Friday, 29 March 2013

All Mod Cons.

Today several things happened which set me thinking about all the 'modern' things we take forgranted.

Let us start with communications by telephone.    Most of us round here still have a landline - in fact nobody of my acquaintance relies totally on the mobile phone.   The farmer and I both have one - I know his number and it is stored in my mobile in case I need to contact him.   I don't know my own number by heart and never have my phone switched on anyway - I use the phone purely in an emergency if I wish to get hold of somebody when I am out somewhere.   But most of my friends - and  I - am with a phone company which is having problems at the moment because of the heavy snow North of here.   The mast is out of action and none of us is getting a signal.   Suddenly we are all missing the fact that we haven't got instant contact with folk and it is causing consternation.   Friend, S, this morning had arrangements with her partner which broke down because of lack of contact phone lines - and both had to use an initiative which they probably found a bit rusty.   Of course, it worked out in the end - but it made me wonder how very used we have become to this 'easy' contact method. 

But, another fairly modern invention was put to good use this morning.   Friend J fell over the step as she came into the Golden Lion.  (as she later pointed out - she was coming in, not going out).
She fell really heavily and quite badly injured her face.   The pub instantly telephoned the Paramedic (on their landline) and within a couple of minutes he was there (he is based at our local Medical Practice, which is only just down the road luckily).   J got a thorough going over - the Paramedic was marvellous, treating her injuries, calming her down (and some of us) and generally making her feel that all was well.   After an hour of thorough checks he left her - and us - to our coffee and later on to a carvery lunch, by which time J had more or less recovered (with a very black eye) - thanks in large part to the calming and professional influence of the Paramedic.

Our market was all there today - it is Good Friday and the racing stables in Middleham are open, which means there are plenty of people around in our little town.   Walking up the market place between the stalls and seeing long lines of colourful primulas in full blossom and (for the first time in a week) seeing the sun shining, there was at last a feeling of Spring in the air, even if the temperature was only 4 degrees Celsius. 

Toasted hot cross buns for tea.  

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Buttertubs

Next Wednesday is our writers' group meeting and we are all going to submit a piece on our part of the world in relation to the forthcoming Le Tour de France in 2014, which is coming right through the Dale.   Sitting up in bed this morning drinking my morning tea, I began to think about what I should write.   But I got side-tracked.

I find that early in the morning, when my mind is more or less empty of the trivia that fills it as the day wears on, it is very easy to slip into a kind of Stream of Consciousness.   And so I did.

One of the places Le Tour will pass is the Buttertubs, as they traverse on their carbon fibre, phenominally expensive bikes.  'Buttertubs' I thought, and then I was off back into the past, forgetting all about bikes.

I was five years old again, it was a Friday in the school holidays and I was with my mother on Lincoln market.  We would have got there possibly by train from our village three miles down the line.  I loved it when we went by train; so much more exciting than going by bus.

Market day was Friday in Lincoln and we always headed for the Butter Market to stock up for the weekend with all the things my mother put on the table.

First of all was the farm butter, bought from one of the farmers' wives who had a stall in the market.   Each 'pat' would be hand-crafted into a rectangular shape with a special pattern on the top.   Three sides would be covered with greaseproof paper which would be wrapped over the top when you bought the 1lb. slab.  Tiny beads of moisture would be oozing out of the salty sides and my mouth would begin to water at the thought of home made bread and this farm butter for tea when we got home.

Then we would go to the meat stalls, all manned by local and well-known butchers.   We would buy potted beef in a round tub.   Each tub would have a thick layer of clarified butter on the top to keep it fresh.   Then my mother would buy her Sunday joint - pork, beef, lamb in rotation (chicken was a real luxury food in those days).   She would always make sure there was a nice lot of fat on the joint to keep it moist and make it tender.   Then there would be the large brawn, moulded in a special jelly mould and looking like jelly but filled with bits of various 'porky' meats (best not to enquire what they were).

Off home we would trundle, to where quite often the bread had been left rising in the hearth in front of the fire.   And that was our food basically, supplemented by things from the garden - vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, apples - whatever was in season.

We ate well for the times I suppose and both my parents lived on well into their eighties.   But when I look at what they ate now and compare it with what we eat and what is now thought to be 'bad for us' - it causes some thought:-

Farm butter - we rarely eat butter.   Oh yes, it is delicious, particularly on the crust of a newly-baked loaf (and white at that), but isn't animal fat supposed to be bad for us?

An enormous amount of meat, much of it fat meat.   We eat very little meat and when we do eat it, we eat only lean meat.

My mother made her own cakes - always with butter and there would be five or six types on the table at a meal.    Sugar?   Not good for us - we rarely eat cake.

Fat meat?   We kept our own pig and always had a flitch of bacon hanging in the kitchen.   My father would take the carving knife and cut himself a slice of bacon for breakfast (far more fat than lean - there was usually a contest to see who could rear the fattest pig) and fry two eggs in the fat which ran out of the bacon.

Oh happy days!   Was all that food really so very bad for us - and have we gone too far the other way?  Or am I looking at the whole picture through rose-tinted specs?

Ah well!   Time to get up and get into the real world.  See you tomorrow.        

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cheer up!

This sort of weather tends to bring on a fit of misery at this time of the year.   Good Friday on Friday - the time of Easter eggs and daffodils - and what have we here in the Yorkshire Dales?   We have snow - still deep in places and the odd thing is that in some directions the snow disappears after a couple of miles, so we must be on the extreme edge of things.

It is definitely the time for staying indoors and sitting by the stove - or maybe it is just that my blood is getting a bit thin.   Baking a fruit cake this afternoon warmed the house up and left a delicious smell everywhere.   Another one to bake in the morning, so it will be the same tomorrow.

This afternoon we went down to our Feed Merchant to stock up on Hen Food, Dog and Cat Food and Wild Bird Food.  Within a couple of miles of the farm the snow petered out, but down our lane, as you will see in the photographs, there is still a lot.   And it has been snowing lightly all day, but the roads are dry and clear.

One of the photographs shows East Witton village Green - a very large one which dates back to the days when the Lord of the Manor assembled his fighting men (and counted them) and another shows the approach to the horse racing town of Middleham.   On Good Friday every year Middleham racing stables (I think there are something like 17 in the town) are open to the public and usually thousands turn out to look round - all in aid of charity.  I don't expect the snow will put them off - some years it has poured with rain and there has been no difference.

I took a quick snap as we passed of a field where the snow has really shown up the old rig and furrow method of farming in the Middle Ages; we have many fields like this round us but the snow does make it easier to see what;s what.

Finally our yard   and the cow shed door - there the snow still lies heavy and blows in each night although the farmer clears it in the morning with his tractor.

There will be an end to this awful weather I know, but for me it can't come soon enough.I have just watched the news on TV which
showed farmers in the Isle of Man digging sheep out of snow drifts.
The poor sheep looked absolutely exhausted but were being taken to a warm hay barn - so let's hope many of them survived.   As one farmer's wife pointed out, it is their livelihood which has gone.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Monday, 25 March 2013

Good News

Well, I suppose most of it is good news.   First of all on the medical front, I have been today to see the Cardiologist and he says I am fine - just a few days on a heart monitor to make sure but he thinks nothing will show up. That's the trouble with 'one off' attacks, it is more or less impossible to diagnose what they are, whereas if I had half a dozen in a week they could quickly diagnose the problem.

On the weather front it is windy and absolutely freezing cold.   We still have an awful lot of snow lying about, although the roads are clear.   What is strange is that two or three miles to the East of us there is no snow at all, whereas  go further into The Dales and the snow gets deeper and deeper.   It is all set to last until at least the beginning of Easter with two or three centimetres of snow forecast for overnight tonight.

Here in the UK we are fairly used to contrary weather and rarely do we have a warm Easter (can anyone remember one?), but really, this weather is quite exceptional.   Keep warm. 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Which is worse?

A couple of weeks ago there was a programme on TV in which a British farmer from somewhere like Gloucestershire went to work for a week with a tribal chief in Kenya - a tribe which existed, it seemed, solely to breed cattle and goats and whose whole livelihood depended upon this.

He found it a humbling experience as their life style was so different and so limited by so many different things - their remoteness, their lack of grazing land, their lack of proper water, the threat from wild animals (mainly lions and hyenas), I could go on.   Yet it was the life they had always known and in those parts this particular family were 'rich' - they had large herds of cattle and goats, they were all healthy.   Their diet consisted of blood gained by bleeding a cow, milk and maize meal.   The young men of the tribe had to walk miles every day to find enough food for the cattle and during the non-rainy season they lived with their cattle, sleeping on the ground where the cattle ended up at the end of each day.  This was necessary to protect the beast against wild animals and also neighbouring tribes who would try to steal them - and would be prepared to kill in order to do so, so that all the young men carried weapons.

They practised circumcision on the young men (don't shudder you lot out there) and presumably on the women too I would guess.

Now I am re-reading Colin Thubron's 'To a Mountain in Tibet' - one of the most amazing books.   Early on, while climbing up the track towards the sacred Mount Kailas (holy to one fifth of the world's population - i.e. Hindu and Buddhist -) he meets an almost destitute man from a remote village.   The man says that his old horse is dying, that he has no money to replace it, that his house is falling down and that there is no money to be had in the place.   He has never been out of the valley and doesn't see himself every getting anywhere, or the situation any better.

And I ask myself - appalling as these situations seem to us- reading or watching from the comfort of our armchairs, a coffee and perhaps a box of chocs or a whisky by our sides,  do we have any right to do anything about this?  (the farmer when he returned intended to raise money for a bore hole for the family) and is this poverty as bad as/any worse than that of some of our inner city families who are poor or even sometimes homeless in the most dismal conditions?   Do we have any right to interfere in the affairs of another country - i.e. a pressing issue like female mutilation, which happens in so many African countries and which is an appalling injustice to womens'rights apart from anything else.  And if so, where does it all end?

These problems bother me every time I read of them or see a programme about them.   The Kenyan tribal family felt they were very privileged and rich - there were many families living in very much worse conditions.  And as for the man in Tibet - if he had never been to Khatmandu what would he make of life here?   At the end of his week in Kenya, the farmer showed the men of the tribe a video of his own farm in the UK.   They were enthralled by so much grass, the virtual freedom of the herd (who guards them against lions and hyenas they asked), no guard of the herd (what if another tribe tries to steal them) and the milking machines (what happens to the calves if you steal all the cows' milk).

As I get older these issues cause me a lot of food for thought, but as the weather is still pretty awful (although the sun is shining) I suppose it gives me something to think about as I sit here in the warm.  

Saturday, 23 March 2013

What to do?

That is the question.   It has snowed all day and the snow lies around six to eight inches deep, there is a strong wind blowing and the snow is drifting and our lane is in danger of becoming blocked where it meets the main road.

Of course there are things I could do.   There is an article about the Tour de France to write for our next writers' meeting in ten days time; I have a crochet blanket about a third done and lying in my sewing bag by the side of the settee; it is almost the year end and there is plenty of book work to be done there; I have a fruit cake promised for my son and his wife for the week after next.

What have I ended up doing?  Absolutely nothing.   I have been sitting on the settee in front of the wood burner, only shifting to get two meals - sausage, egg and chips for lunch (a lazy meal but it is so long since I allowed us to have chips that we really enjoyed it) and
cheese and chutney sandwiches with a beetroot salad for tea.  I feel
thoroughly lazy having devoured the Saturday papers from cover to cover, done every available sudoku and crossword and not lifted a finger to do anything else.

I really wonder how folk who live in countries where this kind of weather is the norm every year manage to keep going.   I could make the excuse that if I was younger I would be out there clearing a path through the snow, or pulling my children on their sledges, or building a snowman.   As it is I blame my age and say I am better staying in in the warm.   What have you done on this snowy day?   If you have built a snowman, do put a photograph on for us all to see.  

Friday, 22 March 2013

Here it comes again.

Just when we thought we had seen the last of it for this year, we woke this morning to another white world - one that is getting whiter by the minute.   And, judging by the weather map at lunch time, we in the North East of England are getting off best for a change.   So far we have had about four inches here and it is still snowing and blowing a gale, so that the fine snow is piling up in drifts.  I suppose the one consolation, as it is already March 22nd, is that once the snow stops actually falling then it will begin to slowly recede.   During this time I am staying indoors, the farmer is taking the dogs for their walks and staying inside at other times.

He has just cleaned both of our dining tables with white spirit and a heavy hand and is now about to polish them both with beeswax polish.  I like when he does that as it makes the whole house smell beautiful.

The poor birds are suffering and the feeders are covered in all the small ones.   As usual,  the blackbirds are falling out over the meal worms; I am sure they waste more energy in their fighting than they need to and so have to find more food.   "Bird-brained" is not a saying for nothing (and yet birds like swallows can navigate from Africa to their old nest sites in our farm barn).  As with humans, I suppose, it takes all sorts.

Friend W and I had expected to go to Kirby Lonsdale today to meet friends P and D for lunch in an Italian Bistro we like.   Any such thing is well off limits in this weather as it entails going over the Pennine watershed which ever way we go and with the strong East wind blowing I am sure the road will be almost impassable.   So that treat must wait for another day.

The wood-burner beckons, although it will be a tussle to find a place in front of it without displacing Tess who is laid out flat like a hearthrug (and with her coat about that length too as she is desperately in need of a trim).  Keep warm all you cold folk out there.  Spring will soon be here - I promise you.   

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Do we need to know?

I am beginning to think that Elizabeth (About New York) has a good point when she questions why we watch some of the television programmes when they are so full of doom and gloom and we can't do anything about it.   I wonder what you think.

Syria is a perfect example.   The appalling bloodshed, the hundreds of thousands who have become displaced and are living in refugee camps at best and at worst in any hole in the ground they can find that hasn't got someone else in it - for weeks it is headline news and we watch, helpless until suddenly we realise that it is no longer headline news.   That doesn't mean that it has gone away - it means that the news reporters have moved on and that people have lost interest.   The same is true of  Afghanistant, of the Jewish/Arab problems in the Gaza strip, of the huge Nuclear accident in Japan, which certainly hasn't gone away.   Does it become 'out of sight out of mind' and is it important that this doesn't happen?   I really don't know any more.

What I do know is that it has always been so.   Burns used the phrase "Mans' inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn" in the late eighteenth century.   How very much more we are aware of it these days when it is transported into our living rooms while we sit eating our tea.

There is no answer of course.   Yes we do need to know about these things I suppose even though we can do nothing about them.   We give millions on Red Nose Day - we trust that all of it gets to where it should be going.   Certainly all of the aid in the form of food and blankets to refugees doesn't reach its destination because there will always be people who don't care, people who are prepared to let others starve in the pursuit of money for their own ends.   Nothing changes.  In some parts of the world life is cheap.

I watched a tiny baby this morning, snug in his carry cot, blue blankets, blue clothes, pink shiny face - no doubting that this was a much loved boy - William I understand.   Sleeping peacefully with all he needs in the world.   All I can say is lucky William to be born into a country and a society which by and large cares for its own, never lacks for food and in spite of the doleful Budget predictions, still manages to keep its head above water.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Today was our monthly Poetry Meeting at friend W's house.  We meet in her conservatory and it is lovely to sit there and see her hens roaming around outside and the pony in the field looking over the gate and her neighbour T walking up the field to commune with his bees.   And in addition the poetry is good too!

This month there were only seven of us so in theory we should have got a lot of poetry read aloud.   But what in fact happened was that we had lots of interesting talk as well.   Friend S had a book of poetry collected for the Queen's jubilee - one poem for each year of her reign and each poem sparked such a lot of reminiscence.

For example one centred on the assassination of JFK and we were all able to recall where we were when we heard the news.   It seemed such a very long time ago.

I read a Betjamen poem 'Original Sin on the Sussex Coast' a rather sad poem in which JB recalls being bullied as a child.   Not at all his usual kind of poem - it did lead us to wonder about how poetry does fall into categories.   Some poets write intellectual poetry (Eliot?) while others seem to write from the heart (Rosetti?).  The friend S and I got to chatting about whether music might not be the same.  We thought of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven who after all overlapped in their lives yet Haydn's music to me is much less
'emotional' than that of Beethoven's Concertos.   I know this is a
very simplistic view but one we were happy to chat about.

We all left after a slice of a delicious apricot and almond cake baked by S and lovely little chocolate mouthfuls with a swirl of butter cream on the top.   A lovely civilised afternoon.

Shame I had to come home to a six o'clock news dominated by The Budget.  

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Short of time.

Today is flying by.   It is now 3pm and this is the first chance I have had to sit down at the computer.   It is my shopping day and these days the farmer has to ferry me back and forth as I am in a non-driving phase.   The journey could have been made in mid-winter.   There was an inch of snow on the ground, heavy snow hung on the fir trees and there was thick freezing fog on the top road to the supermarket.   The temperature, according to the dash board in the car, was 1.5, there was an ice symbol and it never got any higher.

I am a creature of routine and once back it is get the lunch, wash out the refrigerator, pack away the food, load the dishwasher and switch it on - then I can think of what I wish to do.   Several business things had to be done - so here I am at long last.

Do you remember the story a couple of weeks ago about the farmer
finding a balloon in the field and it having a tag on it?  I sent a letter to the little girl who had written on the tag and Diane, who is one of my followers and who teaches in Texas, picked up on it and is now in touch with the school.   She herself is a teacher and there is hopefully going to be some contact between the classes.   Such is the power of the internet. Used wisely and well and it is such a great advantage isn't it?   Sad that there is always somebody somewhere who has an ulterior motive.

As I write the snow is gradually disappearing and the sun is trying to shine through.   I am hoping it all goes away as friend W and I are set to go through to Kirby Lonsdale on Friday to meet our friends from Windermere for a lunch in the Italian restaurant there.
To get there we have to go over the tops and that means a height of well over a thousand feet, so we do want pretty good conditions.
We shall see.  

Monday, 18 March 2013

Howsley Rockley

Howsley Rockley.
A name
written in a book -
'Familiar Wildflowers'.
The ink black,
the script classic,
the hand unwavering.

Who was he?
I crossed him out
and wrote
P Smithson, aged 9
and a half.
Was he deceased by then? 

Had someone cleared
his bookshelves,
taken his books
to some old bookstore?

Where I had gone
to enter into what would become
in later years
that familiar, fusty old book.

I Googled him.
No mention.
His signature in the book
his only claim to fame.
What would he think,
this Howsley Rockley
of Google,
of Space travel,
of Mobile phones?

And one day
in some book store
will someone cross out
P Smithson
aged 9
and a half.   

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Surprise Journey

Far be it from me to wish an early death on a sheep. but as the farmer found a sheep dead by the midden this morning we had an unexpected journey to Hawes to the owner of the sheep to take the body.

The temperature was at best 3.5 but already the motor bikes and caravans are beginning to appear on the road through the Dale and coming back a sports car rally meant that beautiful low slung brightly coloured cars passed us for much of the journey.  So we did not go quite as fast as the farmer usually does.

However, he gives no quarter (nor does he expect it) so any photographs I took were quick shots taking pot luck.

There is still snow on the tops although the roads themselves are drier than they have been for a long time.   There was blue sky and as usual the views were beautiful.

The rather dull shot shows Addlebrough (snow covered), the flat topped hill in the background and to the right of the shot (I told you he gave no quarter).   It is a sobering thought that there was a Bronze Age fort on the top of Addlebrough and an old cairn on the top may well be the burial place of Authulf, the chief from whom the hill gets its name.  All I could think of as it looked at it was how jolly cold it must have been to live up there in those times - although I suppose it was the price you paid for the safety of being able to see anyone from miles away if they were coming to attack you.   The Romans lived up here too.

Very few lambs about yet - just a field here and there.   But the farmer did stop in a lay by so that I could take this delightful little lamb getting a better view by standing on its mum's back.  The sheep is a mule - a cross breed of a Swaledale and a Blue faced Leicester.   When they start off so pretty, why do they eventually become such ugly things (but maybe you could say that about everything, including us).  

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The good and the bad on the Lane.

There is A mistle thrush perfecting his song on the topmost branch of an ash tree down the Lane.   He hasn't got it quite right yet (he is not singing each song twice over) but he is having a good go at it and I am sure the beauty of his song will soon attract the ladies.

In the fields adjacent to the Lane the curlews are back.   Later on they will make their nests in the grass in our fields and rear their young.   In the meantime they are here in their flocks, whirling around and make their haunting cries until well after the sun has set.   What with them and the hooting of the owls in our Scots pines by the farmhouse it is not exactly noise free.

I have just been for a walk on a cold, sunny day.   The Lane has been despoiled by half a dozen enormous yellow painted arrows on the road and numerous yellow circles sprayed on the grass.   Yes, the Gas Board have been down and marked up various Gas leaks for repair - and not before time; some of the leaks have been there for a couple of years.   I just wish they wouldn't use such lurid paint, which takes a long time to disappear.  Friends S and T should be delighted with this news - if they are reading this.

In addition the rubbish-merchants have been at work too.   On my walk I counted six abandoned beer cans and two (presumably) empty Take Away boxes.  Why do people throw their rubbish out of the car window?   We tend to assume it is young folk, but I think that is an assumption we shouldn't make without proof.   When I lived in a pretty Cathedral city many years ago, I lived in a quiet cul-de-sac where a couple came to live not long after we arrived.  It was a friendly cul-de-sac but this couple made it clear that they didn't wish to socialise and felt themselves to be a cut above the rest of us.

That was until one day we read in the local press that the lady of the house had been fined for throwing litter into the hedge bottom.
She had thrown a pile of old magazines away and one of them had her name and address on it, so was traceable.   Did we feel a little smug?  You bet we did.

On the subject of litter - there is one such pile of litter down the Lane which is very welcome and which grows bigger and bigger as the years roll by.   Some years ago somebody dumped a heap of garden rubbish in the hedge bottom (again, why on earth do they go to such trouble) - the rubbish pile has long since been absorbed into the surrounding undergrowth but the snowdrop bulbs it contained have multiplied, so that now there is a splendid show every year.    

Friday, 15 March 2013

Shaping Britain.

Richard Morrison always writes an interesting column in Times 2 on Fridays and today is no exception.  He was asked the question "Who has done the most to shape modern Britain?"   His answer was - after reflection - one I think I would agree with.

He cited Lord Reeth, creator of the BBC, Attlee, architect of the Welfare State, Churchill fighting fascism, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet, Mrs Thatcher the scourge of the Unions and then choosing none of these, suggested it was Richard Beeching, who completely destroyed our railway system.   He was responsible for the closure of 4000 miles of railways and 2000 stations.

Now that roads are completely clogged up and our road surfaces totally destroyed through overuse and bad weather; now that almost all our freight has to travel by road, so that motorways and even minor roads are often totally overwhelmed by the amount of huge juggernauts; now that most towns have out-of-town supermarkets and shopping malls, so that our small producers are going out of business; and carbon pollution is responsible for a huge rise in cases of asthma, don't we all long for those far off days when you could catch a train at the local station and tootle along from A - G through all the other letters of the alphabet and still arrive with ones nerves intact most of the time.

Apparently Morrison says journeys by rail have doubled in the past decade and are set to go higher as more and more people are put off cars by the high cost of fuel and car insurance and the roads getting more clogged.

But the most ominous thing of all - he points out - is how many more stupid, ill advised things are being done by governments in the name of progress?   Things that only with hindsight will be proved to be wrong.

On a more cheery note - are you looking out for the comet?   I have just been out into the farmyard to have a look (find the new moon, let your eye come half way down towards the horizon and then look to the right of that).  I certainly thought I could see it faintly - but very faintly - and they did say that eyes over fifty years old would probably only see it through binoculars or a telescope - so I expect it was my imagination.   

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Looking for inspiration.

I do try to write something on my blog every day - alright I miss the odd day if I am too busy - but on the whole I guess I blog about six times a week.   But there comes a day, now and again, when I can think of nothing to say.   Do all writers have these kinds of days, when they feel flat and when their novels seem to be going nowhere fast?    And if they do, do they have a day off or do they sit with pen in hand, or I suppose it is computer screen on these days, and wait for inspiration to strike?   Because there is absolutely no doubt about it, it is only by writing regularly that one can achieve any kind of continuity in one's writing.

So what to write about today.

Well for a start, did you watch the emergence of the new Pope from behind the red curtain at the Vatican shortly after 8pm last night?   I am not a Roman Catholic, in fact I am a nothing - not religious in any sense of the word - but I had the feeling that I was watching History in the Making as he stepped out in front of a crowd estimated at over 150,000  - and all of them shouting 'Il Papa'.

I once ran across Rome, over the Tiber and up the road leading to St Peter's Square, in order to see the Pope of the day give his Sunday blessing.   His tiny figure appeared at a high window and his voice echoed round the square as the thousands fell silent and fingered their rosaries.   It was a very moving experience which I suspect had little to do with whether or not I was religious.

So we have a new Pope - the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas (albeit with Italian parentage) and the first Pope to take the name Francis - most likely after St Francis of Assisi.   After next Tuesday's installation things will settle back to normal I expect.

Well, there you are, I started today without any idea of what to write about - but I have managed it and I feel better for it.   Verbal constipation is not good for the soul.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Producing a Book.

Our Writers' Group have just finished producing another book - this one to be sold in aid of the Great Northern and Yorkshire Air Ambulance Services.

We are quite a thriving group with around a dozen members and everyone has produced two pieces for insertion in the book, which is called 'Flights of Fancy'.   All the entries are loosely based on flight of some kind.

What people don''t realise is just how much work goes into the production of such a book - and how the work always falls on a few.   The committee, elected at the beginning of the year, have done the work willingly; some have done more than others.   Our chairwoman, H, has worked so hard to oversee it - negotiating with the publisher, who himself is retired and is working on it for peanuts as a favour; negotiating with the proof-reader (twice and still mistakes are being found); organising the launch party.   It all takes time and energy and we are none of us in our youth.   One of our members has done all the illustrations and I must say they are brilliant.

What have I done?   Well not much to be honest.   I am retiring from the committee this year as I feel ashamed of how little I am able to do, particularly as I don't drive at the moment.   I am at least in charge of the wine at the launch party, so am able to do one thing. 

There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from the finished article, when all these stories, articles and poems come together as a cohesive whole and we are able to look at the book collectively and say "we did that!"   But, make no mistake about it, such a work does not produce itself and inevitably the work tends to fall on one or two.
Our Secretary, H, has very good computer skills and these have stood her in really good stead as she has sent e mails to and fro and invited various dignitaries to the launch.  I really don't know how  she keeps up with the work.   I wish I could send you all a copy.   

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Only connect.

As George (Transit Notes) reminds us, EM Forster in her novel "Howard's End" reminds us of the importance of connection with one another - how well that fits in with what the farmer and I were talking about over lunch today.

Maybe every generation throughout history has sat over a meal and chatted about how times have changed since they were young.   And maybe every generation has said that the changes in their lifetime were the most momentous.   But, really, regarding 'connections' between individuals, there can never have been changes like there have been in the last fifty years or so.

In my father's youth, you married someone from within an area of around five miles or so.   What other way was there of ever getting to meet otherwise?   My mother lived eleven miles away and my father walked over after work to see her until he had saved up enough to buy a bike.

In my youth only 'important' people had their own telephone (and then it was often a shared line).   We had a Judge in the village, a doctor, a vicar and a businessman - they all had cars but I don't remember any more.   And the businessman drove so slowly that my brother once overtook him on his bike!

If you needed to phone someone urgently you walked to one of the only two phone boxes in the village - and pressed button A (and if there was no reply button B to get your twopence back).

So how did we connect?   Well we visited our friends and relations, I suspect much more than we do now.   Our leisure time was taken up with Barn Dances, Drama Groups, Choirs, All kinds of church activities - plenty of connection there in more ways than one (Postman's Knock anyone?).

And we wrote letters.   I had a pen-friend up until the day I got married - her name was Diana Wickens and she lived in Bexhill on Sea - a place which seemed an awful long way away to me.  I wonder what happened to Diana.

Any presents we received had to be answered with a thank-you letter and all aunts and uncles had to be written to at birthdays.

But compare than with connections today.  We fly all over the world for holidays, on business, to see friends; we think nothing of getting in the car and going to the coast for the day (in my day it involved two trains and a long wait to complete a journey of thirty miles).

Very few people are without a telephone and similarly without a car.  As the years go by less and less people manage without a computer.   And once you have a computer a whole wealth of connections open up - e mails, Google, Facebook, Twitter and of course - best of all - Blogland.   Who would have thought that I could have daily chats with friends in America, Australia and South Africa?   Only connect indeed George.   

Monday, 11 March 2013

Found in the field.

Yesterday the farmer found the remains of a balloon bearing a tag in the hedge in our pasture.  He brought it back home.

I am not in favour of these balloons for the obvious reason that cows in particular are very curious creatures and would certainly investigate any such foreign body in the hedge.   Luckily, at this time of the year, there are no cattle out but there are sheep in the pasture so there is still a danger of the tag and remains of the balloon being eaten - and that is quite dangerous.

However, as an ex-teacher, I was delighted to read the tag - which I give you here with its lovely spelling.   It is from a child called Humera (not sure whether this is a boy or a girl):  "Please send me a letter and tell me what you like about where you live.  Thank you."

"I like living in Manchester has som pocs and heet in poc and shopng and panshop."   I have written back to Humera and sent a picture of Tess and just a little bit about the farm.   I do hope
he/she is on the look-out for just such a letter.

Communication....its all about communication, from balloons on tags, through letters (a dying art) and on to blogs.  Where would we be without communication?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Food eat and for thought today.

On March 10th this year two occasions coincide.   First of all it is Mothering Sunday (please don't call it Mother's Day) and also it happens to be my son's birthday.   So last night we went out, the four of us, to celebrate both occasions.

We went to a small Italian Bistro in our local market town.   It is many years since I went in it, but it is a regular haunt of my son and his wife, who are always singing its praises.   And I must say their song is justified - it was lovely.

Lovely ambience, nice and warm, lovely staff and delicious fairly priced food.   Who could wish for anything more?  The farmer and I both had the Chef's Special Tagliatelle with ham, mushrooms, tomatoes and cream, followed by home made bread and butter pudding and custard (a pud I like because it is not too sweet) and we came home happy and replete.   That is the end of our eating out for a while.

Now to something completely different. If, like me, you see footage of all these young people out on the town on a Friday and Saturday night almost legless with too much to drink.   And if you live in a large town you probably are used to seeing drug addicts around - I am sure there are some here but they are largely hidden.  But I think you will agree that alcohol and drug addiction are the real problems with young folk today. If this is the case then I urge you to read an article in Saturday's Guardian newspaper If you can't get hold of one then I am sure you can read it on line.

The said article is called "One Day at a Time" - and is written by somebody we all know for one reason or another (more infamous than famous) Russell Brand.  But the article comes straight from the horse's mouth so to speak, as Brand was himself addicted to both heroin and alcohol until ten years ago. It is the most readable and the most informative article I have read on the subject and really makes me much more sympathetic towards Brand than I ever felt before.

The snow has largely died out now apart from flurries now and again, but there is a North East wind blowing and it is still bitterly cold.  It does makes you feel that Spring has gone underground once more.   But I came across this quotation from Horace earlier today - and it does make you realise that the transition from one season to the next was ever thus:

...In Spring the swelling earth aches for the seeds of new life.
Lovely the earth in labour, under a nervous west wind.
The fields loosen,a mild wetness lies everywhere.
Confident grows the grass, for the young sun will do no harm.
The shoots of the vine do not fear a southerly storm arising
Or icy rain slanting from heaven under a north wind...
No, bravely they bud now and reveal their leaves.
So it was since the beginning of the world,
Here is the brilliant dawning and pitch of these days.

So the snow will go and the sun will increase in warmth and Spring will arrive at its own pace eh?     

Saturday, 9 March 2013


"April is the cruelest month" says Eliot at the opening of "The Waste Land", but sorry Mr. Thomas Stearns, I beg to differ this year - it has to be March.

You may remember that last Tuesday I said that Spring had come, that my friend G and I walked with the sun on our backs in glorious weather.   Well, forget it.   Today it is snowing, bitterly cold and set to continue.

So today I am giving you two photographs by way of comfort food should you happen to have a sweet tooth.   Last night, twenty of us went out for dinner together to a local hostelry.   Three courses.

Three courses at nine o'clock at night is just too much for me.   I opted to leave out the pudding course, mainly because I do not have a particularly sweet tooth.   Only a few people in the group missed out a course and I couldn't help noticing that the men who had only two courses missed out the savoury starter so that they could manage a pudding.   Some of the men had three courses along the lines of - pork and ham terrine with chutney, steak and chips and sticky toffee pudding.   By the time they were eating the pudding it was ten o'clock!

The farmer indulged in three courses, but at least he chose soup, chicken and three-way-brulee.   All fairly light there then.

So I took a photograph of the farmer's brulee and also of friend, C's, sticky toffee pudding and ice cream.

Do you think men do have a sweeter tooth than women?   Or maybe sweet puddings are comfort food - and if so do men need more comfort than women?

If I had to choose a comfort food it would probably be custard made from custard powder and full cream milk - or failing that a smoked, crisply fried, bacon sandwich.   My mouth is watering at the thought - I have simple tastes.

The farmer has gone to the Auction Mart as there is an important Show and Sale of Prime Beasts this morning.   All the cattle had to be there last night in pens, and judging began at 9.30 this morning.   At the end of the judging the beasts are sold - some for meat, some for breeding, some for growing on.   No doubt my butcher will be there to buy one of the prize winners - he usually has a rosette pinned on the front of the counter.   At least if I buy my meat there I know that horse has been nowhere near - and that is my comfort.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Le Tour de France

In 2014 - July - Le Tour de France is coming to the UK and the first stage in this country will be in the Yorkshire Dales and may even come past the end of our Lane (we haven't quite worked out the route yet, but it will at the very least come within half a mile or so).
My son, who is a Le Tour fanatic/afficionado/groupie - call it what you will, is ecstatic about the whole thing and is already deliberating on the best possible viewing place.

Our writer's group are wondering whether to produce another book for the event.   We have now produced two books, the first sold in aid of our local Wensleydale Railway and the second, due to be launched in a couple of weeks, for the local Air Ambulance Service.   Each member of the group writes two articles for inclusion and then the whole thing is put together by a committee, sent to a really helpful publisher and printed.   There is a lot of work involved.  But Le Tour does seem an ideal opportunity, too good to be missed.

As we are all going to produce a piece of writing for the next meeting, which is open manuscript, I have been doing a bit of research into the route this morning.   There is one troublesome aspect.   Once on a site it seems to be impossible not to read it all, follow links, find out more information and get side-tracked.

The other day I said on this blog that I still found it easier to pick up the Oxford Guide to English Literature to look something up  than to Google it.  Well, perhaps I am changing my views.   If I had wanted the information I have gleaned this morning, I would have needed to locate, lug around, look in the index, find the page and copy out the info I wanted from a dozen different books.

This morning I just printed off the relevant pages and have them here in front of me for when I want to begin writing the article.   Oh yes, I am coming around to a different way of thinking - particularly now that my new hub is here and things have speeded up no end. 

Anybody want anything looking up?  If so I'm your man - or rather woman.  

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

What makes us write?

Just as with any art form, some of us feel a compulsion to write, whether it be  articles, poetry, short stories or novels.   But also as with any other art form, it does the beg question why do we do it?

Is it our wish to interpret?  We could interpret a scene by writing a poem or an article about it, or painting it, or writing a piece of music inspired by it.  The result is the same.   We end up with our interpretation of what we are seeing in front of us.

Then comes the question - what to do with it.   The composer will hopefully find musicians who might play it for him - at whatever level it merits.   The painter may have his painting framed and hang it on his wall, or if he feels it is good enough, put it in a gallery and hope to sell it.  What of the writer?

I used to sell quite a few articles to various magazines - Educational ones, County Ones (e.g. Lincolnshire Life), The Lady.   It used to be a chore parcelling them up and sending them off.   Maybe these days with computers there is an easier way.   But I no longer do this.   I do, however, get pleasure from writing.

The very nature of the creative process is to share it I think?  I would be interested to see if you agree.  Luckily there are other ways to share written work without the chore of trying to get it published.   One is through blogging - after all your writing gets to a good, wide (and critical) audience.   Another is to join in a Writers' Group.

Our Writers' Group met this morning and although it was the AGM we did also find time to all read out our Open Manuscript pieces and to have brief discussions on them afterwards.  The whole process keeps you on your toes and makes you write.

In Blogland the standard of writing varies greatly and one cannot help but gravitate to a style one admires.   To this end I never miss Pamela (Pamela Terry and Edward) whose lyrical style is exceptional;  I also go to Tom Stephenson every day because he writes in such an amusing way that he always makes me laugh; and John (Going Gently) has such a wealth of stories about the Welsh village where he lives that one almost feels one knows the characters (a bit like a Welsh Archers).   Others, too numerous to mention give me a lot of pleasure.   Their writing certainly gets out into the world, literally, and in my view that is exactly what the creative process of writing should do.   Do you agree?