Saturday, 31 January 2015

Comfort Food.

Do you have a favourite comfort food?   Alright, so I know I wrote about food yesterday but, believe me, it is absolutely freezing cold here with a strong North wind blowing and food is uppermost in my mind.

Today marks the end of the Pheasant shooting season and the farmer was off early with his sandwiches and his flask of whisky- laced coffee (added to which, when they stop to eat lunch in the barn, someone usually passes round a flask of sloe gin) and - after spending the morning watching the world go by from the upstairs window of the cafe in our local town with friend W - I arrived home to rustle up a lunch for myself.

One of the perks of having an Aga which is always on and always hot is that I can put in my favourite comfort food at a minute's notice.   Jacket potatoes - one hour in the oven and then served up with a good lacing of butter and a chunk of strong cheddar.   Two large potatoes went in and by the time I had stoked up the wood burner again, looked at the post, hung up my coat, taken off my boots (that takes an age as usually the farmer pulls them off for me - one of the trials of getting old), and had a quick look at the Times crossword, they were ready!

Carrot, parsnip and onion soup in the bottom oven for tea, a quick utility walk for Tess and now I can sit by the fire for the rest of the day.

Do you have a comfort food?   Home-made rice pudding comes a close second for me.

Friday, 30 January 2015

A Good Recipe for a cold day!

It is lovely here today, providing you are in a warm room with all the doors and windows tight-shut, and have plenty of warm clothes on.   It is wall-to-wall sunshine and a very brisk North wind blowing.  The lane is icy and the snow lies on the fields.
It was our morning when we meet for coffee in town and when the farmer goes to the Auction Mart just to see what sort of prices the livestock is fetching.

In other words, we arrive home at more or less lunchtime and need something warming.   Often I do a stir fry or have made a batch of soup.    Today there was shepherds' pie left from yesterday and with it we had my absolute favourite vegetable dish at this time of year.  All the old winter vegetables - carrots, parsnips, savoy cabbage, sprouts - begin to look rather tired and I think we all begin to long for the first of the new season's greens.  (are you looking forward to asparagus like I am).

I made a red cabbage casserole.   Thought you might be interested in my recipe:

1 red cabbage quartered, cored and sliced fairly thinly.
2 Bramley apples quartered, cored (but peel left on) and chopped up.
A few onions peeled, halved and sliced into half moons.
A handful of frozen cranberries.
A handful of sultanas.
A desertspoonful of capers.
Two tablespoonsful of brown sugar.
A good splash of white wine vinegar.
A good sized knob of butter (this gives the dish a nice shine).

Throw the lot in together and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted and the veg have begun to give up their juices.   Then put into a low oven and cook for an hour - or longer if you are out and about.   The resultant shiny, gooey mess is delicious.   Trust me.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Winter again.

Winter has really struck us again.   There are heavy snow showers and during these it is really 'blizzard conditions'.   There are no papers this morning as the local delivery man who brings them to our newsagent for us to collect, lives ' in the back of beyond' as we say up here.

The main roads are clear but there is a strong wind when it snows and the snow blows through the gateways and begins to block the roads.   Our lane is also very icy.
Yet, in spite of all this, our poetry group met yesterday as usual.   Fine for me, who lives just down the road.   But friend, S, who usually calls for me, lives in Coverdale  which is a really remote dale.   Almost all the group turned out, in spite of some of them living in places where conditions were worse than here in our village.

Friend W, who hosts the afternoon, has a lovely large conservatory with underfloor heating - so we can watch the weather in all its fury and yet be snug and warm at the same time.   And, as usual, we had some super poems - Robert Bridges, George McBeth, John Betjamen, John Clare, several modern poets, and always others which I can't remember but which were equally interesting.

 And while all this was going on, our fertiliser for the year arrived at the farm in the middle of a blizzard.   As the lorry was also pulling a trailer, the farmer had to unload the very heavy bags at the farm gate - but of course his tractor is heated - so it wasn't all that much of an effort.   It is always good when we have the fertiliser for Spring ready in the big barn for the right weather to put it on the fields.

Today is certainly a day for sitting by the wood burner.  But hairdresser's appointment at midday means I shall have to negotiate the lane at least once during the day (and possibly our neighbour's sheep, who have suddenly got a taste for roaming down the lane rather than staying in the field).   As I write the sun is shining - a good sign I hope.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

An M O T?

Well, I am certainly old enough to need one!   I needed to go to see my Doctor this morning - I keep a list and when there are three things on it I make a visit to see her.  That took up a good hour of this morning.

By lunch time it was clear that my hearing-aid was just not working properly.   I was hearing everything from a great distance and muffled at that.   So this afternoon it was drive over to Richmond (7 miles away) to visit the Hearing-aid Clinic.   Luckily the lady there was able to repair my aid - the trouble is that since I got home it seems to be whistling at every opportunity.  So it will no doubt be aother visit next week, weather permitting as snow is forecast from tomorrow onwards.

Keep your fingers crossed that the snow doesn't begin tomorrow as it is our monthly Poetry afternoon, and missing that is not good.   I need that monthly dose of culture to keep me going.  (John Clare's 'January', or rather bits of it as it is very long, is on the menu from me tomorrow.)

Just as the farmer and I were getting into a sweat ten minutes ago at the non-delivery of our oil supply (promised for today), the tanker backed into the farmyard and we now have a tank full of oil.   We are nearly empty and as such bad weather is forecast and both our heating and our Aga run on oil, the situation was getting dire.   Now the tank is full again.  The tanker-man - Eddie - an old faithful friend, delivered it.   It is pitch dark and well after half past seven in the evening - so he deserves a medal I think rather than the cup of tea I gave him.

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Seasons.

According to the weather forecast today, snow is set to hit this country in the form of very heavy showers, accompanied by winds straight down from the Arctic, by Thursday morning.   It will affect only the North of the UK and the South is set to be positively balmy I believe.

I am one of those folk who, once the first snow goes (last week here)  I expect that is the end of Winter and we won't get any more.   The farmer, on the other hand, reminds me that one of the very worst Winters we ever had in his life time didn't begin (in terms of snow) until the first week in February.

But all warnings of snow pale beside the warning today on the news for the East coast of America - three to four feet of snow forecast in New York.   If you are reading this Elizabeth - get in stocks of food and candles, a good supply of reading - and wrap up warm.

 On another page of The Times I read that it is going to be an early Spring this year!    Can't win can we?


Sunday, 25 January 2015


Farming entails constant vigilance.   First of all to any animals on the farm; in our case milk cows and Swaledale sheep.   The milking cows we have , which we Winter-house for our friend and neighbour, are all in calf, so the farmer needs to watch and make sure that all are going along nicely.  Any 'hiccup' and the farmer calls and takes them back home so that he can keep an eye on them.
Then there are the sheep.   There is a saying up here - with a lot of truth in it as as any sheep-keeper will tell you - 'sheep are either alive or dead, there is no in-between', so it is necessary to go round them twice a day to make sure they all appear to be well.That doesn't ensure that they remain that way until the next day, but it is a good start.
The hens need watching - are they all in at night, do any of them look a bit seedy (not that there is much you can do, because rather like sheep, once they begin to sicken they seem to give up and go into a decline.)   But as many of mine are almost ten years old, they haven't done badly have they?
But then there are other things.   Fences need vigilance, particularly if sheep are in the field because there is nothing sheep like more than a scamper along the top of the wall, or pushing through a fence to where the grass looks much greener on the other side (it isn't).
But it doesn;t end there.   The farmer has just passed the kitchen window with his trowel.   He has gone to look at his mole traps.   Every farmer has trouble with moles.   They are pretty little creatures but they do push up air holes from their underground tunnels, and this leaves a telltale mound of soil every few yards.   These mounds are very bad at silaging time or haymaking time as they can ruin a good field of grass when it comes to gathering it in.

And lastly there are the rodents.   The cats keep the mice down to some extent - because they do tend to spend the winter near to the bags of chicken feed and the cats know this. But rats - now that is a completely different matter.   The farmer said at breakfast this morning that cats usually catch rats only if they approach them from behind.   Well, I must say, our cats are good rabbiters and good mousers, but I have never seen either of them with a rat.   And where do the rats congregate?   Well, in the Winter, when they tend to come into the farmyard for shelter from the elements, they often live at the back of the big shed, among all kinds of equipment and bits and pieces which congregate on every farm.  So the farmer keeps a cage trap set there (no other kind of trap and no poison in case the cats go there).   But the other place they go is under the hen hut as there is a loose floorboard (yes I know - why doesn;t the farmer get in there with a hammer and nails?) and there he keeps a permanently set snap trap.   And he has caught two large grey rats on two consecutive days this week.

Whether he has caught a mole I don't know - he will tell me if he has when he comes in for his lunch.   In the meantime I must go and get on with preparing it.  Beef and ale pie - and I have bought some endive (never tried it before) which I am slow-cooking in the bottom oven of the Aga with olive oil and butter.   Watch this space for a report.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


Is it just me, or do you think that marriage is viewed differently these days?
When I was young there were few divorced or separated couples in our village.  In remember one divorced couple and one separated couple.   Of course this does not for one instant suggest that all the other folk were happily married.   What it is more likely to suggest is that conditions being what they were, it was impossible to separate and survive, especially if there were children.   So this would suggest to me that many children grew up in homes where the parents were not necessarily happy.

Now everything is so different (a friend's grandson was once the only child in his class who had two parents who had always been together).  I don't know whether this is better or worse.   I really have no experience to fall back on to give me an opinion.  (I am sure someone better qualified than me will give me an opinion via the comments ).

But I did think of it today when I read in The Times about an organisation called ' Explore', which, says its CEO 'is an attempt to give young people the opportunity to have a dialogue with married couples about that relationship, because they very often don;t have a chance due to home circumstances.'

Couples go into schools and for half an hour students can ask the couple any questions they like.  This is followed by a discussion on the trials and tribulations of being a couple.  (I don't think marriage necessarily comes into it these days - but being a couple certainly does).

My view, for what it is worth, is that times change, but relationships certainly don't.   Thank goodness that if a couple are unhappy together divorce or separation is much easier (if no less painful) and probably better in the long run for the children.  I have quite a few friends who talk of their own childhood in terms of the rows their parents had, and how they should never have stayed together.   Things were definitely not 'better' in terms of relationships in those days.   But I do often worry when I see so many of today's children who have dads, step-dads and step-step dads, and brothers and sisters to match.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Suddenly, today, the snow has started to go.   It is going slowly and has been doing since mid morning.   Most of our yard, drives and lawn are now clear, although the field opposite, which is sown with corn, is white over.   'A slow thaw' says the farmer - the very worst sort - it always means that more will be back.  'There's the whole of February to get through yet' he continues - always the cheerful one where the weather is concerned.

Not that it feels any warmer.   I seem to pile on the layers when I emerge from the farm - as I did this morning to meet my friends for coffee in town, as we do every Friday.   What would we all do without that get-together?   I think it is just such meetings which keep everyone going now.

I don't wish to sound defeatist but up here in the Dales this time of the year the Deaths columns in the newspapers get longer and longer as more and more elderly people seem to succumb to the cold, dark, damp weather.   How to avoid this (assuming reasonable health) in my book is by having a large circle of friends and keeping cheerful by having a good laugh and keeping the grim reaper at bay.  (if I suddenly fall off my perch then he will after all have had the last laugh, but at least I shall go down fighting.)

One cheerful note is that there are a tiny few aconites out just under our bay window - maybe a dozen.   I thought we might have lost them all after the farmer dug the whole of the front garden over to get rid of a lot of rubbish prior to lawning it later in the year.  There is nothing like a few of these perky little fellows to liven up Winter.   And, speaking of perky little fellows, a dozen long tailed tits descended on the fat balls at our bird table just after lunch.   When they settle on the fat balls their striped backs and tails make the most beautiful pattern.   They never stay long, they just include our bird table in their forage up the holly hedge, making a small detour.

So that's three things today - the aconites and snowdrops under the front window, the long tailed tits and the friends for coffee.   Now there is a cosy wood burner to sit in front of and two magazines through the post this morning to read - that'll do me for the day.   Keep warm bloggers all.

Thursday, 22 January 2015


This morning, as we drove back down the lane from a short visit into town, we saw a man on the side of the road and he had a fairly large box in his hand.   We usually know everyone coming down the lane, so I asked the farmer who he was.   "The ferret man after the rabbits" was the reply.  It made me shudder.

Every so often one of our neighbouring farmers gets the man with the ferrets to come round and clear a few of the rabbits off his land.  I find this killing of rabbits hard to take, but I do realise that in Summer, when the cows are out to pasture, ten rabbits are said to eat as much grass as one cow.   And of course we all know that rabbits breed like....well, rabbits.

I'm sure that ferrets kill cleanly so it is probably a quick death, maybe quicker than the gun - after all some rabbits will probably only be maimed by a gun shot and will die in agony.   That other killer, myxymatosis (which we didn't see round here last year thank goodness) is a most cruel death.

But we, here on the farm, have our own hunters.   Our two farm cats, Blackie and Creamy, are great hunters of rabbits and in the Spring they rarely eat any of the food put down for them - and the floor of the hay barn can be littered with the tiny rabbit skins of baby rabbits - they seem to eat every morsel but the skin itself.   But at least they eat their kill.

That other hunter around the farm is the sparrow hawk.   The female comes round most days (she is considerably larger than the male, so it is easy to recognise her).   She will come swiftly, swooping over the holly hedge by the bird table.    Mostly she will get nothing, but now and again there will be the tell- tale feathers of a blue-tit or even a collared dove.   But, again, the death will be swift.

John's blog today shows him with a sick egret in his arms yesterday and this morning the bird is dead.  I can't help thinking that a death by any means other than a slow death in a strange place would have been better.   So sad that John couldn't save it though.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

This is the view outside my front door.   I didn't even go on to the step but just stood on the mat and 'clicked' - sorry it is going uphill slightly, but you get the general idea.   Since I took the shot five minutes ago it has started snowing - fine grains floating down.

The birds are ravenous and I am raiding the cupboards to find extra food for the bird table.   Yesterday I bought a coconut and the farmer has chopped it in half and hung it in the rowan tree for the tits.  I have added a bowl of suet, sultanas, currants and oats on to the table and all the feeders are full.   But by lunch time they will all be empty again.   Pheasants are arriving for the poultry wheat the farmer puts down.  I wish I could get a photograph (ten there at the moment, but as soon as they hear the back door they retreat under the bushes.  It is bleak.

One of my Buff Orpington hens just didn't arrive back at the hen hut last evening.   The Orpingtons are usually the first to go in and the rest did, but there is one missing.   She has therefore been out all night, which is a bit worrying, although the farmer thinks that 'something' got here during the day to prevent her coming home.

The sheep have been moved to the low pastures because all our top pasture is being slurried by a giant machine.   I haven't seen it and I am definitely not going up to the top fields just to view it, but apparently they just 'thread' a giant pipe across the fields and then send the slurry through it.   Whatever they do, the top pastures are now brown whereas the lower pastures are a mixture of white (snow) and green (grass).   Now that there is grass to be had by a bit of scraping with the foot, the sheep are totally ignoring the silage and the sheep nuts.   The grass is bright green, frozen and lacking in a lot of goodness, but the Swaledales are a hardy breed and prefer grass in whatever form it takes.

I have just looked at the photograph and I see that there are two cock pheasants in the front garden.   One is clearly visible and the other is behind a bush to the left of him (in the middle of the picture).

The ground is hard frozen which the farmer is pleased about as he says we haven't had really hard ground for several years and it really does kill off a lot of slugs and other 'bugs'.  So, it is an ill wind as they say.

So far, so good today on the Broadband front.  Am keeping my fingers crossed.   A BT Open Reach Van has just gone past - maybe that is relevant.   All I know is that I wouldn't be a worker out in the Open Reach today (or open anything else) - the woodburning stove for me.   Incidentally, I love the way that Cro calls his two stoves Gilbert and George (two of my favourite artists) - I am now trying to think of a name for mine.  I wonder if there is a name which means reliable, loving, dependable or something like that.

**A friend has just e mailed me to suggest David (the farmer's name) as she says he is all the things above (and she knows him well.)
***My Buff Orpington hen was in the big shed.   She had roosted
in there overnight and strolled out large as life when the farmer opened the doors this morning.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Fun and Games.

Another day when I have been unable to get on to my blog or on to my e mails.   All sorts of strange messages have kept popping up on the screen telling me to press this or that or to reconnect this or that.  I understood very little of it - all I knew for sure was that I could not read or send an e mail, neither could I write a blog or read any of yours.   Frustration set in mid-afternoon when I resorted to sitting by the woodburner with the Times crossword.

I rang my tame computer engineer and asked him to ring me back.  Now, at 7pm, I switch on for one last time and find that everything is working totally normally.

The farmer is convinced (because he peered down a hole where two BT men were about to start working) that the problem is water which has now frozen and become ice.   It is certainly very cold here.   But, mine not to reason why.   For the time being I am up and running again.   Oh, and by the way, thanks for all those words of encouragement.

Monday, 19 January 2015

All Communication Lost.

Folk of my age - in fact anyone who is retired - should make themselves computer literate.   I have so many friends who say they just can't be bothered and what on earth would they use it for.

I say here and now that I have been without Broadband for most of the day today.   Don't ask me why - I pressed various buttons and got various questions on the screen, most of which I couldn't answer.   Finally, in desperation, I switched off and managed without all day.   All I can say is that I felt bereft without the communication I get from blogging.   Virtual friends become an important part of life, particularly on days like today when the weather is freezing and there are frequent snow showers.  And I had no idea who had e mailed me because I couldn't access my e mails.

Now Broadband is working again - so hello everyone.  I'm back chatting to all and sundry.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A new bird on our beck.

This week a Little Egret has been seen in our fields on the beck.  Very exciting news.   The bird has been slowly moving towards the North of England but this is the first one we have seen.

The beck, which runs through most of our fields, has a plentiful supply of minnows, bullheads and small trout and already supports a pair of kingfishers and a pair of grey heron, so we are hoping that this Little Egret will bring a mate along and stay with us.

I tried to copy and paste a photograph to show you but had no success, but if you want to see what it looks like (pure white with a crest and with black legs and a yellow bill) there are loads of pictures of it on various sites.

It is snowing lightly here, very icy and bitterly cold.   Keep warm.


Saturday, 17 January 2015

A special message to Malcolm Taylor, a reader of my blog from Lancashire.   Welcome to a pie eater from Lancashire.   No, no-one else seems to be having a problem.  Sorry I can't help you.   Why not
start your own blog, then you can go on to my side bar blog list!


My oldest hen, Goldie, has died today.   She was reared from an egg here on the farm by an old hen who managed to lay away and bring home a clutch of babies from the hedge bottom somewhere in the fields.

She was always my favourite.   Born in the days when I kept a few 'fancy' hens, she was the most beautiful golden colour and always very tame.   In her time she has brought off several broods herself, copying her mum's habit of nipping off to lay a clutch of eggs off the farm and then returning with a few chicks.   And once, a few years ago the farmer accidentally ran over a hen pheasant sitting on a clutch of eggs in a hay field.   Sadly he killed the pheasant and crushed a few of the eggs but he brought home seven or eight eggs in his cap.   At the time Goldie was broody, so we put them under her.   She reared the lot and was a really good mum.   One night a stoat or a weasel broke into her hut and stole one half grown pheasant, so the next day we let them all go.   They used to roost in the greenhouse at night for a few weeks, then they disappeared into the wild and Goldie returned to what she did best - hanging around under the bird table for any stray sunflower hearts which might fall her way.

The farmer has gone shooting today, but before he went he put Goldie out in the field for the fox.   Like any other wild creature the foxes will go hungry a lot of the time in this cold spell - so after evading the fox for the whole of her ten years, hopefully she will provide a tasty meal for a fox family tonight.

Goodbye Goldie - I shall miss seeing you around.

Thursday, 15 January 2015


After yesterday's snow (see my new header) it has all gone during the heavy rainstorm overnight and the world is bright and clean.   The sun is shining and there is a sharp, cold breeze.   There were gales overnight and during the evening something fell down the chimney into the 'shelf' of our wood burner.   I suspect a piece of the chimney has come off but the farmer just says. 'not to worry' (one of his standard replies), so I am trying not to.   Another howling gale is forecast within forty eight hours.

We are lucky in that our farmhouse faces due South, so as long as there is sunshine our house warms up beautifully during the day.   It is also very light because of our large bay windows.

The farmer has just passed the hall window with two bales of silage on his tractor to refill the hay racks for the sheep.   Once they got used to the idea they attacked the silage with gusto apparently and are already ready for more.   Everything eats more in this bitterly cold weather (including humans - this is when the inches go onto the waistline).

This afternoon I shall drive myself into town in the new car.   I must take the bull by the horns and get into it and drive it without the farmer by my side for 'comfort'.   When I look back to my teaching days and the long distances I drove (into London for courses - driving all the way from Wolverhampton, there and back in a day) I can't imagine how I have become so soft.   It is now so long since I drove on the motorway (there are few up here) that I would no longer feel safe.  It was comforting to read the replies yesterday when almost everyone said they would not drive when their partner was in the car because he would suggest they were in the wrong position on the road/ in the wrong gear/driving too slow/fast.  Seems I am not alone.

Sausage and mash with onion gravy, followed by baked apples, is on the menu for lunch - so I must get it ready.   Keep warm.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Winter has arrived

Bright sunshine, strong winds, heavy snow showers and bitter cold.   Yes, Winter has arrived this morning here in the Yorkshire Dales.   And the sheep know it.

First thing this morning the farmer took two  silage racks full of fresh silage down to the fields where the sheep are.  In order to get at the grass the sheep were having to scratch the snow away - so at last they capitulated - or rather most of them did.   The farmer took the camera.   Some of the sheep followed the tractor, some completely ignored it.   But they will all come round and by lunch time they will all be eating the sheep nuts and the silage.

The snow is set to go quite quickly and very strong winds return, although the farmer says it is not yet above freezing.   It is so bad this morning that our newspapers had not come when he went to the shop for them at 7am.   He has just gone back again - I am suffering from Times deprivation.

Keep snug and warm.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


I dared to drive the new car into town this morning to the bank.   I asked the farmer to come with me as I am always a little nervous in a new vehicle.   In fact it seems exactly like the old one to drive, the only difference being that one has to depress the clutch before putting one's foot on the accelerator when starting.   Of course I didn't drive in the correct manner for the farmer.   I was too near the side of the lane, which threw up grit and the odd puddle and several times he pointed out that I was in the wrong gear.   But I swallowed any retort and pressed on.   After all, it is his car and he is happy for me to drive it, so I let all such comments go over my head.   Did any woman ever drive a car right for a man sitting in the passenger seat?   (incidentally, he never drives it right for me either, but I keep quiet about that too).

It is a very cold day here, although the wind has dropped.   My Tesco delivery man remarked on the pleasant day when he came with my order this morning.   I had to tell him that overnight the weather is set to get very stormy indeed, with gale force winds, some snow -everything but a plague of frogs - and I wouldn't rule that out.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Traditional Sunday Lunch.

I wonder just how many people cook a traditional Sunday lunch these days.   When I was a child I think most women did the traditional roast for the family.   We had beef, lamb and pork in that order.   On Sunday it would be roast and served after (not with) Yorkshire puddings and gravy, and all the vegetables available in our own garden.   Then there would be a pudding - probably apple pie and custard, or sometimes an egg custard in a pastry case and sprinkled with a thick layer of nutmeg.  The next day we would have the meat cold and the veggies fried,   the day after probably cottage pie with a mashed potato topping.   Housewives were (or always seemed to be) careful and thrifty.
Now that the large majority of women work as well, traditional Sunday lunch may be almost a thing of the past.   We manage to get ours when we feel like it by visiting our local golf club at Catterick Garrison, which is open for non-members and always very busy.   Today the farmer had roast beef and I had roast chicken.  The farmer being a traditionalist, started his meal with vegetable soup; I opted for garlic mushrooms, which were delicious but so filling that I found it hard to do justice to my main course of roast chicken.
Alright - there are no left-overs to use up tomorrow, but I can live with that in return for no work to do preparing the lunch this morning.
It is a bleak, raw, Winter's day - icy wind, dull, sharp sleety showers - nothing to commend it really. Now that we have returned (and feel like absolutely nothing more to eat today) we have to sort out the papers for changing our car for a new one tomorrow.   I am busy sorting out our holiday in early  May, when we intend to visit Aldebrough in Suffolk after a short break in Lincoln (my home town)so I am searching for a nice hotel.   Alright, May is a long time yet, but once it is booked then I can begin to look for places to go and things to do.   The Magna Carta is on display from mid March at Lincoln Cathedral, so we are keen to see that and always stay at the same hotel, just round the corner from the cathedral.

As my sister got into her eighties she always used to say that she could cope with whatever life threw at her, providing that she always had something to look forward to.    As I get to that age I know exactly what she means - so planning ahead and writing dates in the diary is always an enjoyable activity.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Sign of bad weather to come?

The farmer came in at lunch time - "Guess what I have just seen in the fields this morning"?   No point in trying to guess - so What?   The answer was that he had seen a pure white stoat running across the field.   I have only ever seen one and that was some years ago.   The farmer has only seen one before.   Its colour suggests that bad weather (i.e. snow) is on the way, as the stoat is usually a gold/brown colour and only turns white in snow.

And sure enough it has snowed on and off all afternoon, alternating with sunshine and a sharp bitterly cold wind.   Of course it is not cold enough for the snow to settle, but I just hope it is not a sign of more bad weather to come.

We have stoked up the wood burner, taken all the Saturday papers into the sitting room and intend to sit in the glow of the stove for the rest of the day.   Whatever you are doing, please endeavour to keep warm.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Mystery solved!!!

The mystery of the two pregnant (very) young heifers seems to have been solved by their owner (our friend and neighbour G) after he sat down with his record books last evening and had a serious look at things.   It seems that for the two weeks before they were let out into the open fields on our farm, these two very young heifers were kept in a pen with an even younger bull calf.  Obviously he was not so young that he didn't know how to get on with things.   By the look of her, one young heifer will calve within the next week and the other will calve shortly afterwards.   I will keep you informed as to the results.   Never a dull moment is there?

Very stormy weather here today, although I think it is even worse in the West of the country and we are escaping the worst.   The farmer has lit the wood burner early and is sitting reading his farming paper.   I have been getting the ledger up to date.  I started yesterday but couldn't get the wretched thing to balance.   I put it away and upon opening it this afternoon, it balanced first time.  I have filed a lot of papers and can now sit down and enjoy my book (Terry Darlington's account of travelling along the waterways of the North West of England - with a wife and two whippets.   Great fun and very light reading.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

In the front walled garden the first snowdrops are flowering.   Just a small clump facing the sun, but it does the heart good to see them.

There are other signs of Spring there but you have to look for them.  Deep in the heart of the clumps of Lenten roses there are fatbuds forming, and in the tubs and pots the spikes of tete a tete daffodils are well up, as are the crocus.

In the fields at first glance it is all wintry.   The fields are green and empty and the hedges have recently been cut so they are mostly brown apart from lengths of holly hedge here and there.   The trees are leafless - but wait - here's a hazel covered in catkins, already beginning to show their yellow pollen.   As they pollinate by the wind blown method they don't have to wait to show their sexy side to passing bees.   And a look under the hedges on the sheltered side shows the first nettles pushing through.

The beck is full of water.   Although we have not had much rain here on the farm, there has been much more further up the Dale and on the Moor and this water is draining down through the beck.   It must be full of tiny fish - mainly bullheads - because our two resident grey herons and our resident kingfishers are already working the length thoroughly.

The only animals around are the four horses in a neighbouring field and they are only too happy to come to the fence to have their noses stroked if you venture anywhere near.

Yesterday some heifers who are still out over winter managed to get out of their field about two miles away and wandered up the lane until they were stopped and put into a field by our farmer neighbour, while he searched by phone for the owner.   Now safely back home, and the gate strengthened, that is another bit of excitement over.

Gales are forecast for the next few days, so there will be more branches down to be sawn up for the wood burner.   Nature is often very kind to us in keeping us warm over the coldest days.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A Mystery and a Trip Out.

First the mystery.   You may remember that during the Summer months we have heifers in some of our fields belonging to a friend and neighbouring farmer.   They went back 'home' about the beginning of October.   Well, the farmer met that farmer this morning when they were both collecting their newspapers in our little market town.   And here is the mystery - two of the said heifers have 'bagged up' - in other words they are pregnant and look as though they will shortly give birth to first calves.   How did they get pregnant?   We don't have a bull and although there has been a bull about five fields away for much of the Summer, there is no evidence that he ever broke through any fences to get to 'our' heifers and if so, then he certainly went back sharpish.    How soon the calves are born will indicate whether or not they were pregnant when they came, so the mystery either deepens or is solved - watch this space.   Whatever the answer, they were probably due to go to market shortly so there has been a reprieve - surely a good thing if you are one of the heifers concerned.

Now to the trip out.   We have a superb Auction House in our little market two - Tennants - one of the leading Auction Houses in the country.   It goes from strength to strength and is now a very grand building with all kinds of facilities as well as the normal auction rooms.   There are conference rooms and there is a super cafe and a lovely restaurant.   Today friend S and I had lunch there - wraps with salami and a tomato salsa - served with a salad.   Delicious, especially when accompanied by a couple of hours of good conversation.   I have just returned to an ecstatic welcome from Tess who is back to normal I am pleased to say.

It is a rotten photograph as first of all it looks as though the building is going uphill (it is on the  flat I assure you) and it is a rather dull picture (it was pouring with rain - so the picture was taken in a hurry). But you get the general idea - the facade shown is around half the whole facade but the weather was too bad to go further on.   If you want to read more about Tennants then you can always go to their extensive web site.   They are a very great asset to our town and everyone who has lived here since their relatively humble beginnings is full of admiration for the way they have built the business up into one of the leading ones in the whole country.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


I am very bad at reading instructions.   It has always been thus.  Not just since I got older, but always.   Even as a child I remember tearing the wrapping card off things rather than reading where to open the wretched box.   Now when I am in a cafe and presented with a biscuit in a cellophane wrapper, I can never open the thing and usually rely on whoever is with me to do it for me. (thanks W if you are reading this!)

This evening our new tumble drier has been delivered, along with an instruction book.   The book is very complicated and my patience is rather short so I am really wondering how I shall get on in the morning when I wash the towels (which I have been keeping since Monday for just this occasion) - I intend to do it without asking the farmer for help if I can.   I always say that when we married, he (a farmer) thought that I (a retired Head of Department from a very large comprehensive) was so very clever.   It has been downhill all the way since in the intervening twenty one years as my failings have been revealed.   Tomorrow may be one more.

Hospital appointment went very well and I have been 'signed off' unless I have another attack.   The hospital is forty miles away so is a long journey, although an easy one.   And the cafe does delicious lunches - we had glorious smoked salmon and soft cheese sandwiches with our coffee.   And we managed to find a friend, who has been in there for ten days; the staff on reception were very helpful and he was so pleased to see us as his days seem endless.   His family all live sixty miles away, which makes for an even longer journey.

The weather here has been so beautiful - glorious sunshine since around eleven o'clock this morning, although the sun was directly in our eyes on the return journey.   Very stormy conditions forecast for Friday onwards so we need to make the most of it.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A New Car

At last the farmer has come to a decision and has today bought himself a new car.   Ours is four year's old in a fortnight, so it seems a good time to update it.   No going round looking at cars for us.   It is back to the same dealer and the same salesman as before and exactly the same car but in the four-year-update version.   I am pleased about this as I don't have to learn to handle a new car.

Tess has not been too well today.   We had a large cottage pie made out of the roast beef from New Year's Eve and because her little pleading eyes were so pitiful I gave her some for her tea yesterday. I shouldn't have done so because she had an upset tummy this morning poor thing.   However, she is back to normal this evening and has eaten her usual tea.

It is my annual visit to the James Cook Hospital tomorrow to see my neurologist - we always go early to make sure we get a space in the car park (is there a hospital in the country which does not have a parking problem?) and we always have our lunch in the cafe - so I look forward to that.


Sunday, 4 January 2015

Christmas cards.

I love sending and receiving Christmas cards, catching up with friends old and new and exchanging news at this time of the year.   This is especially true of friends from far away who I probably only hear from at Christmas.

As usual I have done my Christmas card survey, so thought I would put it on my blog today as I clear the cards away and get ready to answer any letters in them.  (I know it is not Twelfth Night yet but I do tire of them once the celebrations are over and they start falling over)

We had ninety cards and out of the whole lot, forty nine were charity cards .
 Of those ninety seventeen were wintry scenes,ten were robins, ten were Christmas trees, seven had just words on the front, six had a religious theme and all the rest came into categories where there were only one or two (Christmas stockings , snowdrops, old masters for instance).   Interesting that only six had a religious theme considering that it is a religious festival.

Now that the decorations are down and put away I must say that the whole place looks rather bare.   But my cleaner comes on a Monday morning and it will be nice for her  to dust around everywhere without anything to impede her progress.

It has been a wonderful day here today weather-wise with a clear blue sky, a light breeze blowing and non-stop sunshine - although cold.   Now, looking out of the hall window as I write this I see that there is a beautiful apricot coloured sunset to end the day.   I hope your day has been as good.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The farmer has just returned from his shooting day - early as it happens.   It is a 'raw' day here, overcast with a bit of sleety rain in the breeze and gradually getting colder; not a particularly nice day to be out.   When the shooters got as far as our fields the farmer came home and is just in the process of lighting the wood-burner and getting us snug and warm.  Then he can carry on with the jig saw puzzle we started yesterday - one designed by his niece, which we are enjoying doing very much.

Friend W and I spent the morning in one of our local cafes drinking cappucinos - I only got back in at just before mid-day.  Then I had to remove from the Aga the ham shank with vegetables which had been slowly cooking all morning.   Now the whole house smells of it.   It is  not something I really care for, but the farmer loves it.   Tomorrow I shall strip the meat from the bone (once it is completely cold and the fat has been removed from the stock) and add red lentils, thus making a good, hearty soup for cold winter's days.

Everything seems to eat more when the weather is cold.   The wild birds come to the feeders and eat the seeds very early in the day.   We always put out mixed seed in one feeder, niger seed in another and sunflower hearts in a third.   In addition there is a cage of peanuts, a cage of fat balls, a scattering of suet and of dried meal worms on the bird table and poultry wheat (for the pheasants who more or less live here) on the floor.

The cattle in the loose housing had plenty of silage to eat when the farmer went off on the shoot at 10am but by the time he came back a short time ago they had eaten up.

The only thing that doesn't seem to eat 'with the weather' is the sheep. who just keep eating at the grass all day, whatever the temperature.   The farmer scatters 'sheep nuts' every morning for them but only a few of them bother to eat them - the crows and rooks get the better part.   The sheep will only turn to them in earnest if we should have a fall of snow (fingers crossed we don't).

I shall now return to the Times crossword - not doing too badly today so I shall persevere.  Have a nice weekend.


Friday, 2 January 2015


Helen Rumbelow in today's Times talks about January and the reason she rather likes it.   Made me think - and I think I agree with her, although if it turns out to be a month of freezing cold weather and snow I shall probably eat my words.

When we were children the days seemed endless - or at least looking back from this advanced age they did.   In the summer holidays we would pack our bike baskets with jam sandwiches, a bottle of water, a fishing net and a jam jar and we would bike off to Sandhill Beck, where the beck had a sandy bottom and lots of little bridges and we would amuse ourselves for hours catching minnows and displaying them in our jam jars, eating our sandwiches, lazing on the grass.  It was just a series of never ending days.

But now the days fly past, maybe helped by the fact that I do so many things at the same time each week - so that Wednesday becomes Exercise Day, Thursday becomes Hair day and so on.

But Rumbelow says that for her January is the only month when 'time slows to a manageable speed'.   I do see her point.   Our years are divided up into the four seasons - and in Winter we look forward desperately to Spring.   January seems to go slowly, then February speeds up like mad as it is such a short month, and then before you know where you are it is Spring and the year just flies by, punctuated on the farm by the various happenings like lambing, the cows going out to grass, the winter sheep going home to their farm and the summer ones with young lambs arriving, the haymaking, the silaging, the hedge cutting and then -wham - it is Christmas again.   So let's welcome January and say thank you that for a few weeks we can take it easy.

Readers of my blog will know that I love rooks, they are my favourite bird.   There is a lovely story in that same paper today saying that rooks are stealing golf balls in mid play.   They are swooping down onto the course and picking up the balls.   One walker found 1500 of them stashed in an old hollow tree.

Have a long, pleasant evening, take it easy and just let everything flow over your head for a few days - let the world slow down.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Happy 2015 to everyone!

Well dear friends,that's another year bites the dust.   Done, dusted, all the old calendars taken down and birthday reminders transferred to new pristine calendars, together with any other significant dates that needed to be remembered.

Now I am champing at the bit to get the decorations down.   I never find the patience to leave them until Twelfth Night, but shall leave them up today, mainly because I am having a total rest day after all my Christmas entertaining.   I have so enjoyed having a house full of people much of the time and because I love cooking, I have also enjoyed providing the meals.

Last night's beef pot roast worked well, as did Mary Berry's Souffle Fish pie - that is well worth a try if you are a fish pie lover.   You can get the recipe by going to and then putting in Mary Berry's fish pie.

Now can we please all forget about Christmas and New Year and get back to some kind of normality?   It is much easier on the farm of course, because animal life goes on just the same as always.   They don't know it is Christmas; as long as their food arrives on time and they are well fed, watered and warm, nothing else matters much.   Something sad happened the day before yesterday when one of the sheep we overwinter tried to jump the beck rather than go round by the bridge.   She got hopelessly stuck in the mud rather than making it to the other side and the more she struggled the more stuck she became.   By the time the farmer found her she had drowned.

Now all that is left to do is to get used to writing 2015 on cheques rather than 2014.   (Yes, I am afraid I am old fashioned- I don't bank on line and I still pay my bills by cheque - not sure what I shall do when cheques disappear off the radar which I believe they will do before long.)

To end on a cheery note - our Winter jasmine is in full flower, we have one or two yellow species crocus out and my tete a tete daffodils are well and truly showing their green spikes in my planters.   The snowdrops under the Scots pines are well up and if the really cold weather holds off for a few more days I may have one or two to show you.

Roll on Spring.   You can't come soon enough for me.