood was bristling with wildlife and with magic - so anything is possible.

Monday, 4 October 2010

A Poetry Bus Monday with a Difference.

This week the Poetry Bus has more or less broken down. A relief driver has arrived but things are in a bit of disarray. That gives me an opportunity to do my own thing for one Monday - so I beg your attention please.

I know that my greatest fault in writing is that I wax far too lyrical. Where one word is appropriate I am inclined to use six. I am aware of the fact but that doesn't seem to help me to curb the habit. So please can I crave your indulgence for a few minutes.

Last week if you read my blog you will know that I saw a young fox. It really made my day and the image I am sure will stay with me for ever. So I thought to write a poem about it. I scribbled down all my ideas - the main thing being that I was struck by his confidence which made me pretty sure he had not lived through a hunting season and had therefore not yet learned to fear man.

As usual my poem was far too long, rather sentimental and pretty turgid stuff. I showed it to my friend, Joan, who is a much better poet than I can every hope to be.
She was kind in that she didn't criticise but did point out one line which she liked!
Then I showed it to Dominic, my son, who is also a much better poet than me. He was much more honest and more or less said it was rubbish. He reminded me of the Ezra Pound quotation which is something along the lines of - if you have to say 'the desolation of loneliness' then you have not got over the feeling of desolation'. I really thought about this. My son said 'avoid 'of' like the plague.

So here, dear Monday readers, I bare my poetic soul by putting on my blog the first rubbish, sentimental version and the pared down version I ended up with. Will you please be my severest critics?

Young Fox.

with feisty youth -
sleek, slender,
you streak over the wall.

No hunt has yet
wrought fear of man
to make you slink,
in impenetrable places
til darkness lends you

Before feral life
blemishes your fiery coat
flaunt your foxiness and
print your sparkling image
in my mind.

Young Fox.

and slender
you streak
over the wall.

No slinking,
lurking in
impenetrable places
til darkness lends you

Help! Don't be bashful about saying what you think. You will not offend me - I don't want people to say it is 'lovely' as it is - I want you to criticise it in the hopes that I can come up with a final definitive version (if that is possible in poetry). And thank you in advance for taking the trouble to read it and think about it.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Getting ready for winter.

Day-to-day farming goes on apace here as all the farmers get ready to batten down the hatches for Winter. All the corn is safely gathered in and last week the fields of beans were harvested. All that remains is one or two fields of wholecrop maize and they will disappear any day. Following that the fields will be ploughed and many of them sown with wheat or barley for next year.

One of the few good things about the stormy wet days we have been having has been the absolutely stunning sunsets - of which I show you just one in the photographs above. But the fields are now very wet which means that the cattle which have been out all summer are paddling up every gate area so that walking round the fields without wellington boots is impossible.

Not that Tess minds the weather. While there are rabbit holes there will be rabbits and Tess will disappear as far as possible down every available rabbit hole. I am sure the occupants of the burrow hold their tummies with laughter as they sense her at the entrance, as she has absolutely not chance whatsoever of getting a rabbit (and would hardly know what to do with it if she did.)

Here on our farm some of the ewes for over-Wintering have arrived. They were decanted from the trailer into the field and before I could focus my camera they were dispersed far and wide and all eating merrily. The heifers, who have been in that field all summer were determind to get in on the act and came to see what was happening. You can tell from the farmer's garb what sort of a day it was when they arrived!

One field has been ploughed and resown with grass, which is just beginning to show green, so an urgent job has been to put up a new fence where the hedge is very thin. The sheep will soon need to go into this field and we must keep them off the ploughed field and the new tiny green shoots to give it a chance to grow and take hold. In the photograph the farmer is using the bucket on his tractor, filled with concrete blocks, to hammer in the stakes. Tomorrow he will be stretching the pig wire between the stakes and stapling it securely.

It has been another dreadful wet day here today but as I write the watery sun has come through. We have had friends for lunch and they have just left to go home to Windermere - about an hour and a half from here. It remains to be seen whether or not we get another spectacular sunset.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

What's a girl supposed to do?

I must say I think we are the lucky generation of women.Born in the age of the contraceptive pill, equal rights (in our country at least), equal pay (well - almost). I must also say that in my teaching career I never felt at a disadvantage being a woman and never felt I was judged on anything other than my performance. I have always felt equal.
That does not mean to say that I could do a man's job necessarily. The farmer tills the soil, looks after the beast, digs the garden - does all the major physical sort of jobs. I cook and wash the laundry - equal shares of the jobs we both do best. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
But today I had to acknowledge that women## are the weaker sex. There are two things I can't abide. One of them is moths - the very word makes me shudder. (I do know a man who has a phobia about frogs and another man who does not like mice (yes F, I mean you)). The other thing I am not too keen on is what I will broadly call 'creepy-crawlies'.
One morning last week a large (and i mean large) spider chose to sit in the washbasin in the bathroom. I spotted it as I stepped out of the shower. I grabbed the towel and ran down to phone the farmer who was luckily only a stone's throw away from the house. In no time at all it was in a tumbler and out into the garden (if you wish to live and thrive, let all spiders run alive).
But today at lunch time when I took two peaches out of the fruit bowl to put on a plate for dessert at lunch time do you see what was lurking in the stem end of one peach?
Dear readers courage failed me. It appeared to be asleep but as I carefully put the peach down on the draining board in the kitchen it woke up and extended its feelers for a sniff around. I am ashamed to say I fled. Only when the farmer came did I dare to come back and photograph it to show you.

Alright - I admit it. I am lily-livered, scared of wee beasties and hereby acknowledge that all you men out there are my knights in shining armour ready to defend me against the tiniest beetle. If anyone knows what it is, do let me know. I just hope it isn't some tropical chappie that has travelled all the way across Europe in a box of peaches, because now it sits in our privet hedge on a pretty cool night, which will be a bit of a shock. But not half the shock I got when I saw it first.

##read some women!