Sunday, 28 February 2010

St David's Day

Have a good one. I don't have time to write about St David this morning, so instead it will have to be a resume of the weekend . . .

This picture of lichens was taken on my walk, when every step felt an effort! I have put the photo sideways so you can see the lichens more clearly, but it makes the hill look like a precipice!

I have been feeding the birds - I now have a cock Pheasant and three hens come to scavenge under the feeders. This one was reminding me it was feeding time!

I have seen a Cormorant on the tidal part of the River Towy, shaking his head after diving for fish . . . I have seen several Buzzards, a Red Kite, Herons on the Heronry down at Whitemill (they really do NOT look like tree-dwelling birds . . .), and the first frogspawn has appeared in our wildlife pond though it has sadly been a little frozen by the frost last night - much of it being above water, as you can see . . .

My menfolk have been putting up the newly-made cornice, though that has made fresh problems as the ceiling is so wonky and we have had to line up with the wall and the other cornice, rather than the ceiling, so slips of wood will have to be put in to hide the gaps (an inch over one end of the fireplace!) OH even had to make the dentil "teeth" for this length of the cornice, and I was very impressed by this!

Yet more x-stitch - I am on the half stitches of the church tower now, so that is coming along a bit faster. I can't wait to have it finished and then we can frame it.

And for the first time in many years I have been drawing again. Well, copying, as you can see. I was relieved I haven't completely forgotten how!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Welsh Cobs

Morning's Minion has been writing about the Morgan Horse over on her blog and I can remember reading, half a lifetime ago now, that someone had reckoned there was Welsh Cob blood in the mix that made Justin Morgan, the founder sire of the breed. It would certainly explain the incredible trotting gene . . . The photos shown were ones I took at our local show (Cothi Bridge) a couple of years ago. I reckon, put a few outcrosses to Thoroughbreds and here you have the Morgan horse . . . George Borrow wrote of riding a Welsh Cob which rattled his teeth and trotted at 16 mph! I will try and find the passage later.

Visit HERE
for photos of the Welsh Cob stallion lineups at the Royal Welsh show in 2007 and HERE for the complete Welsh cob lineups. If you click on the sire's name you will get direct links to the stallion websites, with photos. Ebbw Victor was the grandsire of our Maggie.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

They Don't Make Them Like That Any More . . .

I idly picked up an old copy of the magazine "Evergreen" this morning and came across an article about Danny Kaye, and then a short piece about Humphrey Bogart and all of a sudden I was taken back to my childhood, when old - often black and white - films were shown regularly on tv. Recently I have had a huge urge to watch them all again: the "Road" films with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour; Bob Hope in The Paleface with Jane Russell, where he accidentally inhales laughing gas (used by dentists then); Danny Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Hans Christian Anderson and White Christmas (did you know the MGM made him dye his hair red after he refused to have a nose job? They wanted him to look less Jewish . . .); Donald O'Connor and Francis the Talking Mule, dancing up walls and over sofas and co-starring with Fred Astaire in Singing in the Rain. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - need I say more? I am just enjoying them in Too Hot To Handle over on YouTube, but I appear to be too dozy to give you a link . . . Gosh but they could dance . . .

Then there was my favourite, Gone With the Wind with the stunning Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and rogueish "I don't give a damn" Clark Gable; June Allyson as tomboy Jo in Little Women and Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett and the odious Charles Laughton as her father in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and their servant who goes across behind the sofa as if she is on wheels! Bogart and Hepburn in the African Queen, Doris Day in Calamity Jane (we still have that on video) and of course the incomporable Bogart in Casablanca (I have that too). Play it again, Sam . . .

Many thanks to the Doris Day website from which I copied the photo at the top.

A morning in the Records Office

Family history is a long and winding road . . . with many potholes and blind alleys in it!
Despite being groggy from 3 very poor nights of sleep, I was keen to try and find out some answers to family history questions which have arisen in recent days. I won't go to into great details because, even 80 years on, some of the events are still incredibly personal and emotional. Suffice it to say, it came to my attention that unbeknownst to me, it appeared that my g. grandfather had remarried. So off I trotted to Carmarthen this morning, and was welcomed back like a lost sheep to the fold as I had scarce shown my face in there since my mum's death two years ago.

I was soon happily settled down at a computer, using Ancestry to look for those answers, and yes, he had remarried. This now gives a better understanding of the people attending his funeral, as several of their names were a total mystery to me. In a few weeks' time, the 1911 census will be up and running on Ancestry and then I will see who is with who, and where. I can't find any further children from my g. grandfather's 2nd marriage, although his wife was young enough.

I also found out who his grand daughters had married, and their offspring too. One even shares a name with one of my daughters although it's her first name and my daughter's middle one. Tracing forward can be difficult, but post 1916 it is easier to trace offspring as the mother's maiden name is given. I am very much hoping I will be able to trace this cousin of mine . . . she is only a few years older. Fortunately they have stayed in much the same area.

Finding definite IDs for some of my Bolt family who went to London (Hampstead and then branching out) is more difficult, but I will persevere. I have a couple of possible deaths which tie up age-wise, so I will go back next week (or maybe even tomorrow, now I have the bit between my teeth!) and see what I can find.

I have just heard from another - more distant - "cousin" and her research puts one branch of my family firmly in Dartmoor - no wonder I am being called back.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Taking things for granted . . .

Social history fascinates me. It comes hand-in-glove with researching my family history of course, as I want to know what life was like for my ancestors and I am particularly fascinated by the Victorian period - especially in rural areas.

In Llandeilo recently, I was again reminded of the past, when the working classes, even if they were sufficiently educated, had little recourse to books of their own, butt would attend the penny readings (written about so eloquently in Kilvert's diaries) or visit the reading rooms and libraries as the above photograph shows. What a lot we take for granted these days.

Last night I sat with my x-stitch project, sewing diligently with the television on in the background (my menfolk were watching a DVD of their choosing), by the warmth of the woodburner, and me with my excellent anglepoise-style magnifier and sewing light, I thought for a while about my lace-making ancestors in Shutlanger and Stoke Bruerne (Northamptonshire), huddled around a small fireplace lit with hedgerow sticks (brought home by them), working on exquisite lace by the light of a candle reflected from the water-filled glass magnifying flask. At least I can sew when I want to - they worked to feed themselves.

(I'd have been paid nothing for this - I've just noticed I've sewn some of the x-stitches with the top silk in a different direction . . . Unpicking to do now . . .)

How different my domestic scene from that written about in a copy of Girl's Own magazine in Victorian times, describing the lot of a woman who must needs take in "plain sewing" to keep her family fed:

"I used to get 1s 4d a dozen for making and finishing, all complete, full-sized strong shirts. These had back-linings, straight bands, five buttonholes, and seven buttons. If there were two gussets or vents put in, I had an extra penny a dozen. Buttons were found, but not needles or thread . . . I knew one woman that never lay down in bed for three months, but took what rest she had sitting in a chair. She thought she should never muster courage to get up if she were once comfortably under the clothes. She had four children to keep somehow . . . For handkerchief hemming a penny-farthing a dozen, or 15d a gross, is paid. A girl I know does handkerchiefs, and gets 10s. a week or so without expenses off. One week she'd been at it nearly night and day. She was saving for a new gown. She carried in 15s worth of work, and the master said she was earning too much, and knocked off 1s!"

1 s = one shilling - twelve old pence = 5 pence today. 1s 4d would have been a little over 6 pence . . .

According to Charles Booth's Life and Labour of the People in London (1889): "Home workers, machining a poorly paid class of shirt, can earn 2d - 3d an hour if at all skilled." (Thus 10 shillings to 15 shillings for a 60 hour week.)

Or think of the weeks and weeks of sewing by a poor light to make this wonderful wedding-dress:

"I have rather set my heart on a cream-coloured Indian muslin made with a plain skirt, edged at the bottom with three rows of narrow satin ribbon worked over in silver thread in this manner - a row of silver crosses webbed over the ribbon. The bodice made with a full waistcoat of silver embroidery or cream and silver gauze, and a line of the silver on the cuffs. Your hat must be made of the cream muslin, a Vandyke shape, with a bunch of silver wheatears and pale blue cornflowers and your bouquet must be tied with blue and silver ribbons. You must wear tan gloves and shoes, and I rather think you will please Walter's faastidious taste in this rather fetching "get up". "

And then there is the "inexpensive Trousseau" (for £30):

"Let us begin with nightgowns," says Aunt Margaret briskly, "Of which I think you may find nine enough." The nightgowns are to be made of calico, by Queenie herself, also the same number of calico combinations and half a dozen camisoles for summer wear. In addition the bride has four flannel petticoats "embroidered with flossine" (think this should be flossing?), two white petticoats, summer underskirt and a winter petticoat, one pair of white "bridal" corsets and one pair of black, four pairs of black spun silk stockings at 2s 6d, four lisle thread pairs at 1s 11d, and eight black cashmere pairs at 2s 6d. Dresses recommended are "one of the charming boating-gowns of navy serge which look so well on cold summer days", a vieux rose zephyr dress and, for evening wear, a pretty black Russian net skirt and bodice, and "a perfectly plain lizard-green velveteen, without a morsel of trimming, cut low back and front."

Extracts taken from "Great Grandmamma's Weekly" by Wendy Forrester (A celebration of the Girl's Own Paper 1880 - 1901)

Monday, 22 February 2010

Carmarthenshire Wizards

You will, of course, be familiar with Merlin, who according to legend, grew up just down the road from here near Whitemill, on the hill we know as Merlin's Hill, which has Merlin's Stone in a field just across the A40 and then there is - well, was - Merlin's Oak which stood in the town, and is now reduced to a couple of pieces, one held at Carmarthen museum and the other on display in St Peter's Civic Hall, just off Nott Square in the town.

However, two other Carmarthenshire wizards, Dr Harries, father and son, of Cwrt-y-Cadno, in the upper Cothi valley, were very famous in their day. Dr John Harries, diviner, physician and wizard, was born in 1785 and died in 1839. He possessed a great Book of Magic, a leather-bound grimoire with a brass lock and clasps which he allowed no-one but himself to handle. He was consulted often on the outcome of a sick neighbour, by their loved ones, and would go into a short trance and then pronounce whether they would get well or die. Apparently he was never wrong. Upon his death, his Book of Magic, and his shewstone (crystal ball) and other accoutrements were passed to his son Henry, who was a self-confessed warlock who had apparently trained in the black arts in London. He only survived his father by ten years, however, and following his death in 1849, the simple farmers (distant relatives) who had inherited the Book of Magic, were so frightened of it that they locked it away. One story tells that a London barrister who had heard of its fame, visited Cwrt-y-Cadno on a walking tour and persuaded them to part with it and the other magical effects - and doubtless paid good money too. However, it is said elsewhere that his magical book is kept in the National Library of Wales . . .

In the little book by Brian John, Pembrokeshire Wizards and Witches, it mentions "old Dr Harries" having particular skills in foreseeing the future, lifting curses, finding lost animals etc. He was apparently also a skilled psychiatrist and hypnotist, and had a deep interest in astrology and ESP, besides being a very skilled physician and surgeon. He was particularly remembered for his part in the case of a girl who had gone missing in the Llandeilo area. Her distraught parents consulted Dr Harries, and he consulted his books of magic and then informed them that she had been murdered by her sweetheart, and her body buried in a shallow grave in the mid-day shade from a certain tree. He described the place as best he could, and her relatives searched the district until an area resembling that described by the wizard was found. There, in the noon-time shadow of the tree described by him, they found the poor girl's body in a shallow grave, just as he had described. Her lover had fled but was eventually brought to justice, having confessed to her murder, and he was duly executed. However, the authorities then accused Dr Harries of being an accomplice as no-one else could have described the burial place of the girl with such accuracy. The magistrates were a Mr Lloyd of Llansevin and a Mr Glyn of Glanbran and they persisted with their accusation and Dr Harries was brought to trial in Llandovery. The court case was protracted and there was no actual evidence to implicate the Dr. He became annoyed with the stupidity of their questions, and suggested that perhaps his integrity and powers would be proven if they were to tell him the date and hour they were born, then he would tell them of the date and hour of their deaths . . . For some strange reason, the case reached an almost instantaneous dismissal . . .

Sunday, 21 February 2010

. . . and Sunday afternoon

This afternoon I am making Pizza (base just rising have had the dough slowly rising in the fridge since after breakfast) and 8 bread muffins - both of these now gently rising on top of the Hergom. Pizza topping is a few spoonfuls of leftover mince-in-gravy (how to make half a portion feed two people!) and ratatouille mixture which I got from the freezer this morning and has been bubbling away now it's thawed properly. So that's the evening meal sorted.

I've done some of the less pleasant bits of housework, made a big pan of Minestrone soup, am up to date with the ironing, have vacuumed, changed our bed etc, and then I went for a walk. I feel wonderful now, as the sun was shining and it makes such a difference to feel warm with the sun on your back. That's not happened for a long time! It felt good to be alive in fact, and I practically had the valley to myself. There were a couple from Pantglas (holiday village) whose "week" this is, and they always do lots of walking whilst they're here. I think I met them up at Pantglas last year when our paths crossed - they had walked to Brechfa and back. Apart from that, not a soul in sight, as the road is still closed to through traffic, though it is now at the stage where you can drive through at weekends when they're not working on it. The light was amazing - I love that very direct light you often get in late winter/early spring which gives such an amazing clarity to the landscape.

Saxifraga opp.

I probably walked a mile and a half each way, just enjoying being out in the fresh air, and with the promise of spring to come. The tiny bright green leaves of Saxifraga oppositifolia are starting to spread, though the cold weather has stopped them flowering as early as they have in previous years. The catkins are dancing on the willows now, and bringing some much-needed colour to what has been a very drab and drear landscape. A couple of Chaffinches were playing chase long the hedgerow ahead of me, darting in and out of the branches in a prelude to setting up home together.

The lane ahead.

The hill that is Banc y Darren never fails to delight me, as it reminds me of Dartmoor and when we first arrived, it made me feel very homesick as we had lost out on our dream property, a little cottage with 1 1/2 acres, near Okehampton and I came within a whisker of being back in Devon, only to lose out in the end, but Dartmoor still calls.

A thousand golden catkins jangling in the whisper of a breeze.

The light on the trees lit up the moss like sulphur.

The overnight smattering of snow lingered on the higher ground.

A little stream hurries down to the river.

Against the bluest of blue skies, the first signs of leaf buds forming.

The old farmstead lies in ruins, the back of the barn having broken this last year or so.

The new dwelling up above the treeline, and a beautiful spot to live, out in the sunshine and looking southwards.

Looking upriver from the footbridge.

The stones look beautiful beneath the water.

Scarlet Elf-Cap, a common fungi in these parts.

Sunday morning

Well, we awoke to a smattering of snow and freezing fog again. We had decided yesterday not to bother with the car boot sale for weather reasons - and those of economy. So I will be able to enjoy the Archers omnibus with no interruptions today. Normally I would tackle the ironing mountain, but this is just a little pimple now that I am Being Good and keeping on top of it (though I hasten to add, mainly to Keep Warm!) I have bread dough to make for Pizza bases for tonight's meal, and I think I will sew together the two retro single duvet covers I have to make a double one for eldest daughter. That will keep me in the warm and by the radio.

Meanwhile yesterday I did a bit of this:

which is the replacement cornice for the Morning Room (just one wall which builders damaged beyond repair 10 years back). OH kept all the dentil teeth (the little square bits) and a couple of lengths of the wood from part of it, but is having to completely remake it now, using lengths of various moulding from Jewsons. My job is painting it . . .

Then I made one of these:

which is Apple Dappy and absolutely GORGEOUS. I have put the recipe up a couple of times but it is possibly on my original Codlinsandcream blog. There's all sorts on there and it's well worth having a trot through the archives.

Then there is my big x-stitch project, the biggest I've ever attempted. It is a Devon village, and it is lovely to sew, but I was doing the fiddly stitch here stitch there bits yesterday, putting in flowers and greenery on the white walled cottage at the back and it took a lot of concentration and was slow going.

Then we had a quick walk up the hill, and took some photos. The one at the top of the page is taken from quite near the house, looking across the valley. The view above is looking left, as we came back down the hill.

I plan to get out again later, once the Archers is over. Have a good day everyone. Say hello if you can (it gets lonely talking to myself!)

Friday, 19 February 2010


I took myself to task again and delved further amongst my "bits of paper" and "notes" . . .

As you can see, I jot down impressions on whatever bit of paper I have in my bag - usually an old shopping list! Double-click to read it more clearly.

Spring comes late on the mynydd. The daffodils
Of the valley are long past before a hint of green
Appears amongst the tawny rushes,
Stippling the shaggy winter-pelt of pale palomino which
Ripples in sharp winds straight from the Eastern steppes.

Willow and Alder huddle in the elbows of the moor,
Freeze-dried fingers rattling their jewellery,
Nudging against sporadic stains of gorse, golden as gannet heads,
Stunted bushes sheep-nibbled into pyramids of prickles,
Whilst a crow parts the sky with sepulchral wings.

Along the stream bed, a dipper dances on a boulder,
Curtsying to her mate, wings akimbo, reflected where
Obsidian water glissades downstream, capturing
A scrambling scum of bubbles to twirl in backwaters, to
Drag them protesting into eddies and fling them seawards.

A triangle of Blackbirds stutters loudly where wilderness
Attains a cloak of respectability. Here a
Tussy-mussy of cheery blossoms dances, Primulas
Planted heedless of winters glance, beside the further bank,
Beside a green where old men will bend and bowl on summer evenings,
Blind to the black seams beneath that their fathers mined.

(From notes taken whilst sitting in the car one evening a few years backat Cwmamman Rugby Club . . . The things you do for your children . . .)


What an evocative word. It immediately conjures up the likes of Dylan Thomas, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and to a lesser extent, Mary Webb, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and many others who are favourites of mine.

I have written recently of my creative instincts having fallen into the gutter and laid there maudlin and stunned. I don't know what to write about. I am rather in one of those "don't care" periods where the problems of everyday life suffocate me. I think I need to get out and "touch base" with the natural world. To walk away the cares and worries, to notice the things that really matter, to have the opportunity to let my thoughts run where they will instead of being on the same everyday treadmill.

We awoke to a smattering of snow again this morning and a bone-rending cold which made going for a walk a very unattractive proposition, so I have been idle, and must confess to reading and sewing this morning . . .

Let me share one of Mary Webb's haunting poems with you, written the year my father was born . . .


The moon, beyond her violet bars,
From towering heights of thunder-cloud,
Sheds calm upon our scarlet wars,
To soothe a world so small, so loud.
And little clouds like feathered spray,
Like rounded waves on summer seas,
Or frosted panes on a winter day,
Float in the dark blue silences.
Within their foam, transparent, white,
Like flashing fish the stars go by
Without a sound across the night.
In quietude and secrecy
The white, soft lightnings feel their way
To the boundless dark and back again,
With less stir than a gnat makes
In its little joy, its little pain.


We woke up to another smattering of snow this morning. I am disgruntled, as a) I HAVE to go out to collect my prescription from the Dr's and then take it into town to get it filled, and b) my computer is in having spyware removed from it, and my son's laptop, whilst better than nothing, is giving me RSI in shoulders/neck/wrists as I am doing the funky gibbon trying to dangle my hands above the keyboard to type on it!

I am listening, out of the corner of one ear, for the rumbling of the Big Digger which is nearly finished working Next Door and who has promised to come and give OH a lift up to clean the much-blocked guttering on the house. The bit we can't reach unless we parachute in . . .

No photos today as those appear to be still logged in under my son's name and not mine.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


So far in 2010, creative thought has been hard-won. In fact, pretty well absent! I have just spent half the morning sorting out old boxes of paperwork, most of it fodder for the fire, but in the sorting, some notes taken on a day out to Brecon surfaced again. I think I've played with them before, but today they metamorphosed into this:


Pine boughs dangle limply like scarf-ends
Across the muddied verge, where
Bundles of twigs from hedging lie like a bristling eyebrow
Beside the dark maw of the winter ditch.
A narrow carpet-runner of weary green races beside the car,
Punctuated by forgotten cords of logs,
Shaggy with moss and lichens.
A blade of sunshine highlights dead bracken and
A swaying of bramble boughs dances against
A mausoleum of holly, black as a pirate's beard.
On the hillslope, a thicket of ill-planted ash and birch saplings
Jostle for company amongst a carpet of rotting leaves,
Moss-mounds velvet smooth at their feet
On the bare hill-top, stooped as a crabbit old man,
Stands a wind-blasted tree, leaning away from the winds,
Held only by tenacious roots.
The sun hangs low and brassy in the fading sky,
As shadows lengthen across the bleached grasses of damp hill pasture.
A densely-hedged lane gouges the fields,
And dangles the hillside like a funeral ribbon.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Early morning in the Cothi valley - the view from my office window this morning.

There was a lovely soft milky light across the garden too, highlighted by the first strands of sunlight breaking through the murk.

This beautiful tapestry cushion of Corfe Castle (we know it well, from when we lived in Dorset), came my way yesterday in lieu of a bunch of Valentine's Day flowers from my husband. Far more practical and it is soundly stuffed and just fits perfectly into the small of my back.

At yesterday's Car Boot Sale I found - brand new and only 20p! - this fascinating little book by Brian John, the title of which says it all really. I will doubtless be quoting bits in weeks to come . . .

The Pevsner Guide to Derbyshire was 25 pence last week at our local Community Shop. As our eldest daughter lives in Sheffield, we drive through Derbyshire regularly and this will be in the car on our next visit. We have been to Haddon Hall, and fallen in love with that. Hardwick beckons, and then that other gem of Derbyshire architecture, Chatsworth.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A walk on the beach

Today turned out sunny and warmer than expected for February. After a fruitful wander round the car boot sale, we drove a few miles along the coast to the mouth of the Towy estuary at Llansteffan.

The headland beyond Ferryside. Llansteffan has been a popular holiday resort for Welsh folk, especially those from the valleys, over the years. During "miners' fortnight", local houses would be full to the rafters with miners and their families, the bedrooms partitioned off by blankets to cram as many in as possible.

Ribbed sand below the cliffs.

A beautiful lichen the colour of Sherbert Lemons.

In the folds of the rocks, storms had heaped shells in their thousands.

More lichens.

No cockle-pickers out there today, but in season you will see 4x4s parked right out beyond the marker. In the past there have been "Cockle Wars" over the Ferryside cockle beds - 1993 was the year when this little sleepy seaside village hit the headlines of national newspapers. When you understand that there is big money to be made from cockle picking, the "turf wars" and the tragedy of the deaths of Chinese cockle pickers in Morecombe Bay begin to make sense . . .

We only walked along the beach a little way, just to look across Scotts Bay towards East Marsh, below Laugharne (of Dylan Thomas fame). Scotts Bay is named for captain John James Scott who lived here with his wife and large family in Victorian times, in the cottage beside St Anthony's Well. This Holy Well had a reputation for healing, as well as being a wishing well much used by love-sick people. There was a niche above the well for "offerings". It was on the Pilgrim Route to St Davids and many people would have passed by it on their way to the ferry across to Laugharne. In later times it was the custom to throw pins in the well, rather than money, when making a wish.

Above us, a glimpse of Llansteffan Castle. Built in wood in the 11th Century, and then again in stone, the castle was predated by a Bronze Age settlement.

Looking out across the mouth of the Tywi (Towy) Estuary across Pembrey and in the distance, the end of the Gower Peninsula at Rhossili Bay and Worms Head.

Across the estuary is Ferryside. Snuggled into the hills just behind Ferryside are the ruins of Iscoed Mansion, General Sir Thomas Picton's residence. He died at the Battle of Waterloo and there is a memorial to him in Picton Terrace in Carmarthen.

Below the castle, the trees grow right above the beach. The area of woodland is known locally as "The Sticks".

A geology lesson - here, like other parts of Britain's coastline, the strata has been heaved up.

This holiday cottage website gives a potted history and some photographs of Llansteffan.