Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Sweet Briar and a Google.

I hope that the title is enough to tempt you into reading my blog today.   First let's deal with the sweet briar, whatever that means.
When I was first learning the piano a giant milestone was reached when I came across a piece called - 'Sur la glace - a sweet briar on the ice.'   When you could play that you felt like a virtuoso because you had to cross hands to play it.

Well, today I did what I shall henceforth call a 'sweet briar' on our sunny pasture while out walking with friend G and her two dogs and Tess.  The ground had been hard with frost; the sun is shining and it is quite warm; put the two together and the ground is slippery.   Down I went with a bang.   No harm done as far as I can tell.   It is now three hours later and apart from a bit of stiffness I seem to be intact - so sur la glace a sweet briar on the ice.  Get it?

Now to Google.   Next week is our writers' meeting and the subject is open manuscript.   Once I have done my almost-daily blog I do find it hard to think of anything else to write.   Then I hit upon the idea of writing about blogging (no-one else in our writers' group blogs).  As usual, I like to air it in advance - so here for you to read is what I intend to present to Wensleydale Writers' Group next week as my open manuscript.   Please feel free to criticise, add to, or make any comment about it.   There is plenty of time for change.

Coping with the solitudes. 

I didn't seem to age gradually - or shall we say I didn't notice the ageing.   It is only when I look back to a decade ago and compare what I could do then with what I do now that I know I have grown older.   That doesn't mean to say I feel in my dotage.  I am still full of energy and pretty active but I can't walk as far, I can no longer run upstairs and I possibly tire more easily physically (although I never allow myself to sleep in the daytime under any circumstances).

But, like it or not, there comes a time when the solitudes begin to close in and you have to decide what to do with yourself when this becomes evident.

Some people are content with their own company, with reading, with watching television, or even sitting and looking out of the window.   But this is not me I am afraid.   I need people.

Being unable to drive at present and living in an isolated spot with no neighbours, this is not an easy option by any means, but I manage it very nicely with the help of three things.

First of all my large circle of friends who call for coffee, call to walk, call and take me out or even just call on the telephone for a chat.

Secondly a fantastic husband who ferries me from a to b at the drop of a hat, often being intuitive about where I want to go without me even asking.  We tootle off to the supermarket, into our little market town, to call on friends, to the library, for a mooch round the shops with a collecting point an hour later or just out for a walk in the countryside with the dog.

Last, but not least, my computer plays such a great part in my life.  Luckily I need it for the farming business of VAT returns, cattle movement and the like, but I also use it for e mails to far-flung friends, arranging meetings, inviting folk for meals etc.   But my other great use of computer is for blogging.   Can I recommend it to you if you recognise yourself in anything I have already said?

Set up a blog with Google, give yourself a name, write a profile of yourself and write an opening blog.   Put your interests in your profile and you will find that one or two people will read your first blog and leave a reply.   Then you go to their site and read theirs and leave a reply.   Then, if you look at who blogs with them on their side bar you can quickly gather other names and before you know where you are you are up and away.

I have been blogging for over four years now, almost every day.   I like the discipline of having to think of something to write about - life on the farm, happenings in the countryside and around my home, controversial topics in the news, travel - the list is as long as you want to make it.  

I have built up a list of over three hundred followers, plus a whole lot of friends who don't themselves blog but who read mine.   And, most important of all, I have built up a list of virtual friends.  If it is a dark, wet Winter's day I can nip over to South Africa to look at some of Robyn's wonderful wood carvings and her choice of art work by her various friends; or to Penny in Australia, who posts almost daily photographs from her sketch book; or to Parsnip who lives on the edge of the desert in the US with her two Scottie dogs, or Pondside in Canada or Hildred, who lives in the Similkameen in Canada.   There are a host of people in this country too.

I have met some of them physically - Elizabeth in New York, who took us round for a morning; AJ who met me when she was staying in a holiday cottage in the Lakes; Denise on the North Yorks Moors
(who sent me a lovely hare card yesterday and who has called a couple of times for coffee); Fiona who only lives fifteen miles away but who I would never have met had it not been for blogging.

I should shortly be able to drive again but in the meantime, believe me, it is impossible to be lonely with blogger there to carry me along.  Try it sometime.     

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


One day of sunshine (today) and one sees the world through totally different eyes.   Our farmhouse faces due South and has large windows, so if the sun is out, even in the depths of Winter, the whole house is suffused with light and soon warms up.

Sitting here at the computer in a shaft of bright Spring sunlight (alright, it is still Winter but only for three more weeks) I got to musing about people and where they live.

I began to wonder why people thousands of years ago, chose to settle in such cold, inhospitable places.   Once twenty eight years ago, I went to Almaty in Kazakhstan and we arrived there (in a party because it was still the Soviet Union in those days and you couldn't travel any other way) quite late at night.  The temperature was minus forty and a thick film of ice covered every surface.
At least in the Summer they got hot weather, because there were acres of apricot trees -and in Winter the population wrapped up well.

But really some people do live in the most in hospitable places.  Now they are indigenous to that area and have learned to adapt, but thousands of years ago they must have chosen to live there - and I wonder why they didn't just move on, following the sun.

I went to see friend, M, yesterday.   Her house also faces due South, so she will be revelling in sunlight today too.   And not only she, because her front garden is full of species crocus, all up and ready to burst into bloom when the sun arrives.   If I were to pop in this morning the garden would be a riot of purple I have no doubt.
People, like flowers, open up when the sun shines.

The fields are drying up nicely.   Yesterday the farmer was able to fill in the potholes in our muddy track down the pasture, so he will not need his wellies so much when feeding the sheep in future.

Any day now our hedge-cutter will arrive to trim our hedges - time is quickly running out for him as it is not only us that get chirpy when the sun comes out - the birds do too, in more ways than one!  

Monday, 25 February 2013

Food, glorious food.

I love reading about food and one of my all-time favourite food
writers is Elizabeth David, who died in 1992.   Perhaps her best
known work is 'An omelette and a glass of wine', which I can
thoroughly recommend as a good read - various chapters in varying lengths, all devoted to some aspect of food.

My favourite chapter is the one from which the book takes its title -
An Omelette and a glass of wine.  In it there is an amusing story, which says such a lot about pretentiousness where food is concerned, and is just as true today.

There was once a restaurant just off the coast of Normandy called
Tete d'Or and its whole reputation rested upon one dish, which was
served every day - omelette, ham, fried sole, lamb cutlets, potatoes, roast chicken and salad.  What an enormous meal it sounds.

But the fame of the dish rested on one thing and one thing only - the lightness and beauty of Madame Poulard's omelettes.  Her reputation was such that people flocked to Mont St Michel just to experience them and a whole list of possible reasons why they were
so good grew round them.  Some said she mixed water with the eggs,  Some said she had a special pan.  Some thought she added cream to the eggs and some even said that she had a special breed of hen unknown anywhere else.

Finally, after Madame Poulard retired someone plucked up the courage to write and ask her.   Here is her reply:

Monsieur Viel,
I break good eggs into a bowl and beat them well.   Then I put a knob of butter into a pan, throw in the eggs, shaking the pan constantly.  I am happy if this recipe pleases you. 

It couldn't be much simpler than that, could it?  Try it sometime!      

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bad weather.

The bad weather has closed in again and there is snow.  In addition, it is bitterly cold - that cold coming in from Eastern Europe, a big land mass where the cold just builds up.  (Gwil in Vienna, wrap up warm).   This means that our animals need food urgently.

The farmer has a strict order of feeding, which he follows every day.   First the in-calf cattle in the loose housing - they get silage and straw for bedding; next the hens; then the wild birds; then the sheep in the top field, who get silage and sheep nuts.   Finally the in-lamb sheep opposite the farm on the other side of the lane.  They have recently been scanned.   All but two are in lamb,mostly with twins, although there are a few singles and also one or two with triplets.   Even today, with a covering of snow, they would rather scrape the snow away to get at the grass, than eat the silage in the rack.   But they are totally addicted to sheep nuts, which is what they get every morning - about ten o'clock.

They start looking for it at six-thirty when the farmer drives out of the drive to get the newspapers from our little market town.   They watch him go, they watch him come back; when he feeds the wild birds they all dash to the wall again to watch him; when he drives up the lane to the other sheep they all watch him.   Finally, he walks up our drive with two buckets of sheep nuts, climbs over the stone wall (!!) and feeds them by scattering it in a long line.  Immediately they begin to eat it as do numerous rooks and pheasants.   But instead of staying in one place they always think there is a better place higher up so there is so much dashing back and forth that the rooks get more than their fair share.  Ah well, sheep give good wool every year and they make fine chops, but I have to say they are not over endowed in the brain department.

Incidentally, the two barren sheep will shortly go to market and be sold for meat.  It's a harsh world but no farmer keeps anything that doesn't show a profit.

And speaking of such things, my hens have suddenly started to lay as though there is no tomorrow.   And little do they know how right they were - the farmer has been moaning for the last few weeks about my 'blessed hens' - some of whom are ten years old - and how they just don't earn their keep.  Well now we have too many eggs, so it is mushroom omelettes, home-made oven chips (anyone on a diet can make them using that one-calorie spray - it tells you how on the tin), and green beans for lunch.

On the subject of my hub and the trouble I have had with it, I must report that I have had excellent service from BT.   I wrote asking for a new hub and they rang me this morning, asked a few questions and as a result are putting me a new hub in the post.   All I had to do was renew my contract for a year - and I could see no reason not to do that because I don't have a single complaint.   Praise where it is due. Keep warm and dry.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Where does it go?

Time, I mean.   Yesterday I truly did not have time to put a blog on.
I hardly had time to look at my e mails - in fact I almost left them for the day, but luckily I looked at them early yesterday evening and found that there were one or two which needed early answers. But isn't it good that I manage to keep so busy, I ask myself.

Yesterday we had our Poetry day.   If you love poetry and have one or two friends who love it too, then I do recommend that you do as we did and form a Poetry Group.

There were seven of us yesterday and we had such a lovely afternoon.   After each poem we had a discussion on the poem and on the background to it and I am sure we all came away feeling so uplifted by it on what was a miserable, cold, grey day.

Today is our coffee in the Golden Lion morning, so this is necessarily a short post.   That will mean another morning of 'jollity' - really I am so lucky to live amongst such a wonderful group of friends.

Did anyone else watch the BBC1 Eddie Izzard programme on going back 200,000 years through his DNA?   I found it fascinating and seeing the Bushmen of the Kalahari and the Pygmies of Central Africa at such close quarters was a delight.   When we know that we really are all descended from the same part of Africa and from the same small group of homo sapiens (with a bit of neanderthal here and there) you can't help but wonder why we can't all agree.
Why are there such terrible wars?   Well, I suppose it was ever thus, and always will be - and the more terrible weapons we manage to invent the worse it will be.  


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Lack of News.

Yippee!   For a whole twenty-four hours the BBC News was curtailed by a strike.   The local bulletins were only five minutes long and even the national one was shorter than usual.

Why I have to watch the whole thing I don't know - it is almost as though I am afraid to miss something.   At least we make it just once a day - from 6pm to 7pm and that does make it an hour's enforced rest, which is also a good thing.

But really so much of the news is so trivial, a lot more is sensational and very little is necessary.   It struck me that at one time Syria, with the dreadful killing there, was headline news.   But now it seems to have been put on the back burner, as though it is no longer of interest, although there is no dying down of the fighting.

And what a lot has been made of Hilary Mantel's comments about the Duchess of Cambridge - she says she has been misinterpreted - and what a lot of nonsense it is too.   I smiled as I thought of Victorian times, when a pregnancy in the Royal Family would have meant a complete withdrawal from society.   Now the opposite is true, with all newspapers advertising her 'bump' yesterday.   Couldn't there be a happy medium?

I am still reading Cees Nooteboom's 'Roads to Santiago' and he sums up the news brilliantly I think, with this passage:-  while driving in Spain he says ' the car radio gargles and splutters with election results, fresh history which, eventually, will be condensed along with all the rest into the indigestible soup of one page of print, all those millions of words, facts, gestures, images and promises which took as much time as they needed to come to pass, only to be crushed, pounded and compressed into a single book, a single chapter, a single page, a single sentence,a microdot in a future that will no longer be ours.'

Quite so.   

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Yet another day of it.

Yesterday both the farmer and I were at the Physiotherapist for our six - weekly manipulation.   With the farmer it is shoulders, so that he has little after effects.   With me it is knee and ankle which means that for a day or two I am hobbling about like an old woman (don't even think it, let alone say it) - you have to get worse before you can get better, so to speak.

So today it has meant hobbling round the supermarket and then having a shorter walk with Tess.   But all this seems quite unimportant, trivial in fact, when put against the fact that for the third day running it is wall-to-wall sunshine and although the temperature is only seven everything in Nature is pretending it is Spring already. (a month to the first day of Spring, so anything can happen in between - and probably will).

Going to the supermarket, the views over the Vale of York were magnificent; the silver birches on the road side looked ready to burst into leaf (yes, I am imagining it) and the deciduous larches were beginning to change colour, as was the willow.

On my walk half an hour ago I heard a blackbird, a robin and various tits singing, along with the trilling voice of the chaffinch; they are all making the most of the weather too.

In the garden this morning's sun has brought out the first of the species crocus sent to us some years ago by our friends in the Netherlands, F and R, and walking through the front garden I see that many of the tulips they sent are already poking through too.
The Winter jasmine is coming into bloom, and I can really say that three days of sunshine has made everyone and everything feel better.

They are re-surfacing the road into our little market town and they have scraped the old tarmac off and heaped it into the yard of our neighbour, who is a haulage contractor.   He will no doubt deliver it on to various people in need of the stuff.    The farmer is certainly in need of some to re-surface the track down our big pasture.   So this afternoon he is going to go round and load some up on to his trailer and get on with the job while it is dry.   But first he has to empty the culvert in the yard where our friend washes down his lorries every day.   The lorries get filthy, particularly at the time of the year when the roads are so dirty - and every morning these lorries go out in an immaculate condition, which means lots of washing down.  So the farmer and the contractor decided to exchange cleaning the culvert for a load of tarmac to tidy up the track.   This is the kind of transaction I like - it is called being good neighbours.  

Monday, 18 February 2013

Another burst of Spring.

Yes, I know, the temperature is set to plummet later this week, frosts throughout the night - but dry.   That is a blessing because everywhere is still sodden and every dry day means a little less waterlogging.

But yesterday (and today actually) the temperature 'soared' to 7 degrees, the sun shone, there was little or no wind and the farmer and I, with Tess in the back, set off after lunch for a 'ride out'.

On the moors leading up into Swaledale they were burning the heather.   This is done every year to keep the heather short - it is a kind of pruning really.   These are grouse moors and grouse (and moorland sheep) feed on heather.   If it wasn't burnt back it would become leggy and die out.   The air was filled with the aromatic smell, which was not unpleasant.

Up on the tops we could see the little town of Reeth in the sun; we made for there and then turned North up into Arkengarthdale (named after the Arkle beck - all dales are named after their watercourses).   Once up on the really high moor we looked down on the village of Langthwaite with its church and typical grey stone cottages - a lovely little village which featured often in the James Herriot series (particularly The Red Lion pub).

Higher up still there is no vestige of Spring anywhere.   Patches of snow lie and the watercourses look cold.   We stopped at a track to have a walk with Tess only to find that after a short distance it was a ford across a beck and too deep to cross.   So we carried on climbing until we came to the Tan Hill pub - the highest pub in England, on the edges of Swaledale and Teesdale.   In the distance the higher hills of Teesdale were swathed in snow and even at the Tan Hill pub there was enough snow lying around for children to be snowballing.  

And so we tootled back through Swaledale until we came to Ivelet - one of my favourite packhorse bridges over the River Swale.   Here we stopped, walking down the hill and over the bridge and into the field to walk by the river.   The river was in gentle mood and how Tess enjoyed the new smells.

We were out for three hours - one of them spent in the fresh air and goodness me, how much better one feels for that. Coming home past plenty of churchyards, gardens and roadsides awash with snowdrops in bloom did the soul good too. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Walk on the Wild Side

For the past few weeks it has been too wet for me to walk in the fields but yesterday they had dried up  considerably so the farmer and I had a walk after lunch.   I had been eager to go because we have six hen pheasants who spend most of their day under our bird feeders and I wanted to trace their path.

They roose in our plantain (see photograph) every night, sitting on the lower branches.   When the farmer takes the dogs for their evening walk as the sun goes down, he sees all six, walking in single file down the side of the hedgerow towards their roost.   And when he takes the dogs at sun-up in the morning he seems the same six walking in single file up the hedgerow to the bird feeders.   I have been trying to get a photograph of them but it is useless through double glazing and each time I creep out of the back door and peep round the corner they go discreetly under the holly trees until I have gone.

We saw that a rabbit's nest had been pulled out and completely destroyed in the plantain, most likely by a fox, so those hens are wise to roost up in the branches out of his reach.

There is still wood to be gathered, wood which was felled by the Winter gales.   The farmer has pulled it out of the beck so that it can dry in the sun but any day now he will bring it into the shed to be sawn into logs on the next wet day.

I hope you can see the pulled out nest in the photograph.   The rabbit population is very active again after months when conditions were so wet that many of them would have been flooded out.   Not that there seems to be any shortage of rabbits around, as Tess and Tip know only too well.   In the little barn at the bottom of the pasture we seem to once again have a family of sandy-coloured ones - very distinctive to us and probably to that fox too.  

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Problems, Hopes and Dreams.

I am having real problems with my whole computer system.   My hub is faulty and I have requested a new one and now, this morning, my computer is playing tricks with me.   I think the time is rapidly approaching when I shall have to have a new Laptop.

So, in case I am off line for a few days - can I suggest you go to Rachel's (Slow Lane Shuffle on my side bar) new site - - hopefully my son will shortly put you a link for easy reference (I am useless at such things) where you can read my contribution.

You can also see a first school photograph of me, very battered photo it is too, which my brother carried around with him throughout the Second World War, so it has been to Dunkirk and to the relief of Belsen, to name but two places.

In the meantime, I shall keep trying to get on line, but it has taken me an hour this morning to get this far and now lunch calls. Scotch eggs (eat your heart out  John from Going Gently), cauliflower cheese and dry-cure back bacon since you ask.  (Can't use the oven as there is a fruit cake cooking in there.) 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Spring seems to have arrived.

Dare I whisper it?   Yesterday it snowed here all day and there was a fierce wind blowing.   I didn't put my head out of the door and really missed my walk.

This morning the temperature is almost ten degrees warmer and the snow has gone.   Water is running down the road like a river but walking is pleasant in the Southerly breeze.

On my kitchen window sill a huge bunch of daffodils has come into bloom.   They give me a surge of joy every time I look at them.   Alright, Spring might not have come, I concede that.   There may be snow again tomorrow.   But when you get a day like today you know that things are on the up.

I took a couple of photographs on my walk, looking over the  fields. There is nothing special about the photos except they are both of views I like and today - with that beautiful blue sky - they make easy viewing.

I have requested a new hub from BT as my computer engineer says my hub is faulty.   Watch this space for results - but for the time being all is well and I can get on line.

I have had such a busy morning and it has all been ordinary stuff. First the computer man came and then while he was here the oil delivery man came and he always likes a cup of tea with two sugars.   So that was another chat.   I managed to get a large pan of soup (parsnip, carrot, potato, onion, tinned tomatoes, cannelini beans and sliced up roasted sausages) into the simmering oven before the builder came to measure up for a new Aga chimney as ours has developed a hole in it.    That meant another chat and another cup of tea to be made.   And then it was lunch time.   These are the sort of days that I like best.

The builder tells me that one of his daughters is backpacking for a year - Dubai, Thailand and now Australia.   Isn't it wonderful what young folk can do these days?   I am just going to try to find her blog and read about her adventures.   She has just paid $100 to get to the top of Sydney harbour bridge - amazing. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Bottle or basin?

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday - Pancake Day - I suppose the beginning of Lent has to be celebrated with something luscious and sweet before the days of abstinence to come.   I love pancakes and so does the farmer, so there is no way I can get out of making them; nor would I wish to.

But walking round the Supermarket with the farmer yesterday morning (he has to take me as I cannot drive at present) we came across a large unit holding nothing but plastic squeezy bottles of something optimistically called "Pancake Mix".   Our Supermarket is on a large army garrison so that I would guess a large proportion of  the customers are young women with children.   Those pancake mix bottles were disappearing off the shelves as if by magic.

We speculated on why it would be necessary to buy Pancake mixture when the stuff is so easy to make and when you make it yourself you know exactly what is in it.   Flour, egg and milk and that's it, so why would you need to buy it?

Fling all three ingredients in a basin, whisk it up until bubbles appear on the top, cover it and put it in the fridge for an hour and there you are - it is all ready to use. And, what is more, you know exactly what is in it - a few additives in the flour and everything else is untainted.   In these days of the horsemeat scandal I am suspicious of everything - this may well be only the tip of the iceberg I feel.

Apparently Domestic Science, or whatever it is called these days, is to be taught to everyone in schools again from something like 2014.
In my day at school you only did D S if you were considered too poor at academic subjects to merit more 'serious' subjects. Didn't this imply that only 'dim' people could spend their time doing menial things like cooking - all those in other jobs could afford to pay somebody to do it for them?

I am not for a minute suggesting that everyone should spend all day slaving over a hot stove but really I do things have come to a pretty pass when folk can't even make their own pancakes.

Ours by the way were delicious - three each, served with lemon juice and caster sugar.   The farmer pointed out that he used to have his with Golden Syrup - I offered him some but he turned it down.
Not sure whether that was because he really preferred lemon or whether he thought he would incur my wrath at eating something so obviously not good for his health or weight!

It is snowing heavily here in North Yorkshire - as the weather forecast said it would.   It is supposed to turn to rain later.   In the meantime it is grey and bitterly cold.   I hope my new header cheers you all up a bit. 

**  I am experiencing problems with the internet (what's new) - it keeps coming and going, so if I am off air for a couple of days you will know why.   The computer man is coming in the morning and hopefully he will sort it out - it seems I may need a new hub.

Monday, 11 February 2013

It is not yet Winter Past

Wake up this morning to an inch of snow and an icy wind.  The temperature is neither freezing nor thawing, but sitting on 0 degrees.
I am afraid I am a bit of a traditionalist and I still do my main washing load on a Monday.   Because there was a sharp wind blowing and the sun was out, I decided to peg it out on the line and in no time at all it was dry.  For the first time in weeks I ironed sweet-smelling clothes full of fresh air - and it was a delight I can tell you.

Now, mid-afternoon, the snow is beginning to go and while this morning everywhere was beautiful and pristine-white, it is now a dirty grey and slushy.   So any positive feelings I had about it this morning (and believe me they were very scanty to start with) have vanished and I am looking towards drawing the curtains, switching on soft lighting and sitting by the log burner.

Did anyone else watch the BAFTA awards last night?   Is it just me and sour grapes?  After all, I love the cinema and admire many of the actors greatly, but as they walk down the red carpet (particularly the women I have to say) there do seem to be a lot of poseurs, lots of preening women, standing in the pose which they know shows them off to their best advantage.  Of course there are men too but George Clooney I would forgive anything.

And of course, just as I am thinking this and getting rather sickened by it all, along comes Judi Dench, looking as charming as ever, and then Helen Mirren - two ladies of such elegance, neither of whom appear to have the slightest 'side' to them and I think I am imagining it all.

My photograph shows the front garden at eight o'clock this morning - now it is a very different picture with lots of slush about.   Still, the aconites are still glowing yellow under the shrubs and I am clinging on to that.   Spring is not far away.   

Sunday, 10 February 2013

On the Farm.

First things first - the dinner went well and the beef was cooked well.   Rib is one of the better cuts and for once I followed an Aga recipe exactly both for which shelf to put it on and how long to leave it.   We had Yorkshire puddings with it and roast and new potatoes, along with mixed vegetables.   For pudding we had a mixed fruit crumble - and then cheese and biscuits.   We have just eaten up the left overs for lunch today.  Lovely laughs and chats afterwards too.

Today the weather is awful, cold, sleet/snow and breezy.   Not the kind of weather to persuade you to put your nose out of the door.  The farmer was just right with his work this week.

During the awful gales of a couple of months ago the wind brought down a mature alder tree in our little wood.   A couple of days ago the farmer went off with his chain saw and spent the day sawing it into chunks and piling them on to his trailer and bring them back home into the shed.   Yesterday he sawed the chunks into manageable logs for the stove and stacked them up to dry.

Although we still have a dry wood pile we do have to remind ourselves that we are really only half way through Winter and we don't want to run out of wood, so this stack of drying wood is quite comforting.   And the farmer got it in just right - before this wet weather set in.

Maybe we will get more snow.   It is forecast for the high Pennines and we are really in the lower slopes, so it is anybody's guess.   What is for sure though is that we shall not be able to compete with the Eastern States of America, where some places have had three feet of snow.

Our wood burner is lit and burning merrily and I can just see the farmer's slippers sticking out in front of it if I turn in my computer chair.   Tess is laid out in front of it, full of offcuts from that joint of Beef rib.  Looks as if all's right with the world.  

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Dinner Party

Tonight the farmer and I are giving a small dinner party for three dear friends.   As befits my advancing age I am spending the day gradually getting ready for it, rather than rushing about at the last minute as I used to do.

But if there is anything nicer than eating with friends on a cold, February night when snow is forecast again for tomorrow; and sitting afterwards by the log-burner and chatting and having a drink, then I can't imagine what it can be, can you?

The only slight 'fly in the ointment' is that I am cooking a large piece of rib of beef which I bought for Christmas and didn't use and I feel it has been in the freezer long enough - and getting beef just right is not my strong point - so keep your fingers crossed for me please.

And speaking of flies in the ointment, yesterday the farmer used an expression I have never heard before.  There are of course colloquial expressions in the UK (as I suppose there are all over the world) and they are often regional.   I can't remember what prompted his exclamation but whereas I would have said, "there is more than one way to kill a cat rather than choking it with cream" he said "there's more jam than Hartley's" - ever heard that before?

Friday, 8 February 2013

History and the Kindness of Strangers.

I am still reading  Roads to Santiago  by Cees Nooteboom - and wonderful it still is.   I am reading each chapter twice as it is so enthralling.

Yesterday I read a chapter on the medieval city of Trujillo - a small, intimate place with only ten thousand or so inhabitants.   The town square is totally dominated by a statue of Pizarro, who went to Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia with a force of 130 men, 40 cavalry and 2 small cannons - and by subterfuge and clever warfare managed to totally wipe out the complete Inca civilisation, laying it in ruins.

What came back to Spain of course was untold wealth in the form of gold, silver and jewels - and the men who returned (Pizarro was not among them and his leathery corpse is still visible in Peru!) were rewarded with being made Counts, Dukes, Knights and the like - and having enough money to build grand castles in places like Trujillo.   These palaces now lie in ruins, or have been taken over by monasteries or somesuch.   And tourists passing the statue of Pizarro hardly glance in his direction.   How are the mighty fallen and all that?

A few years ago, walking in the Extramadura wih Ramblers' Holidays, we spent a day in Trujillo, wandering amongst the buildings and if my memory serves me right, eating a delicious omelette in the town square.

At the end of the day we were supposed to return to the Coach Park and the Tourist Coach to take us to a hotel for the night.   There were so many roads leading off the square that the farmer and I had quite forgotten which one led to the Park - and the time for meeting was drawing near.

A handsome Spaniard emerged from an office building and made his way towards his car.   I approached him and asked if he spoke English - he didn't.  I managed to indicate that I wanted to know where the Coach Park was.  He opened the rear door of his car, ushered us in and sped down one particular road.   Two minutes later he let us out at the Coach and sped off before we even had time to really thank him.   Now I shall remember him far more than I shall remember Pizarro! 

Thursday, 7 February 2013


Yesterday at Wensleydale Writers' Group we had our annual postcard morning.   The chairman deals out a face-down postcard to each member of the group (twelve yesterday) and we then have half an hour to write about it.   If we really don't like the card we are given we can change it - but I was quite happy with mine - a card showing a line of bridges over a canal in Venice, all of them reflected in the water of the canal.   Some of you have suggested I put it on my blog for you to read, so here it is:


How lucky is that?   A photograph of my favourite place in the whole world - Venice.   My first visit, forty years ago, remains one of the most magical visits of all my tours abroad over the years.

We stayed in a Pensione called Il Buccintoro, close by the Arsenale
and facing on to the lagoon.   It was late October and there were few visitors.   The weather was warm and hazily sunny, perfect for exploring the city and the islands.

In the mornings we were woken by the sound of school children walking along to school at eight o'clock, satchels swinging as they laughed and chattered. Occasionally a large ship would slip past our window on its way up the channel.   Otherwise in my memory it was silent.

We would go into San Marco every morning, whatever we had planned for the day, because we never tired of looking at this beautiful building with its decorated golden walls.   Amusingly, one morning, we needed to buy something (I forget what) from a particular shop and I worked out how to ask an official in the cathedral if he could tell me where the shop was.   My Italian must have been pretty awful because he took us behind the altar and showed us the finger bone of a dead saint!

We would go to Rialto on the vaporetto and wander round the fish stalls, looking at incredible fish, the likes of which we had never seen before.   We would ride up and down the Grand Canal, marvelling at the  Palaces and the tiny gardens.   And then we would go into St Mark's Square and sit at Florian's drinking exorbitantly-priced coffee, but worth it to be so near the Campanile bell and the clock where every hour, on the hour, automata would come out and perform their ritual .  It was all quite magical.

One of the highlights was to queue at La Fenice theatre - a wooden structure which had stood for hundreds of years - to get seats for the Shanghai Opera - such an experience. Sadly the theatre burned to the ground a few years later.

Two years ago the farmer and I went back.   He had never been before but had listened to me singing the praises of my favourite city - and looking at the pictures I have of Venice dotted around the farmhouse.   He was distinctly underwhelmed.

The crowds to see inside San Marco stretched way down the Lagoon and the waiting time for entry was two hours.   Once you got inside you were shepherded round quickly and told to keep moving (we didn't go in).   There was a high tide and St Mark's Square was flooded - the water came up through the drains and there was a faint smell.  I shalln't go back again.

Now all I have to remind me, apart from the paintings and the photographs, is a small oval tin which held Chocolate Pastilles and which I bought there.   The pastilles are long gone - now it houses my needles and a thimble.


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Writers' Group

Today is cold with a sharp Northerly wind blowing straight down from the Arctic.   But the sun is shining, and that makes things much better.   The snow has not altogether gone, but hangs about in the shelter of stone walls, "waiting for a bit more to join it" as my old Mother used to say.

Today has been our monthly Writers' Meeting, and one of my favourites.   Once a year we meet without any written piece to read.   Instead, we are 'dealt' a postcard (face down) and we have around half an hour to look at it and write about it - spontaneously.  If we find the post card totally uninspiring we can ask to change it, but otherwise we get our heads down and write.

There were twelve of us today.   Postcards ranged from scenes (harbour, Venice), to paintings/drawings (Van Gogh), sketches - all manner of things.  What resulted were twelve very diverse pieces of writing - all interesting - some long, some short and concise (I do wish I could do short and concise).  Each writer read our their piece of work and then we had a discussion.   It was a very jolly morning with a lovely group of people.

After lunch Tess and I had our first walk of the week down the lane.   It has been too snowy and slippery until today but today was quite pleasant as long as you were wrapped up well.   It's amazing what a difference a bit of sunshine makes isn't it? 

Monday, 4 February 2013

Exciting news.

What exciting news that the skeleton unearthed in Leicester has indeed been confirmed as that of Richard III beyond doubt.   I am really fascinated by the whole thing and am looking forward to the programme about it on television tonight.   The farmer, on the other hand, is pretty underwhelmed I would say.

Considering that he was only the actual king of England for two years (1483-5) he achieved remarkable notoriety -mainly I think because he is always portrayed as a "baddie", particularly as he is widely believed to have murdered his two nephews in the Tower.

Having just read a couple of Cees Nooteboom chapters about the royal houses of Spain and how they intermarried to the point of incest, just to keep the throne 'in the family' so to speak , nothing would surprise me about history here in the UK at that time.   But of course, nothing can be proved about anything after all this time.

There is no doubt that Richard's character is disputed and - had he lived after Bosworth -he might have been an able ruler.   What is for sure, now that they have verified that the skeleton found in Leicester is indeed Richard's, is that a lot of people hated him.   The inuries to his body are enormous - something like seven wounds to the head, all of which would have killed him instantly - plus various other wounds to the body.   Life was hard and cruel and life was also cheap in those days wasn't it (as it still is in some parts of the world today.)?

If you want to know more about Richard's childhood home of Middleham Castle, only four miles from our farm, go to their site.  It is run now by English Heritage and is still a formidable building.  

On a completely different note I see that another of our MP's has fallen from grace today by pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice or somesuch.  I might be getting old, and I know that I am wrong to think like this, but I still belong to that group of people who expect my Members of Parliament to be honest and straightforward; and when they are not then I am - yet again - disappointed. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

What a view!

Today we have been to tea to friends up the Dale.   Their new house is 'upside down' in that the bedrooms are on the ground floor and the sitting room and kitchen are on the first floor.    And the reason for this is a very good one.

The views across Wensleydale and into Bishopdale are spectacular.
And what a neighbour.   Their neighbour is shown in the two photographs here - they live next door to Bolton Castle - a medieval castle which is being featured in tonight's Country File programme on BBC1,    I took one of these photographs from their front drive.

I am now feeling rather full of newly baked scones, jam and clotted cream, which have done nothing for my diet - but they were jolly good for all that.  A bleak day tomorrow for food should make up for it.

Enjoy your Sunday evening.  

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Thief of Time.

Oh dear, how true that saying is.   There is no doubt in my mind that Procrastination is indeed the thief of time.  I am brilliant at procrastination - have a gold medal in it.   And at no time in the year is that more evident than at the end of January, April, July and
October.   Why is this so?

The answer lies in the dreaded VAT return.   In order to post the VAT return on line then I have to have the ledger up to date and balanced.   And in order to have the ledger up to date and balanced I have to have entered every invoice, cheque, transaction etc.

I pile them up in the "in" basket and leave it.   Every time I go into the study it shouts  'look at me!' and everytime I ignore it.   'I'll do it tomorrow' becomes my mantra. 

Today is crunch time.   The second of February and perhaps the best day to do it.   But this morning was the'First of the Month' coffee morning in our village hall.   I love to go to that as it is the only opportunity for folk like me, who live slightly outside the village, to meet and chat with friends.   So friend, W, came and collected me (I can't drive again at the moment, having had another, albeit very slight, attack) - I am very grateful to her for taking the trouble, so thank you W.

Now, there is a possibility that the local Hunt will be around chasing that 'Foxy-whiskered gentleman with black prick ears and sandy whiskers' as they have informed the farmer they will be in the area.   And, if they come past, I don't want to miss that as I could perhaps get a good photograph for the blog.   

So - maybe I will do the books in the morning.   But then, we have been invited out to tea tomorrow, so perhaps Monday is a better day.  And so it goes on.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Farming in this weather.

There is always work to be done on the farm and it is a seasonal thing.   There is a lovely Wendell Berry Poem called 'The Man born in Farming' which expresses it very well.  Everything goes around and comes around again, year after year.   I think this makes most farmers - and certainly my farmer - very philosophical about things.

But this last year has been exceptional in that it has been abnormally wet.   We have driven through to our feed merchants this afternoon and I don't think we have passed a single field which has not had a pond in it - and tractor tracks filled with water.

On our farm there are various jobs waiting to be done.   Our hedges are usually trimmed back in September/October, so that they have time to grow a little bit before bird nesting time.   The land has been too wet for the hedge cutting man to get anywhere near our hedges and in just a few weeks time it will be too late as the birds will begin to nest and we shall have to leave them for another year.   All the farmer has been able to do is to cut back the briars, which had grown out into the field.

7 tonnes of fertiliser (20:10:10) sits in bags in the tractor shed, waiting to be spread on the fields - now is the time, but it is too wet.

And our cattle in the loose housing for Winter are in urgent need of their half way clean out.   There comes a time when the depth of straw gets to the stage where it needs cleaning out and starting again.   Each morning the farmer spreads fresh straw but there is a limit to how much he can put in without beginning again. But normally he would heap the manure up in one of the fields and leave it to rot down - but again - it is too wet to drive on to a field with a heavy trailer of 'muck'.

To be honest I seem to be more bothered about it than the farmer, but then - as I said earlier - he is a man born to farming.

If anyone is interested "Country File" on Sunday evening on BBC1 features this area, in fact it is all within a ten mile radius of our farm and the feature where Jules goes round with Davinia and Michael, our local vets, actually includes our friend and neighbour (whose cattle we over-winter) when the vets visit for pregnancy testing.  I do hope some of you look at it - it gives you an idea of the area we live in.