Wednesday, 31 December 2014


I have little spare time today as I am cooking a pot roast of beef and a fish pie for New Year's Eve supper with family and friends - my last bout of 'Christmas' entertaining.   But yesterday all three of my grandchildren came for a meal, together with one husband and one partner.   It is so rarely that I get to see them altogether  that I took a photograph of the five of them - just to remind me how wonderful they are and how proud I am of them all.   I thought you might like to see it.

Monday, 29 December 2014

A Christmas Present.

I thought that readers of my blog might like to see this lovely picture which was one of my presents at Christmas - from the artist herself.   It is a lino cut of cattle grazing just below Lady Hill in Wensleydale.  If you wish to see more of Denise's work go to her website at Denise

We are being very lucky with the weather here in the Dales - still, sunny and very frosty.  Just the right kind of weather for 'slurry leading' and that is exactly what the farmer is doing.   He has taken a couple of loads from the midden at the back of the loose housing, and now he is collecting loads from our friend and neighbour's slurry tank to spread on the frozen fields at our farm.   The ground is nice and firm with frost and the tractor and slurry tanker will make little or no impression on the ground.

Too cold to hang out the washing today, so it is drying indoors.   This will be the last week to hang it on the rack above the Aga, as the farmer has bought me a tumble drier - which comes next week!!
Have a good New Year's Eve.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Over for another year.

Thanks for the Christmas and New Year Greetings everyone - much appreciated.

Now Christmas is over.   The turkey is almost all eaten (only bought a crown) and the orange-flavoured ham has just enough left for a sandwich at tea time today.  All the many Boxing Day vegetables (red cabbage, ratatouille, swede and carrot mashed, carrots, sprouts, peas, roast parsnips, jacket potatoes) were eaten
again yesterday and what is left has just been given to the hens as a treat.   They descended on it all as though they hadn#t eaten for a month.  The fridge is almost empty except for remnants of Camembert and Brie - which will soon disappear.   Then tomorrow it will have to be fill the fridge again day as all my grandchildren (all vegetarian) come for a buffet meal - and then for New Year's Eve, when I always make a large fish pie and this year a topside pot roast too.  But so far everything has run smoothly and it has been great fun.

Yesterday the farmer and I were alone and we spent the afternoon doing a jig-saw of scenes from Downton Abbey (which we actually don't watch) - it was a really interesting one to do.   But when we finished it there was a piece missing.   We searched the carpet thoroughly as Tess adores chewing up a piece of jig saw, but there was absolutely no sign of it anywhere.  Later in the evening we were having a game of Rummikub when the farmer dropped a tile by his chair.   When he bent to pick it up the lost piece of jig saw was right next to the tile.   How is it that you can miss things like that?

My Christmas books are delicious.   I have already read the second book written by Alan Johnson about his rise to political fame from an extremely poor childhood.  The first one was bought me when it came out.   This one - Please Mr Postman - has been just as interesting and I was quite sorry when I finished it.

Now I have started H is for Hawk - by Helen Macdonald.  Absolutely fascinating reading - and beautifully written.   Books are the very nicest presents aren't they?  (although my shelves are full to bursting and I am constantly trying to cull one or two books to make room for the new ones.)

We have missed the snow here apart from a sprinkling on the hill tops in the distance, and the weather yesterday and so far today is wall-to-wall sunshine, although almost freezing.

Salmon and new potatoes for lunch today - a light food day methinks.   Have a nice day.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Very Happy Christmas and a Joyful and Peaceful New Year to all my blogging friends.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A New Bed

You have read before about 'our' pheasants - because the farmer feeds the wild birds all the year round, we get a huge number of pheasants at the bird table.  (they are probably the most common bird around here because we are surrounded by 'shoots' where gamekeepers breed (or buy in) young pheasants especially for shooting.)

These pheasants become quite tame, particularly in the Winter time when the weather is cold and food is scarce.   Also, because they roost up in the trees to escape predators (foxes mostly), we have a good stand of Scots Pines which make excellent roosts.  At least they do when the weather is reasonably calm.

But the last few days and nights we have had violent weather and it really must have been a nightmare for them clinging on to the branches.   We have been quite worried about where they would be.
I wish they would roost inside the cattle shed, which is open sided and has rafters which would be ideal - but they don't seem to like being under cover.

We need not have worried on their behalf.   Tonight we just happened to spot as we drew the curtains across, exactly where they were choosing to spend the night.   Next door my brother in law has a vegetable garden surrounded by a high privet hedge.   As it began to get dark the hedge side was dotted with  pheasants on the sheltered side - they had moved downstairs so to speak.

They are not daft are they?

Monday, 22 December 2014

Pre-Christmas weather.

Our journey back from Hawes after our stupendous Christmas lunch yesterday was through a very misty landscape.   How different it became by around eight o'clock yesterday evening when the wind became what I can only describe as 'very violent'.  The wind came from the West (so a 'warm' wind) but was quite terrifying as it howled around the house.   It was still going strong when we went to bed and it was really quite scary.   It reminded me of a similar occasion many years ago when the conditions were like this and a friend's elderly mother sat with her hat, coat and gloves on all night in a kitchen chair, declaring that she was sure that the end of the world had come.

This morning the wind has not abated and, as usually happens when it is rather wet and the wind is from this direction, the River Ure has burst its banks in many places and the fields are flooded. Our only lake, Lake Semerwater, flows into the Ure via the shortest river in England, the Bain, and the water flows out of Semerwater much faster when there is a gale blowing.   The farmer and I have just been down to the feed merchants and on both sides of the road there is water standing, and what is more, there was more of it on the return journey than there was on the journey down.

Christmas is getting near now and the jobs are piling up that can't be done until nearer the time -making the stuffings, making the cranberry sauce, making an almond tart and maybe some more mince pies.  It is too early for these jobs, so the gang are meeting for coffee in the morning.   That will make me think it is Friday and my whole week will be thrown out of joint.

On our return journey the farmer bought me a tumble drier, which will be arriving shortly after Christmas - a nice appliance with which to start the New Year.

The gale blew slates off the farmhouse roof and three sheets of tin off the hen house roof.   Luckily there is wood under the tin so the hen house is not open to the elements, but it will have to wait for repair until the wind drops.   Similarly we can't contact the builder to replace the slates on the roof until it is calm weather.   Still, small worries compared with some. 

Lovely white roses arrived this morning - another Christmas present.   The house is full of flowers and plants - lovely presents as I get such pleasure out of them.   If it is windy where you are, keep both feet on the ground.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Firsy Day of Christmas.

The farmer took a friend and I out to lunch today to our favourite farming restaurant in the nearby market town of Hawes.   The place was fully booked and I would guess that almost every table was a farming family of grandma and grandad/sons/daughters and  grandchildren. (I would also guess that Grandad was paying!).   There were a lot of fresh complexions, a lot of rather round tummies and absolutely no airs and graces anywhere.  Good straightforward food of turkey or beef (home reared in both cases) with stuffing, bread sauce, roast and mashed potatoes, sprouts, red cabbage, swede, carrots, roast potatoes and parsnips, good gravy, plenty of sauces and go back to the self-service as many times as you wished.  Oh and I forgot the Yorkshire Puddings (no meal is served without these giants of local food up here).  Puddings, apart from Christmas pudding and brandy sauce, were a selection of various trifles, pavlovas, profiteroles and the like.

And yes, we all partook of everything available.  I now feel as though I shall not eat again until Christmas day itself, although I expect I shall feel totally different come tomorrow morning.

Home again now, travelling through the Dales on a very indifferent kind of day with views limited by heavy mist in places and fine rain falling  - but my goodness, how green the grass was everywhere.  Still growing, says the farmer.

We had a cow this morning aborted a calf six weeks before delivery time - fully formed but born dead.  Always a sad happening.

The photograph is just to show Dales folk enjoying their Christmas dinner.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Mad Moment proves to be a good idea.

Friend W and I decided it would be a good idea to go over to Marks and Spencer at Teeside Park today for last minute goodies for the Christmas table.   But yesterday was a dreadful day weather-wise and we wondered what the weather would be like today. Then we both secretly began to worry about the crowds, particularly when the Yorkshire Post named today as 'Panic Saturday'.  But we neither of us voiced our fears so we set off at 8.30 this morning, when it was barely light.

And what a jolly morning we have had.   A pleasant journey there (takes about an hour) on almost empty roads until the last half mile when the traffic began to pile up.   But we found a place in the Car Park easily and at half past nine we were in the food department, along with A LOT of others, looking at goodies.   I hardly wanted anything - she was the same - but we both came away with all kinds of little extras which save time (in my case - a lovely ham joint all ready for the oven, a carton of 'posh turkey gravy', a carton of ready-made bread sauce (only two of the party like it), cocktail canapes and a couple of bottles of good wine.

We loaded up her car and then went back inside for a coffee and a mince pie in the cafe (which was not particularly busy) (everyone was too busy whizzing round the store).

We were especially impressed with how pleasant everyone was - the men pushing trolleys for their wives/girl friends gave way to us two 'elderly' ladies; the staff were all pleasant and helpful; nobody pushed and shoved - it was a thoroughly lovely, Christmassy experience.

Now, two microwaved jacket potatoes later, I am just going to take Tess for a walk as the farmer is shooting today.  Then it will be light the wood burner and settle down ready to watch the final of Strictly later on tonight.

I really feel that the Christmas season has started.   Tomorrow three of us are going out for Christmas lunch to a local restaurant.   I shall hide the scales until after Christmas. 

It is worth pointing out that friend W (who used to work for M and S long ago) found an assistant and asked her to pass on to the Supervisor her praise for the efficiency and pleasantness of the staff on such a busy day.  I have just sent M and S an e mail saying much the same.   People are quick to complain, so we both thought that praise was important.

Friday, 19 December 2014

A few stories.

Folk seem to fall into two categories about cleaning and Christmas.   There are those who say there is not a lot of point in giving everywhere a thorough cleaning when all the decorations and pine needles are going to be creating a mess anyway.   There are the other kind - of which I am one - who get delight in having everywhere spick and span before any decorations go up.

To this end I suggested to the farmer as we drove back from the market this morning, that he help me this afternoon to clean the utility room (where almost everyone enters the farmhouse, our front entrance being rarely used.)   A look of horror passed over his face and he assured me that it was only about six weeks since it had had a thorough clean (I do have a cleaner each Monday who cleans it anyway).  He was lying.   I recognise a lie when it jumps into my ears and moving the long (and heavy) sideboard revealed a mountain of dust, cobwebs, dropped dog biscuits (which the dog has been trying to get at for weeks) and so much dirt that even the farmer had to admit that 'maybe it was a little longer since the sideboard had been moved out.' 

This was followed (the whole joint operation took no longer than three quarters of an hour) by cleaning the vestibule - the front entrance, rarely used but with a beautiful tiled floor which does need an occasional wash.   So the vestibule was duly cobwebbed, mopped and thoroughly cleaning.   Windows were also cleaned and now I feel a lot better.

There is a moral to this tale though.   Thorough and rather frantic cleaning of ceiling corners, architraves, window frames and the like with a feather duster does eventually lead to a great deal of moulting of said duster.   There are now so few feathers left that it would be a farce to use it for the purpose for which it was intended.
So a new one is on the shopping list for the next big clean behind the giant sideboard in the utility room. (easter?)
And speaking of moulting feather dusters reminds me that I must tell you of a wonderful advert which has been in the 'Pets for Sale' column of the newspaper this week.   There is a high fashion here for certain cross-breed dogs like Yorkiepoo (miniature poodle/Yorkshire terrier)  and Labradoodle (labrador/poodle).  There has been an advert for Yorkiepoo dogs for sale which says they are 'non-melting' - obviously meaning 'non-moulting' - but can't help wondering whether they have been sold.  The ad has disappeared.(or melted).

I'll sign off from my sparkling farmhouse - sitting and dining rooms to be attacked later - brass to clean, windows to clean etc.  Once my cleaner has been on Monday, that is it - decorating will take place and we shall be ready for the celebrations. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Well, it looks as though Blogger has changed its mind again because now you don't have to put robot numbers in - you seem to have a choice.   The wonders of computers sail right over my head.  I still can't do links - can anyone tell me in easy language how to do them - it would save me having to write 'on my side bar' every time I wanted my readers to refer to a particular blog.

A week today and it is Christmas day.   Barring my on line grocery order (booked for Tuesday morning - I had to book it on November 23rd in order to get a spot, that's how manic people get) - and a spot of 'goody' shopping with friend W on Saturday morning I have finished everything.

I sometimes wonder if the women didn't do things, would it get done.  (outrage expected in my comments from the few men who 'do' Christmas).

I personally love it and get pleasure from all the preparations.   And as for those who say it is a time when families get together to fall out - well all I can say is that I have never found it so, but maybe I am just lucky.

Christmas Day - just the farmer and I - will be spent on a new giant jig saw puzzle we have bought, interspersed with games of Rummikub and a bit of television when there is something we want to watch.  Boxing Day the family and friends come for lunch and buffet in the evening.
Last evening there was a television programme where Giles Coren and  his brother in law discussed the twelve wines of Christmas.   The programme was interesting in that we visited various places at home and abroad, where liquor was produced.  But all I can say is that if we all approached Christmas intending to drink all the liquers, egg-nogs, wines, spirits and mulls they recommended we would be so 'blotto' Christmas would pass in a haze.   Maybe for those who end up falling out with their families, this would be a good idea.  Just don't get behind the wheel of a car though!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Today was our last Poetry meeting of 2014, when ten of us met for an afternoon of Poetry in friend W's conservatory.  We had company this afternoon in the shape of an all playing (saxophone), all dancing bear which W had bought and which sat on the table in the centre of the room, giving us a burst of his playing now and again when one or the other of us pressed the right button.

Everyone had searched for Christmas=themed poetry and it was surprising what we had all found.  Highlight of course had to go to friend S, who is a Lancashire lass through and through, who read an  'Albert' (of horses head handle fame) poem about Christmas in her wonderful Lancashire accent.   J, who loves Betjamen, read his Christmas - also a favourite with us all.

Our January meeting date was fixed.   I know that we all feel the same about these meetings once a month - there is nothing to equal them - lovely poetry, good friends and a lovely room to hold the meeting in thanks to W 's hospitality.

Christmas is creeping up on us - come tomorrow morning there will only be a week left to go.   I really don't know why we get in such a state about it as really Christmas dinner is quite an easy one to cook once the turkey is in the oven, and so much of it (cranberry sauce, stuffings, red cabbage) can easily be prepared the day before and warmed up on the right day.

All my menus are prepared and shopping lists done - if I forget anything then just too bad, I have enough in the freezer to feed an army in any case.


Tuesday, 16 December 2014


The farmer informed me at about eleven o'clock this morning that a load of straw was arriving at a quarter past twelve.   As he has to unload this using his tractor and working from the farm gate it takes quite a long time, so it was arranged that I went into town to do the one or two jobs I had to do and that then I got fish and chips to eat before the straw arrived.   We don't have this very often so that when we do we always enjoy it (with mushy peas and plenty of salt and vinegar - despite health warnings).

So off I duly went, sailed through the jobs I had to do, finding Christmas cake decorations easily (why don't I save them from year to year?  I always mean to and then they go missing, perhaps there is a great stock of them somewhere which will be found after I die and fashioned into a memorial), no queue at the Post Office, paying the newspaper bill for the week was easy and quick.   And so, after ringing the farmer   on my mobile to tell him I was just about to get the fish and chips (he could warm the plates and set the table while I was on my way home) I went into the shop.   

There was only one customer in front of me, obviously a man who knew the staff well, and they were having a laugh and a joke together. I had taken out my hearing aid to speak to the farmer on my mobile (luckily) so the worst of the language was out of my hearing.   But I did hear the shop assistant say several words (they were pretty loud) which I wouldn't dream of saying (or even repeating).   When she saw me coming in she put her hand over her mouth and looked quite embarrassed.

I smiled and put her at her ease and she was charming, commenting on the lovely sunshine and the convenience of having fish and chips for lunch.   But it does beg the question: who was in the right or wrong?   Is such language acceptable these days - particularly from a woman?   Am I the one that is old-fashioned?

I don't care to hear bad language from anyone, always believing that it is often poor vocabulary that causes folk to use it.   But I care to hear it even less when the speaker is a woman.   Is nothing sacred any more or is this a feminist issue that I have missed?

Monday, 15 December 2014

The big day.

As you all know, we house our neighbour and friend's cattle over the winter; this usually means in-calf heifers from the milking herd of pedigree Holsteins.

Bit by bit they have been coming in, being brought round by the road from their farm, to spend the winter months in deep straw, awaiting the birth of their calves in the New Year.   But today saw a large influx as the very last came out of the fields (where there is still plenty of grass for them) and into the barn.   This was not so much because the weather is against them - they don't need to overeat when they are in calf and there is still plenty of sunshine most days.  The reason they have come in is because they need to be kept together for tomorrow and also easily accessible.   It is a big day.

The TB tester is coming to test the whole herd for TB.   This is always a tense time for farmers and although we are not in an area where TB is a real scourge, it will still be a great relief when the testing has been done.   We have our fingers crossed that every single cow will test negative.

Sunday, 14 December 2014


Have you noticed how the smallest of things can trigger a memory of a happening many years ago and bring it all back as though it were yesterday?

I had absolutely no cake for tea unless I broke into my Christmas Mince Pies which are frozen and in the freezer for chance-callers over the Christmas period.  So I decided to make some fairy cakes (or queen cakes as we always called them when I was a child) - they only take a few minutes to make and are not absolutely loaded with calories, which the farmer and I are both avoiding in the run-up to Christmas.

And as I was beating the mixture the memory came flooding back. My Uncle Albert was a confirmed bachelor and lived alone in a lovely cottage in a village in Lincolnshire.   He had lived with his mother until she died and had carried on where she had left off - keeping the house cleaned and polished, the silver gleaming and everything neat and tidy.   His hobby was embroidery and he embroidered each of his nephews and nieces a tablecloth for a Christmas present (I still have mine more than sixty years later and it is beautiful).   His day job was being a plate-layer on the railway - what could be more different?

It was while doing this job that he met his wife, my Auntie Jessie.  She was a spinster, also living alone, and her garden backed on to the railway line.   Whenever Albert was working in the vicinity of her garden they would chat, she would bring him tasty little cakes (and it is rumoured port wine) to the fence.   They married and Albert, who had visited our house regularly, began to enthuse about Jessie's cooking.

My mother, I think, was rather jealous of Jessie's ability in the kitchen - and particularly of her Queen cakes.   If Albert was working near our house he would pop in for lunch and if I was at home (I was a very young child) he would give me Jessie's Queen cake from his lunch box.   And so it was that I began to enthuse about Jessie's Queen cakes too.

Mother asked her for the recipe, but it was jealously guarded.   Mother insisted that she used her butter ration to make them (it was war time) while Jessie insisted that she only used margarine.   The feud continued for as long as I can remember.   Mother would try to make them but she never succeeded it getting them as good.   Jessie triumphed.

And obviously she is doing so still - she must have been dead for at least forty years and yet I still remember her superiority in the Queen cake department!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Magic or what?

Getting up in the night and looking out of the window was to see a magical world.   Snow was falling, it was still and silent and all the fields, walls and hedges were covered with icing. 

At day break, as the sun rose it came up into an almost clear blue sky.  The temperature was just above freezing so that the roads and footpaths were not slippery and it really was a lovely day.

It is market day in our little town and the Christmas tree stall was doing a roaring trade, as was the greengrocer.  Our meeting for coffee (a group of us meet every Friday) was, as usual, a jolly affair.

But by afternoon the sky had gone from that lovely deep blue to a pale, icy blue.   The wind has risen and the ice was back.  It is really not a nice day at all.   The trouble is that after such a mild winter up here in the Yorkshire Dales last year, we are just not accustomed to it.   Say this to the farmer and he will tell you tales of when the snow was wall-height and they were having to dig the sheep out.

I have just been into town again and coming back I must say that I looked at the sheep, digging into the covering of snow to get at the grass, and marvelled at how hardy these Swaledale sheep are.   This morning they have had a pedicure and antibiotic where necessary and all have had a drench against fluke.   They would not survive indoors, however much we feel like bringing them in and keeping them warm; they are bred for wintry conditions.

The weather forecast says it will gradually get warmer over the weekend.   Well, it can't come soon enough for me.   The only thing that keeps me cheerful is that if I lived in Norway it would be dark as well.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Birds (the feathered variety).

The farmer spends a fortune on bird food.   We buy it from our feed merchants, along with the hen food and the dog and cat food.   We feed the birds all year round, but moreso in Winter - and this kind of weather especially.

They get peanuts, sunflower seeds, mixed seed, niger seed. fat balls, dried meal worms and kitchen scraps (in moderation).   The meal worms go on to the bird table and the robin guards them with his life - they are an aggressive little bird despite their pretty appearance and robins would kill for a dried meal worm!

The greater spotted woodpeckers like the peanuts best of all and when they are around all the other birds keep away - there is definitely a pecking order.

The blue, coal and great tits adore half coconut shells filled with seeds and fat.   We buy two each week and both are gone in two days.   Then they turn their attention to the niger seeds and the mixed seed.

I also throw suet on to the ground when the weather is really bad, because the blackbirds really love this.   The goldfinches and greenfinches prefer the mixed seed and the sunflower hearts.

But none of this prepares us for the biggest surprise of all - it happens every year.   Once the cooler weather comes we get - literally - a flock of pheasants.   At present we have eleven hens and one cock bird, but I have no doubt the number will increase; last year we ended up with twenty four hens.   I don't think they leave the bird table and the garden all day.   They come in and stand waiting for the poultry wheat the farmer throws down for them - they gather round his feet for it and never move away. Then they spend some time under the bird feeders hoovering up the smaller seeds which have dropped when the small birds are feeding.   Then they all go into our front, walled garden, where they scratch about in the soil for grubs. Once they have had their fill they stand about in the sun, or in bad weather they huddle under the shrubs looking thoroughly miserable.

Later in the afternoon they go back to the bird table to peck at any small seeds on the ground, and then they sit in a row on the garden wall and wait for evening.   Just before sunset they fly up into the Scots Pine Trees and roost for the night. How they manage on these very stormy nights I really don't know - they must have to cling on like mad and surely get little sleep.

I am sure if we had a hen hut for them they would probably go in it.
We just hope they stay here.   There are so many 'shoots' around the area (including ours) and if they stay here then they are safe.   It is almost as though they understand that.

But whatever the reason, we look forward to 'our' pheasants coming each year and taking up residence.   There is always at least one hen who rears her young in our front garden.   I think they must know instinctively that we mean them no harm.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Stormy weather.

The weather here has been absolutely awful, with the first real storm of Winter coming in off the Atlantic.   This means the for once the Western side of the country has had it much worse than we have over here in the East.   The winds have been very strong in the far North, but here in The Dales we have really only caught the tail end of the storm.   However, that was quite enough for me; each time a squally shower arrived the wind picked up and the sky went black and for twenty minutes or so it was awful.   I must point out that in spite of this, the lady in our exercise class who is over ninety years old, still walked up through the town from her bungalow to join in as usual. 

Tea in the cafe afterwards was a jolly affair and we all received a hot mince pie with our pots of tea, courtesy of the cafe.   What a nice touch.

 One good thing about wearing a hearing aid (the only thing as far as I am concerned) is that when I take it out at bedtime it doesn't matter how the wind screams and the windows rattle, I can't hear a thing!   More nasty weather on the way for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

'The Goose is Getting Fat'

How customs change over the years.   When we were children we used to go round the village carol singing.  When we had finished singing the carol we would recite the rhyme
'Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny then a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God Bless You!
Then we would knock on the door in the hope of a coin or two or a sweet each.

These days children don't seem to go round carol singing in small groups any more - sad, but with all the traffic about then perhaps it is as well.   Carol singers in our village, if they come at all, would come in a large choir.

Luckily some customs do continue and I love it all.   What I do not like is leaving everything to the last minute, so I like to plan the whole thing and tick things off my list - and this I am doing.

Today it was the day for buying my Christmas plants to cheer the house up.  We are very lucky here that we have a huge wholesale/retail place where the plants are first class quality.   The farmer and I went together this afternoon.   It is a lovely journey of around ten miles or so, through pretty countryside.  Once there we bought two holly wreaths (for two graves we keep up at Christmas), an azalea plant in full bloom (which is now cheering up my kitchen window sill), two cyclamen in full flower, a poinsettia, and a bowl of deep pink hyacinths just coming into bud.

Driving through our little town there are twinkling lights everywhere.   Decorating the house here is a job for Christmas Eve.  My next job is to write out my Christmas menus and make sure everything that can be bought in advance is bought and in the freezers.

I love the whole thing about Christmas and shall keep it up as long as I am able, although today's visit to the Physiotherapist has meant that this evening I am finding it difficult to walk after her half hour's work on my ankle and my knee.  Hopefully today's suffering will mean tomorrow I shall be skipping like a two year old - well perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration!  But it is our last exercise class before Christmas and we are off for afternoon tea afterwards.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Dealing with various issues.

Several things were raised by people who visited my blog yesterday, so I thought I would answer them all for today's post.

First of all Donna Tartt's 'The Goldfinch', which I believe reached number 5 on the Best Seller list.   A friend, S, lent it to me and I must say I am finding it a struggle.   I think I rather agree with Rachel who says that Donna Tartt always seems to use one thousand words where any other writer would only use five hundred.  It is certainly not the best book I have read this year, but I shall soldier on.

The same friend, S, also lent me 'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton.   Now that I really did enjoy - so much so that I intend to read it again.  It is so well written and such a gripping story - if you get a chance to read it, please do.

The other issue raised by readers of my blog is the issue of mistletoe.   I love it - I love to see it growing on apple trees although it is a parasite and I presume that the growers in Hereford and Worcester are happy for the trees to die if they get a good crop of mistletoe at Christmas.  Certainly driving through the county there are many orchards which seem to be given over entirely to its growing.

Now to the weather, which has taken a decidedly wintry turn here, and I understand we are faring much better than those further North.   There is a strong, bitterly cold gale blowing and although the sun is shining in a pale, wintry sky, every now and then clouds rush in and we get a wintry squall.  There is a strong urge to keep warm on my part especially when Heather reminded me of the 'old days' when the inside of our bedroom windows used to freeze up each morning.

Finally to last night's snooker final, which was absolutely gripping.  It is a sport which usually leaves me cold, but when the underdog (Trump) comes from 9/4 down to level pegging (when the winner was the first to reach 10) I put my book down and watch.   The favourite (O'Sullivan) did finally triumph, but not before Trump gave him a scare (as he admitted in his victory speech).

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A First Taste of Winter.

Well, it had to come didn't it; that first morning when the wind was blowing from the North East and was strong and cutting. And when one minute there would be a 'glishy' sun, the next black clouds would cover the sun and heavy sleet/snow would fall for a few minutes.   In other words it is a day when it is better for staying indoors by the wood burner than it is for walking.   The farmer kindly took Tess for her lunchtime walk - I couldn't face the cold.

I imagine the television will be on before long as it is the Snooker final from the Barbican (O'Sullivan v Trump) and the farmer is a keen fan.  I am not but I must say that last night's cliff hanger of a semi final did find me putting down my book (Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch) and watching the action.

Our little town switched on its Christmas lights last night and Santa made a visit to the market square.   Tonight our village is doing the same (mince pies and mulled wine added).   We just have to face up to it - Christmas is creeping nearer.

We resist decorating until Christmas Eve when we make a real day of it, putting up the holly wreaths and the lights, stoking up the fires, heating the mince pies and starting Christmas from that point.   There will be no berries left on the variegated holly tree which stands just outside the kitchen window - a blackbird visits daily and takes a few at a time (well, I presume it is the same bird).   I don't really begrudge him his feed - his need is far greater than ours.

When I lived in the Midlands my then husband and I used to visit Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire at the beginning of December to see the Mistletoe Auction (and hopefully to buy a bunch to hang in the doorway).   Driving through Herefordshire and Worcestershire you realise just how plentiful mistletoe is as it hangs in great swags from all the trees in the apple orchards.   I have tried poking a seed down into the branches of apple trees many times over the years but I have never succeeded in getting one to grow.

As I write this the sun is shining again.   The farmer has just come back from his walk and tells me that Tess has jumped into my chair by the Aga and settled down on my cushion for the afternoon.   She is not allowed on the furniture, but I just haven't the heart to move her (and what is more she knows it).   I am far too daft with that dog. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Brightening the day.

Comments on my yesterday's post about how such posts brighten the day, leads me to think positively about just such an activity.   Every time I switch the news on on the television (once a day only - at the tea-time slot) it is always doom and gloom - either world affairs (which hardly bear thinking about) or home affairs (government) or murders and mayhem (so very depressing). Our local news is usually worse.  Almost always the headline is about a murder or a mugging or some poor soul who has gone missing - and the rest of the news is usually dominated by our local football teams - Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and York (sorry Rachel, but I do find this boring); about Managers who come and go (I have never understood how a Manager can make a lot of difference = he isn't actually kicking the ball, is he?)

So this is really a plea in the run up to Christmas - shall we all make a gigantic effort to be upbeat on our blogs, to be cheerful and to look for the fun in life?   It is going to be hard, I know - but do let's try.

Here's a start.   There were thirteen hen pheasants eating around our bird table this morning.   Our black farm cat suddenly appeared and ran through the middle of them, pretending to ignore them all.   They rose as one bird and chased him off their patch - I have never seen him run so fast.   Pheasants 1, Blackie 0.

Afternoon - came back from the village coffee morning - lovely atmosphere, glorious log fire burning in the grate, delicious mince pies with brandy butter baked by K, who serves them every Christmas.   The farmer is out shooting, so decided to make mince pies for the freezer.   Just started when I happened to look out of the kitchen window - and look what was going past.   I was too late to capture the hounds, or the lovely Shetland Pony being led past - but here are some of the riders, the Huntsman, the chap who follows on the quad bike with fence posts to repair any fences they knock down - and a huge trail of hunt followers in their four tracks.   Watch out Mr. Fox!

Friday, 5 December 2014


I was a school-teacher for many years - starting off teaching children (and adults) with learning difficulties, then Primary school for a short while, and finally the bulk of my teaching career in Comprehensive heading a unit for children with learning and also with language difficulties (this was an inner city school with a large, new immigrant population with many non- English speakers).

Of course all teachers remember some pupils and forget others - we can't possibly remember them all.   And I have to say that usually the ones I remember were either the difficult ones with behavioural problems (but who often were such lovely children underneath that exterior layer), and also many of the children with learning difficulties.

My first school was what was then known as a 'Special School' for children with fairly mild learning difficulties.  Some of these children I shall never forget because of the pleasure it gave me to teach them, and to see them make tiny steps of progress.

Every Christmas I remember one little boy in particular and I would like to tell you about him.   He was around nine years old, an only child and very much loved by his parents.  He came from quite a poor family, but what they lacked in material things they more than made up for in love.

S, the little boy, rarely spoke - a mixture of shyness and difficulty in speaking I think.   Whatever the reason whenever any school play  happened, S never got a speaking part - for obvious reasons.

We had a Ladybird Book on Saint Boniface and my class loved it.   I can't remember the story except that it involved Boniface crossing the sea in a boat to tour Europe, and I rather think the a Christmas tree was involved.

I recorded the story in brief on tape (yes, it was that long ago) and decided that if the class acted it out they could do so in mime.   And this meant that S would not be left out.   And so it was that S became Saint Boniface.   I made him a canoe like boat out of cardboard.   The whole thing was in mime and we finished by singing the carol 'O Christmas Tree' - the class sang and Boniface stood in the front and held a small Christmas tree covered with sparkling lights.

He was so excited that he told his parents which night to come and he had got the wrong night.   They arrived to find the school in darkness and had to come again (quite a few miles on two buses) the next night.   But it was worth it - they were thrilled, S got a standing ovation, his mother was in tears of pride.   I have never forgotten that night and I think of it every year as Christmas approaches.

Thursday, 4 December 2014


I have just sent my niece an e mail to make sure she will be in when a parcel arrives by post.   Yes, I could have phoned, but I rather like rambling on in an e mail - and she would probably have been out anyway.

And it struck me as I wrote it just how much the elderly miss out on if they refuse to embrace modern technology.   So many folk I know say they are too old to bother with computers.   Other friends, particularly those I meet with for coffee each Friday morning, have mobile phones, i-pads, laptops, and get such a lot of fun out of them.   They all feel their lives are fuller with all this modern 'stuff'.

There really is no need to learn  more than how to send (and receive) an e mail, although I would guess that once that 'skill' has been learned most folk would wish to venture further.

If the weather is cold, wet, windy, snowing (or any combination of these) and I don't have to go out, I can switch on the laptop, go to my blog, read everyone on my side bar, put on a post of my own and before I know it, it is tea time.  The farmer is unlikely to be in however severe the weather - he has a very large shed and there is always plenty to do, particularly sawing up logs for the wood burner.

And, speaking of the wood burner, a large holly tree, which has been dead for some time, fell over in the field yesterday.   I must say I love holly, and the thought of burning it at Christmas is a good one.   It has been dead for so long that it is well-seasoned - and nothing burns better than holly wood.   So the farmer now has plenty to do getting that lot sawn up.   Good job he has a chain saw certificate!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Some days can be jolly frustrating, can't they?

Today is Exercise Class at 1.30pm, and I arrived to be told that the tutor was unable to come as her car had broken down.   She had only just rung, so there had been almost no time to work through the list of those intending to come.   T is pretty well down the list, so I made a useless journey.

Thinking to salvage something I went round to our Medical Centre to collect a Prescription from the Dispensary, only to find a notice saying that in future the Dispensary (from December 1st) would close from 1pm to 2pm.

The saving grace is that it is a glorious day - sharp cold and sunny and still.   There was a hard frost, which has fetched the last of the leaves off the trees - and made the robin's song clearer than usual.   How lucky we are to have that little bird singing all Winter when all the other birds lie low.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Waiting for Wednesday.

A friend has lent me the book 'Waiting for Wednesday' by Nicci French.   Nicci French is a pseudonym for Nicci Gerard and Sean French, husband and wife journalists.   It is a murder mystery and I have really enjoyed it.   If you like a good murder, then look out for any of their books as they are always very readable.

But it is highly complicated.   There are two or three strands/stories going on at the same time and they become interwoven and then go off at tangents from one another.

The writing of this kind of book really interests me.   How does the writer keep tabs on all his/her characters, making sure there is continuity and making sure that the story follows through?

In pre-computer days I can only think it would have to be done with hundreds of cards stuck on a huge wall board, with arrows leading from one to another, sometimes intersecting, sometimes moving apart.   Now I presume it can be done on some kind of giant spread sheet (which goes right over my head.)

Does the author (or in this case authors) decide right at the beginning who is the murderer, or does this maybe evolve as the story line builds up?

And are there little flaws, which the reader probably misses completely, but which the authors spotted too late?   I suspect there are, but I certainly have not found any.

Do read it if you get half a chance - and let me know what you think of it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Good fences make good neighbours.

 So, December has arrived.   You could be forgiven for thinking it was still dull November if you looked out of the window, for it is dark, dull, misty and thoroughly miserable out there.  I can't believe that yesterday we were lucky enough to go out over the top of the Pennines in such glorious weather.

Most of the cattle are gone back to their owners for the Winter.

All the rest are
 in our loose housing waiting the birth of their calves (our neighbour's milking herd).   But this does not mean that farm work is done for another year.   The farmer disappears after breakfast and returns exactly on time for his lunch (12.30).

Today has been his day for inspecting all his hedges, fences and stone boundary walls.   Cows are pretty ungainly, heavy creatures and can easily dislodge a few stones from the top of a wall, or knock over a couple of fence posts and barge through the wire fence in order to get at what looks to be a delicious piece of grass.  Sheep , on the other hand, take delight in pushing through hedges - I suppose their wool protects their skin if the hedge is sharp and prickly.

But whatever the reasons, Robert Frost was right when he said 'Good fences make good neighbours' in his poem 'Mending Walls'.  The farmer is making notes, measuring, weighing up, and tonight he will be making a list of the stakes and rails and wire netting he needs to make his repairs.   Once these come, he will wait for a reasonably nice day, tootle out to the field on his tractor and make the necessary repairs.

Then he can let the sheep into the offending fields and (hopefully) they will stay exactly where he put them.   But don't bank on it.