Monday, 31 January 2011

A New Car

Today the farmer has taken delivery of a new car. We have driven to Northallerton, our nearest town of any size, to collect it. Nice to be in a shiny new car which also smells new and purrs along. But there the excitement ends. We last had a new car three years ago and three years before that another one. In other words, it has become a natural thing to do - change the car every three years.

Coming home I was thinking about the first car my first husband and I ever owned - about the excitement of getting it, the worry of whether we could really afford it, the first ride out in it. So I thought I would tell you about it. I must say that it reads like something out of a very old story, although the events which I am about to unfold actually happened in 1960 - a mere fifty years ago.

We lived in a small village in very rural Lincolnshire. Someone in the village had a Reliant Three-wheeler van for sale. It was like a little green box on two wheels with a third wheel sticking out of the front on a kind of spring. Although the windscreen was made of glass, the door windows were made of mica and had a little hinged triangle in the corner, so that you could stick your hand out to give a hand signal. Get the picture so far? In addition to that, if you got a device to block off the reverse gear, you could drive it on a motor cycle licence, which my husband already had.

The man wanted £50 for it - and how we wanted it. So we emptied piggy banks, trouser pockets, housekeeping accounts, savings banks (we had very little money and Dominic was a very small child) and scraped together enough to buy it.

I can still remember our first ride out in it - the thrill of owning our own car and being able to go for trips out in it. We had some adventures in it. Once, going to the seaside, which was about thirty miles away, we stalled the engine on a hill (about the only hill in Lincolnshire!) and ran the car back down the hill. It rose up along a bank at the side of the road and was in danger of tipping over until four strong young men on motor bikes literally lifted us back on to the road.

Its final demise came one day when my husband was driving behind a bus and the bus suddenly stopped and began to reverse. He had not seen our little van and as we had no reverse we could not get out of the way and the poor little van was crushed to oblivion.

By that time we had saved a little money and after adding the insurance money we were able to buy a better car. But nothing - ever - has equalled the joy of that first little boxy van.

What was your first car?

##By popular request (well just Tom actually) - the farmer is not a car person - more of a tractor man - so our new car is a quite boring Vauxhall Astra - and as I am a woman and interested in such things, I will also tell you it is black.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Which holes to mend?

It is a lovely sunny day here today but very cold. This morning a kind friend called for me and took me into town. We then met with friends in our favourite watering hole - The Golden Lion - for coffee. I went to the charity shop first with a bag of jig saw puzzles and was so long chatting that they sent out a search party for me!

The farmer is out shooting so after a soup lunch Tess and I walked down the lane. What a hive of activity it was, for the Arbitrary Roadmen were there. You can imagine, Winter has wreaked havoc with our road surfaces and many enormous potholes have resulted. A few weeks ago someone came round with a pot of yellow paint and drew a circle around those holes deemed suitable for repair. In the ensuing delay most of the yellow paint has washed away.

Today a man in an orange suit walked up the centre of the lane, followed by a lorry holding what I presume to be hot tarmacadam, followed by a dinky little roller and two more men bringing up the rear. Some holes were filled with hot tarmac, raked even and then rolled, other holes seemed to be ignored. Great clouds of steam rose into the air, there was a nice, nose-clearing smell of tar and then they moved on.
I thought you might like to see the pictures.

How long the repairs last in anybody's guess as many of the holes had water (melted ice) in them but I suppose, in these days of recession and austerity what do a few potholes matter between friends and neighbours?

When we returned to the farm a scattering of feathers - maybe from a collared dove - suggest that the sparrow hawk came through today and that he scored a hit. He comes through most days but then he has to live, hasn't he?

Friday, 28 January 2011


Winter has not lost its icy grip
although the sun rides higher in the sky
and bathes the sheltered corner with its warmth.

For in the shaded lane the muddy pools
are frosted with an ever-changing art
that tempts the foot to shatter with a crack
that echoes through the cold, sharp air.

And in the hedge
the celandine
awaits a shaft of sun
to make it show
its golden face again.

No, although it is a very sunny day here there was a very sharp frost and a sprinkling of snow this morning. And as we drove to Northallerton we could follow the course of the River Ure by the fog which hung over it.

We still have to get through February. But - at the moment there is a super gardening programme on our television every Friday evening, looking at Carol Klein's garden throughout the year. She quite rightly says that even in the darkest days of Winter magical things are happening under the soil in our gardens.

So, thinking about that, I have just been round the front garden with my camera and found six things to cheer me up - and I hope they cheer you up too. Alright, some of them are pretty tatty and look as though they have been through the mill. But they are all harbingers of Spring - so enjoy the magic moment.

Flowers - left to right, top to bottom:

Primula wanda Helleborus argutifolius
Snowdrop Primrose
Aconite Helleborus niger (Christmas rose)

(This is the first poem I have written since I was ill - the first poem in fact that I have felt like writing.)

today's aros: magic workings underground bring forth early Spring flowers.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Different Kind of Day.

This has not been our usual kind of mid-week day at all. This morning both the farmer and I had appointments with our Physiotherapist. The farmer has permanently sore shoulders from carrying bales of hay and straw over the years and a monthly going over by the physio seems to improve them. My recent illness has left me with a slight loss of dexterity in my right hand and arm and the physio is helping me to overcome this (there is only a short time after such a seizure when this is possible), so I was being given a series of exercises.

Then this afternoon and evening we had a much more enjoyable (and less painful) time.
In the pretty little town of Richmond, North Yorkshire, our old railway station building has been converted into a super complex of shops, cafe and cinemas. The cafe is absolutely lovely and serves delicious food and the two little cinemas, each holding only 100 people, show the very latest films. Leaving home early so that we were sure to get a parking spot, we arrived at the station an hour early (the showing was the 5.30pm slot) and had the most delicious tea. We had a pot of tea each. The farmer had a BLT sandwich with salad and I had a croque monsieur with salad. In addition we had a lovely little basket of chips in the centre of the table. And we sat for three quarters of an hour in a lovely atmosphere, in arm chairs, people watching and eating our food. Then we went in to see "The King's Speech" - what a fantastic film it is too. I am old enough to remember the events clearly (one of my earliest memories is of the Silver Jubilee of King GeorgeV and Queen Mary which I think was in 1935), so from a historical point of view I found it all most interesting.

But apart from that, seeing the King overcome his speech problems and realising how he came to have them in the first place, proved to be a most moving experience. We hurried home afterwards in order to see Human Planet on television - this week about life in the Arctic. Now I am putting on a late blog and my head is buzzing with all this information - goodness knows what time I shall get to sleep.

today's aros: the first celandine shows its sunny golden face on an otherwise grey day.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Taking the cure.

As I am sure you all know by now, my recent illness means that I have no longer got a Driving Licence. It is one thing choosing not to go out in the car and quite another not being able to go out in the car.

If there is a day (thankfully there are very few) when I see no-one and don't get out at all, I am quite depressed by nightfall. My answer is to go on as long a walk as I can manage - out into the countryside around the farm, round the fields, down the lane, across to my friend's house in the village; anything to get out of the house and -hopefully - to see someone to speak to. (that bit, of course, can always be remedied by a phone call). And various friends, as well as the farmer, know how much I get cabin fever and are very good at calling to take me for a drive if they are going somewhere.

In a way I see it as 'taking the cure', because the fresh air, the scenery, the plant life, the bird life, the whole ambience of 'outdoors' is still a cure to me. It always makes me feel better.

Time was, of course, when it was the only 'cure' - and rarely successful at that. I vividly remember as a child going past the Sanatorium at Branston in Lincolnshire(or the 'san' as it was known, and spoken about with a doom-laden voice)and seeing all the beds out on the verandah in the open air where the consumptives were given their best chance of a cure. And I also remember that most families in our village had lost at lease one member to T.B. - or consumption as it was commonly known. Some families had lost all their children to the terrible disease.

And there were all those literary consumptives - the best known being the Brontes who died off one by one like flies with what was often called 'galloping consumption'. Branwell died first, in 1848 but no sooner was he buried than the health of the girls began to fail. If you have ever been to The Parsonage in Howarth, you will know that there is a hard, unforgiving sofa in the sitting room, with a sign on it saying that on this sofa Eimly Bronte died, refusing a doctor to the last. In fact on the day she died she got up, got dressed and sat sewing on the sofa.

Anne Bronte shortly afterwards decided she would take the fresh air cure at Scarborough in an effort to stop the terrible disease but she had only been away from home for four days before she died - and then poor Charlotte too.

It is hard for us to take in the enormity of the threat of TB in these days of anti biotics, isn't it? I am old enough to remember them coming in during the war I think - as I remember it the first ones were called M and B tablets and were seen by us all as a magic cure-all (if I am wrong, i am sure someone will correct me).

Now, I suppose, doctors no longer recommend fresh air as a cure but it certainly cures me of that 'down in the dumps' feeling - and when the Spring comes, as it most surely will before long, I shall be able to go out into the fields, find a sheltered spot to sit and drink in that wonderful Yorkshire air laced with the fragrant scent of primroses, hazel catkins, grass growing ..........need I go on? I am sure that I have set the scene for you.

today's aros: the tiny white spears of the snowdrops are pushing their way steadily through the grass.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Do You Know the Offside Rule?

And what is more - do you care? I don't - but then football is only a game isn't it? Who was it who said football wasn't a matter of life and death - it was more important than that?

You will gather from my first paragraph that I am not particularly interested in football. The farmer is vaguely interested in the local teams - Newcastle, Hartlepool, Sunderland - and now that our god-daughter has a partner who supports Bolton Wanderers, we always look at their score too (they lost last night if you are interested.) But other than that we can take it or leave it.

But it is a real partisan thing isn't it? And not just amongst the young, or amongst the male population. The National Game of any country, whatever that game is, always seems to get feelings running high. I remember touring Eire with the farmer some years ago when the Hurling Championships were being played out (if you are reading this TFE - what is hurling exactly?) and every road seemed to be festooned with banners rooting for one team or another. There was recently a local 'derby' here between two teams and feelings were so high that the polioe had to erect a barrier between the two lots of supporters before the match began.

But, having said all this I can't really get all that het up about those two stupid Sky reporters who, forgetting that the microphone was still on, made sexist remarks about a female lineswoman. Had the mike not been one we would never have known, and who amongst us has not made a sexist remark (I often think sexist things about some of our daft male politicians who make decisions about things which affect woman).
I really think that that sort of stupidity is best ignored. I think they deserved to be suspended by Sky (and I hope their pay was docked too, although I doubt it) - I also doubt whether the reason for their suspension had anything to do with the remarks they made - it probably had much more to do with viewing figures.

I must say that I can't remember an occasion when I have felt discriminated against because of my sex. If there were adverse comments during my working life then I never heard them - thank goodness. At my age I suppose I have lived through the whole of the sexual revolution - after all women only got the vote a very few years
before I was born.

When I was a child, the woman stayed at home and got the meals and the man worked. My father gave my mother her housekeeping money on a Friday night when he got paid; in return she looked after the house and cooked the meals - even to the extent of standing in the window and watching for the bus going past bringing my dad home from work, so that she could actually put his dinner plate on the table as he opened the back door. She never asked questions about his ability to earn the money and he never questioned her housekeeping skills.

Now, sixty years or so later, the lines between the sexes have got blurred - nobody has a particular role any more and that is a good thing, but it is not all going to happen overnight as if by magic.

Men like Andy Gray and Richard Keys (both of whom have a bit of a history of ridiculing women in football) deserve our contempt and deserve to be taught a public lesson - as does anyone else who makes sexist comments - or racist comments - we still have a long way to go to gain total equality.

Women still earn on average 20 per cent less than men, and as Harriet Harman rightly says, "while domestic violence claims the lives of women every week then feminism is not bigotry."

Do you have views on this? If so we would loe to hear them.

today's aros: grey skies, cutting east winds, spring is still a long way away.

Monday, 24 January 2011


As the side effect of my drugs since my seizure is that my hair will thin, I decided to splash out and go to a very posh salon in Ripon - costs the earth but cuts fantastically and as I am saving mega pounds on not buying petrol (can't drive) decided to spend it on hair instead.

As we drove through Middleham on our way to Ripon we coincided with the racehorses leaving Mark Johnstone's stables on their way to the Middleham gallops. What magnificent animals they are, honed to perfection even if they are rather flighty. I managed to snap them as they turned to go up to the gallops and then to snap another one as it passed in front of us. Not very good photos I am afraid, but good enough for you to admire how beautiful they are. (and my hair looks better for a good cut too.)

today's aros: six long tailed tits make their own pattern hanging on the fat balls.


a friend, who is knowledgeable about birds, says she is pretty sure that the hawk is not a sparrow hawk but a kestrel and because of its decrepit state she guesses that it may well have died of starvation and been frozen under the snow for some time. The same lady saw another barn owl yesterday - so we know that some have survived this awful winter. I read in the paper the other week that the ones who have most likely died are the young ones, who will not have developed the necessary skills to survive in harsh weather.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Scourge of the small birds.....

....comes to a sticky end.

As the farmer waited at the farm gate this morning for a lift to his shooting expedition, he happened to notice something interesting under the Scots pines, and went to investigate. It was a dead sparrow hawk.

We have a selection of bird feeders and they are all located close to a rhododendron bush and a selection of small fir trees. This is intentional as it gives the small birds plenty of cover. We get a good selection at the table - all the finches, all the tits, house, hedge and tree sparrows, spotted woodpeckers, robins, blackbirds and now and again more of a rarity. One thing they all have in common is that they watch out for each other; watch out for that scourge of the small bird population - the sparrow hawk.

When he comes through, he comes at a fair rate of knots. Last week a friend surprised him in the pasture finishing off the remains of a mallard duck he had caught. All that is left is the duck's bone structure, it has been picked clean.
All birds have to live and the sparrow hawk survives at the expense of the small birds that are not quick enough to escape.

So how come he died? My guess is that he was going through so quickly that he hit a tree. The trees are quite close together. I can think of no other explanation.
He has been there several days so is not in perfect condition by any means, but I thought readers would be interested in seeing what he looked like. I took a close up and a longer shot - not sure there is that much difference.

##I call the sparrow hawk 'he' - for all I know it could be a 'she' - no doubt if my bird-watching friends read this they will let me know. (Yes, G and J, I mean you).

Friday, 21 January 2011

Fine days, cold nights.

We are getting cloudless days of bright sunshine; although it is bitterly cold there is now some warmth in the sun as long as one keeps out of the wind. The price we are paying is very hard frosts at night. This morning everywhere is white with frost and, as we had breakfast, the moon was just setting over the moor, so I popped out in my dressing gown and took a photograph for you. (see what I will suffer for my blogging friends).

Yesterday Tess and I walked over the fields to the village (see how blue the sky is over the village). The sun was warm but in the shady places there was thick ice on the puddles and as we approached the village down our little lane it was so slippery that we gave up the fight and came back a different way - I was scared of falling over.

But the walk was lovely. A little owl flew in front of us until we came to the edge of his territory. I tried to get a photograph of him, but he was far too clever for me and kept making tik-tik-tik noises, telling me to get off his patch.

The frost has removed the bark from an old tree stump in our top Mill Lane field and it has revealed such beautiful colours and interesting nooks and crannies - surely these will make lovely summer homes for some creatures.

Speaking of small creatures I am reading Charles Darwin's Diary and last night read how he lifted a stone and found two rare beetles under it, so he put one in each hand. Then he saw a third rare beetle which he also wanted, so he popped one of the beetles in his mouth!!! It spurted acrid liquid on to his tongue and he spat it out, by which time the third beetle had gone. What these great men would do in the cause of science eh?

today's aros: In January bright sunny days mean cold frosty nights.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Poetry afternoon.

How quickly it comes round, our Poetry Afternoon, when a group of friends meet to read our favourite poems. Yesterday there were nine of us and we met in the sitting room of a friend who lives high up in the tree tops on the top floor of a lovely converted convent building. Her flat looks out over the most beautiful scenery and it was a lovely day - so there was the combination of lovely poetry and beautiful views - and finally a beautiful sunset. And then, to finish off the day, as night fell we drove home with a giant full moon just rising over the fells. So, really, everything about the afternoon was poetic.

As always we had a most eclectic mix - Houseman, Masefield, Poe, Betjeman, Cope, Gray, Herbert, Donne - and lots in between. And after each poem we chatted about memories the poem had evoked, or things it reminded us of, or aspects of the poet's style, or his life. Then, finally a cup of tea and a biscuit and home again. I'm sure all of us felt better for the afternoon's activity. And really, Sophie, my friend's Jack Russell terrier, who always attends, is becoming quite a poetic dog (she'll be writing her own before long.)

Today's aros: an afternoon enjoyed is never wasted.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Lovely Day.

Now that I am no longer allowed to drive for myself, the combination of a day out as a passenger plus a beautiful late Winter sun and I am on cloud eight and a half at least.

We were meeting friends for lunch at Ingleton at the head of the Ribble valley - about half way from where we live and Windermere, where they live. Roughly an hour's drive for each of us.

I have been on this road five or six times in the last year and each time I have posted a blog about it, saying that I wanted to show you Ingleborough (one of the Three Peaks) and each time it has been shrouded in cloud. Yesterday there was a breeze and the sun shone - that is until we got within a couple of miles of Ingleborough, when the cloud came down and lo and behold the peak was once more covered in cloud. So the photograph you see is of cloud where Ingleborough stands. Sorry about that!

After cheese toasties and naughty puddings we said our goodbyes and set off back home. Approaching the Ribble head viaduct, which I have posted a few times before but which is such a magnificent structure that it merits multiple postings anyway, we spotted a train crossing. I took the shot, which I show you above. Sorry it is so far away but, obviously, if I had waited until we were nearer then the train would have crossed and disappeared.

There seem to be lots of road works around us at the present time. I would like to think that it is repairing the pot holes caused by the recent bad weather, but I don't think that is the case. However, we had to make several detours around more isolated villages and what did we see? This magnificent cockerel - cock of the walk there is no doubt - strolling across the road at his own pace, so that we had to wait for him. His wife sat sunning herself at the bottom of the wall and obligingly stayed there while I wound down the window and took her photograph. What a magnificent pair - I do hope they have chicks.

Home again and a trip to our local supermarket after tea. I was expecting it to be very quiet but no such luck. It was full of young families, mum, dad and children, obviously doing their shopping after work. The fact that we were surprised by this I suppose just goes to show that maybe we don't quite live in the modern world.

The picture of the sheep grazing below the limestone edge is taken in this area, where there are plenty of limestone outcrops - This kind of ridge up here in the Dales is called a Scar.

today's aros: deep low cloud, deep blue sky, deep watery valleys - a perfect combination.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

STOP PRESS. The fridge on the lane part 2.

For those of you who requested a picture of the fridge which some idiot dumped on our lovely lane (mine not to reason why!), well we walked there again yesterday and yes, it is still there. I took a long shot and a close up and it still looks just as awful as it ever did. I feel like sending the picture to the local paper but then I think that if someone dumped it out of spite then it would just give them pleasure to see it in the press.

Out to lunch with friends today and going past the three peaks - the day is brilliant so I might get shots of them. The last three times I have passed they have been shrouded in heavy cloud. So there will be a 'proper' blog later today.
Meanwhile 'enjoy' the shots of the fridge those of you who desperately needed to see it!

Monday, 17 January 2011

A Wet Walk

Yesterday was a very wet day. Following on Saturday, which was also wet, there was a lot of flooding further up the Dale where the River Ure had burst its banks in many places and many of the feeder becks were running across the road. But to avoid suffering from cabin fever, we decided to go for a drive and a short walk after lunch yesterday. And Swaledale seemed the better option in view of the floods.

We went the four miles or so to our nearest grouse moors. I must say that the colour of the grass and of the dead bracken and heather was exquisite. Of the grouse there was no sign, although we heard a few calling. They can't be shot, of course, until the "Glorious Twelfth" (Glorious for whom I ask?) of August but their habitat, which is mainly heather moor is annually subject to controlled burning to rejuvenate the heather. Of course, no burning was taking place yesterday but as this week is destined to be dry I expect to see the tell-tale smoke rising from various places on the horizon.

We walked as far as the old lead mine workings, Tess enjoying a whole new range of smells and the farmer and I enjoying the fresh air and the light rain falling.

Then we drove on to Reeth, the only 'town' in Swaledale and pulled into a space at the top of the hill intending to sit there and enjoy the view - but then it really did pour with rain and we decided we ought to beat a hasty retreat and return home in case the River Swale flooded too.

The river was "banking" to use the farmer's expression, but had not flooded any of the fields. He managed to pull into a layby so that I could take a shot of Marrick Priory and its surrounding farm, with the river in the foreground. Then a little further on I snapped Marske bridge where the river was really swirling underneath. What power there is in water.

We came home, lit the stove and settled down to watch the snooker final where two Chinese young men, Ding and Fu, battled it out for the title with some really brilliant playing. We felt much better for having our little sortie out despite the weather, and I am sure that Tess did too.

today's aros: water - its mighty power inspires awe.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Little treasures.

I have a friend who is a volunteer in one of our local charity shops. They have become so popular, haven't they? People take in books they have read, jig-saws they have completed, unwanted gifts - and, I suppose, the biggest influx may well be when there is a house-clearance when some old person has died. I tend to take in completed and thus unwanted jig-saws, paper backs I probably bought on holiday and don't want to clutter up my book shelves - that kind of thing.

One of our local charity shops has just had a major clear out, so that for a day or two the shelves were almost empty. But over the last fortnight they have begun to fill up again, and yesterday morning I stood in the shop chatting to my friend and looking at what had arrived over the week. There were the usual books, neatly lined up on the shelves (one of our charity shops slightly further away has a huge book collection ), there were lovely curtains, washed and ironed and hanging neatly from rails. But what fascinated me most were the 'knick-knacks' which peppered the shelves. There were little boxes, dishes, plates, ornaments - none worth very much and priced at a couple of pounds. And I speculated on where they had come from.

Were they unwanted presents? I doubt it as few of them looked new. I suspect that many of them came from houses where the owner had died and where nobody wanted these little things any more. I picked up one or two. Where had they originally come from? Had they been treasures to the owner? How had he/she come by them? What kind of history did each item have?

Well, of course, we shall never know. My house is full of such treasures; none of them worth very much in monetary terms but all of them holding wonderful memories of holidays taken or places visited. When the farmer and I have gone I suppose our
treasures will be split up and many of them will probably find their way on to such shelves. And with that act their history will die. They will end up on another mantelpiece, where somebody will probably pick one up and look at it and say, "I wonder where this came from?" I don't suppose any of this matters. As we get older 'things' begin to matter less to us, I think. But I have so many 'treasures' that I feel like sticking a label on the back of each one, giving its history.

I have just walked round the house photographing a few.
A cloisonne duck from Beijing (where else?)
A little bowl from the Smithsonian in Washington.
A wooden box from Samarkand.
A little square box from Istanbul.
A square black tin from Moscow.
A little picture from Pompeii,
A buffalo from Mesa Verde.
An Inuit dish from Vancouver.

Probably not worth fifty pounds altogether - but worth all the world to me in memories.

today's aros: holiday memories last long after the plane has landed.

Read the list of photos from the bottom up.

Friday, 14 January 2011

What makes people act like this?

From the three photographs above you will see that yesterday our lane looked absolutely exquisite. There was a warm breeze and the sun shone as Tess and I went on our afternoon walk. As the sun caught the top of the stand of alder trees, it was possible to see the first faint tinges of red - Forty Acre Wood looked magnificent and the ride was full of pheasant who have so far escaped the guns.

Walking down the lane I kept meeting people out with their dogs or walking a few cattle up the lane to winter housing and all stopped to ask after my health; news travels in these parts and it is not nosiness, it is genuine concern. I arrived at the wood feeling really good.

Why then was my feeling shattered by the fact that some idiot had actually dumped an old refridgerator by the side of the lane. If we ring the council here they will collect old fridges etc., or we can take them to our local tip. Why then is it necessary to spoil the lane for everyone by dumping it on the verge?

Then coming back home I counted eleven cider tins thrown from passing car - I presume all from the same car as they were identical. Sometimes one's belief in peoples' good sense is sorely tried.

today's aros: alder catkins shine red in the low sunlight.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Difficult to find the right answer.

I have had in mind for a day or two to write something about the young student jailed for throwing a fire extinguisher, but have not done so because I really hadn't formulated exactly what I thought and wanted to say. This morning there is an interesting article and two interesting letters in the Times (where would I be without it?) which have largely crystallised my thinking - so here goes:

For the benefit of readers in other countries, the story is roughly this. In the fairly recent student demonstrations against the rise in University Tuition fees, the whole thing got out of hand, as these things usually do, and an unidentified student threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of a high building. Chillingly, looking at the TV footage, it narrowly missed a line of policemen. Had it landed on the head of one of them it would probably have resulted in his death I would say.

After a few weeks the student concerned owned up to his Mum that he had done it, and she persuaded him that he must turn himself in. This week he was sentenced to 33 months in jail - an exemplary sentence.

Thinking about it all, my feelings were so mixed. He was a good student at sixth form college, studying for his A levels, he had a good supportive family, he had never been in trouble before - it seemed such a waste of a good life, and such a high cost for the tax payer. But then you saw the footage of that extinguisher falling and you realised the implications. Maybe community service was not an option (although I would like to bet he will never do anything like it again and is pretty appalled by his actions which undoubtedly were done on the spur of the moment).

But yes - I am sorry, he did need to go to jail,as of course, without question, did that other exemplary sentence of the week on the MP who fiddled his expenses. What awaits both of these men in prison is not going to be a happy experience (and I do have some experience of the inside of prisons - not I hasten to add from being a prisoner, but from being married to my first husband who taught in prisons).

Now in today's Times Jonathan Aitken (himself jailed for perjury in 1999) writes what I think is such a sensible article about both men. He suggests that the prison system needs to be "more imaginative" with men like this, who are not likely to escape, nor are they likely to offend again.

He goes on to say that neither of these men must allow themselves to become broken by the experience - they must try to gain something positive from it. And this, he suggests, can be attained by putting their obvious skills to good use inside the prison system.

Did you know for example that one third of the men and women in our prisons can neither read nor write? The same would be true of computer skills. And I am sure there are other areas of expertise. We certainly must not let that young man moulder away in prison.

Two letters on the letters page follow the same kind of thinking. I do hope that in the case of the 18 year old student he comes out of prison without feeling a broken young man, and that he does not let it ruin his life.

Do you have an opinion on this issue?

today's aros: the West wind brings a suggestion of Spring to the day.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A wet and wintry walk.

The drugs that I now have to take are notorious for causing depression apparently and today I do feel a little low. Determind not to let it get the better of me I decide after lunch that Tess and I will go for a walk. It is a dismal, grey day, although much warmer "into double figures" the weather man said yesterday, as though this was a miraculous happening.

Not only is it dismal and grey it is also very wet underfoot. Great muddy puddles in all the gateways and the possibility that unthawed ice lurks in the bottom of some of them. Tess doesn't seem to notice as we tramp across the fields to see friends in our nearest village.

We pass two little woods on the way - I have photographed both of them for you. How dark and wintry they look, without the least sign of Spring yet. And the beck, which flows close to both of them, is very full.

Joy of joys, the friends are in. Coincidentally, they have just called to see me only to find me out! I bring them eggs from my hens and they bring me a welcome cup of coffee. The farmer had seen them and told them I was on my way.

We have a lovely chat for an hour and a half, Tess lying on sheets of newspaper as she is pretty-well covered in mud. Then we set off back, refusing their kind offer of a ride round by the road.

We know which bits of the fields to avoid on our return journey, where the driest spots are and where one's wellies can easily get stuck in the mud, so the return journey is much easier. A sudden sound causes me to look up - a huge skein of geese is passing over - maybe sixty or so, chatting as they go and flying North. The farmer always says that geese flying North in winter is a sign of a few days warm weather to come, so let's all make the most of it.

Paul Simons Weathereye in the Times today talks of activity in the stratosphere over the Arctic and suggests it might cause another spell of wintry weather - oh dear. Apparently a sign that it is coming our way will be very spectacular sunsets in advance, so much as I love pretty sunsets I am hoping they never arrive.

today's aros: geese flying North predict a spell of warm weather.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Tense times here on the farm.

Today the vet arrived after lunch to test the cows for TB. We no longer have a dairy herd of our own but we do house in-calf heifers for our neighbour over the winter months. Today the vet injected each animal and will come back shortly to see whether any lumps showing the presence of TB have developed. If the answer is positive then that animal will have to be destroyed and the whole herd will be 'frozen' - in other words, the farmer will be unable to sell any of his stock until such time as the whole herd is clear again - so any bull calves will have to be kept; there can be no business done.

Of course the whole thing is much more worrying if one has a beef herd, because then there is a lot of buying and selling goes on - not least selling animals for meat. If TB is present then all this has to stop.

We must all wait now and keep our fingers crossed. I took a few photographs as the vet arrived. Because the weather has been so wet everywhere is very dirty and muddy. The cattle are Holstein pedigree and some of them have won many prizes so there is even more to worry about.

today's aros: the low sun makes long shadows.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Not for wimps!

Somebody said old age is not for wimps. How right they were; and I must say that the news that one in five of us might live to be over 100 does not thrill me either - it doesn't say what kind of decrepit state we might be in by then.

I prefer not to think of myself as old, but rather - as Stephen Phillips said - mellow, like good wine. There - now I have said that I feel less sorry for myself already!

But, joking apart, I don't think anyone over the age of 65 would have any difficulty at all in making a list of the disadvantages of getting old - eyes, ears, muscles, teeth, balance, memory for starters. All of these begin to weaken as we get older - to varying degrees. But we are stuck with it, aren't we? So let's make the best of it for as long as we can. Many of our friends tend to be in the same age group.
I am lucky in that I have a son who lives very near to me and some of his friends are my friends too so that brings down the average age of my friends at bit.

But amongst my friends one has rheumatoid arthritis, four are in remission from cancer, one is recovering from a stroke, one has a husband with Alzheimer's disease and another has a husband with severe diabetes. All of these are cheerful, interesting people - without exception - getting on with life and finding interesting things to do.

So how heartening to read in today's Times a plus for getting old!!! The University of California has done research which suggests that emotional intelligence peaks in one's early sixties. Old people are more sensitive to the feelings of others (I must say I do know one or two who did not fit into this mould.) People in their sixties become increasingly sympathetic to the feelings of others (ditto last brackets), they are more resilient and more likely to see the positive side of things.

It seems that studies have been done which suggest that old people should not be isolated into special "villages" however much money they have to be able to afford such retirement homes. Francis Bacon studied this area and came to the conclusion that a healthy mix of all ages was the best way to live because "that way the virtues of either correct the defects of both."

But as we now enter the beginning of David Cameron's Big Society I find it hard to relate any of these findings to the austerity to come, much of which seems to centre on the elderly.

Services like free buses, libraries, community centres - all of which are likely to suffer in the cuts to come - are so vital for people who are no longer able to drive, or who are not particularly mobile. Can you imagine living thirty years after becoming fairly housebound? (For this will probably happen in some cases). I have friends who would like to be computer literate and would be willing to pay for tuition at a slow rate - but where are they to get it?

So, end of moan for today.
The temperature is rising here and the snow is disappearing, although there are some icy roads about still. There are heavy dark clouds everywhere and rain and strong winds are forecast - but warmer with it. They even promise temperature up into double figures by the weekend - that almost needs capital letters.

today's aros: crows wheel then perch in the bare ash tree, all facing the same way.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Wall to wall.

The temperature hovers around freezing. There is wall to wall sunshine and a deep blue sky. Unfortunately there is also wall to wall ice everywhere and the roads are lethal. The ice is so bad here at the moment that I have heard of at least two vehicles which have been parked up on hills and have slid down in spite of the hand brake being securely on. Even going out to the bird table is dangerous and a friend rang this morning to tell me not to go to the bird table in my carpet slippers as she had heard on the radio of a spate of broken wrists from people doing just that!

One thing about the sunshine though, it does cheer everywhere up. Tess follows it round the house, sitting in patches wherever they fall. Yesterday another friend gave me some daffodils (she knows how much I love them this time of the year). By this morning they are in full bloom in the warm room - and they do the heart good, as do the hyacinths which were a present from Santa. I suppose we love them all because they are a reminder of what is to come in the garden.

The helebores are out (Christmas roses). As usual they are pretty scruffy blooms although their pristine whiteness shines through and I love them.

There is a strong west wind blowing and as I spilt my morning coffee sitting up in bed this morning, I have changed the bedding and as I type this the farmer is pegging it out on the washing line to dry in the strong breeze.

today's aros: leave the fallen leaves to the North wind, he will tidy them up for you.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Heat in Supermarkets.

The other day I did a post about the heat in the doorways of supermarkets and how they must consider it cost-effective to waste all that power. Today, a friend who spent all her working life in a high-powered job in a major supermarket told me that in the case of her company the heat was provided by the heat generated by the freezers. Now that does make more sense doesn't it?

No post today as I have been out all day, so just my aros:

Tiny yellow faces with a green neck ruff - the aconites are out!

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Jackdaw

Somebody - and I think it was Joanna at Titus the dog, although I can't find the reference - said they had seen jackdaws already beginning to pair up. Well that was cheering news indeed as it has snowed here in the Dales all morning. If they have not started to pair up then, for sure, the first mild spell we get they will do so, for the very important reason that nest sites round here are in fairly short supply and they need to stake a claim early.

Church spires always were favourite nest sites and there are not many of those around here. In some areas I read that jackdaws will resort to nesting in old rabbit burrows. Here their favourite nesting sites have always been chimneys - these days cottage chimneys no longer in use because of central heating.

Some people put wire cages over unused chimneys to stop the jackdaws nesting, but I can't really see much harm in it myself - what are a few twige between friends. (One local householder who lives in a three storey house had an Aga fitted a few years ago and the builder found solid twigs throughout the three storeys and sticking out of the top of the chimney. OK then, so maybe there is some harm in it after all.) But I must say that jackdaws are one of my favourite birds and I get the feeling the Spring is not all that far away when I spot a pair laying claim to a redundant chimney in our village.

They are always cheerful, cheeky birds with a penchant for anything which glitters, so that their nests are often decorated with shiny sweet wrappers and the like. One of my father's favourite poems, which he knew off by heart and would recite for anyone prepared to listen to it in its entirety, is The Jackdaw of Rheims.

If you don't know it, I do urge you to go onto the internet and find it. The poem is by Richard Harris Barham and tells the story of a Cardinal at a great banguet, where his pet jackdaw was allowed to strut up and down the table helping himself to titbits. The Cardinal takes off his turquoise ring and puts it on the table and at the end of the meal the ring has gone.

The Cardinal curses the thief and when the jackdaw returns to the table -

'his feathers all seem'd to be turned the wrong way;
his pinions drooped, he could hardly stand -
his head was as bald as the palm of your hand.
His eye was so dim
so wasted each limb..........'

I won't spoil the end for you but do read it - it is the kind of poem that children
of my dad's generation had to learn at school (to keep them quiet?) and once you have read it I am sure that every time you see a perky jackdaw with its silvery grey head, every time you watch him strutting up and down your lawn looking for the odd earthworm, you will think of the poem.

Today's aros: soft snow has cloaked the fields in silence.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Yesterday, after lunch, the sun really shone; not a weak, watery substitute for the real thing but a good bright orb in the sky. And what a difference it made. Suddenly, as you will see from the photograph, there was colour again.

The farmer and I went walkabout with Tess. The hazel catkins were beginning to show, as were the alder catkins. I am determined not to photograph them until they begin to break into colour though. But fat sycamore buds showed up well in the sunlight, so I did photograph them for you. What a welcome sight.

We walked round the perimeter of our land and then cut across a field to look at a sheep which lay in an awkward position, so that we thought it might be dead (sheep do tend to die suddenly, without warning). Of course, as we approached it, it got up and ran off.

But walking back across the field we came to a little mound with a little 'moat' around it. The farmer stopped and pointed it out to me (I would have walked past it without noticing it, it was not very obvious). He told me that there used to be a tree on the mound and in the days when there were horses on the farm, the horses used the tree as a scratching post, thus making the 'moat' with their front feet. Even though the tree died they left it there for the horses, but when the last horse was replaced by a 'fergie' (about 1947 I think) they felled the tree for firewood.

But the little mound has stayed and will do so forever unless the field is ploughed at some point. But as it is a pasture rather than a meadow that is not likely to happen any time soon. But future generations will never know how the mound was formed will they?

So many little bumps and dips pepper our fields - the rig and furrow system still remains visible as do the medieval terraces and lynchets. And so many treasures lie undiscovered in the ground beneath our feet. The little watch fob in the photograph was discovered by my brother-in-law, using a metal detector, in one of our fields. The stone is a carnelian and the mount is silver, hallmarked 1832 - once somebody's treasure. We can speculate that it belonged to the farmer who owned the field, but we shall never really know who lost it and when. Interestingly, the field where it was found is called Peacock's field - was the man who lost the fob called Peacock or does the name go back further than that?

All these little mysteries make life so interesting. I read this morning an article in the Times by Matthew Parris about visiting the 13th century homes of the Pueblo Indians in Mesa Verde National Park. The farmer and I visited them some ten
years or so ago. So exciting to climb the little ladders and stand where those earlier men stood. But we do it every day here in our fields, or when we climb ancient stairs worn away by time, or when we stand in ancient buildings, or indeed when we cross the road. For the earth stays as it is - it is only we humans, and animals too of course, who come and go.

Today's aros: An old photograph, an old object, catches a moment in time.