Sunday 31 January 2010

Dorset Buttons

No apologies for repeating this extract from my original CodlinsandCream blog. If I knew how to import EVERYTHING across, I would. (Suggestions on a postcard please!) Please go across and wander through my archives, as there's all sorts of obscure stuff in there!

I was tidying up this week and in my craft cupboard I came across a little pack of Dorset Buttons to make up, so I will sit down with them tonight and put some pictures up when I've made some. This was a post from the end of March last year, and it was one of the posts which seemed to attract a lot of visitors, so hopefully it will again. I love the photo beneath and will try and make some colourful buttons like these.

When we used to live in Dorset, there was a little shop in a neighbouring village which sold collectables and nick-nacks and if my memory serves me well, it was called the Dorset Button Shop. This was in Lytchett Minster, where the bountiful Lady Lees attempted to revive "buttony" but it collapsed with the advent of the First World War. I believe it had once been the cottage where these later Dorset Buttons were sold. At one time, many cottage dwellers across Dorset made Dorset Buttons when the trade was flourishing. I have made them myself using small brass rings - a friend sent me a little kit one Christmas. Using embroidery floss, you use a basic buttonhole stitch around the ring, and then make "spokes" across the centre of the ring which you also embellish with an alternative colour. I think it was the Blandford Cartwheel design I made.

Button making was truly a cottage industry, and it flourished throughout the county in the 17th and 18th centuries. Originally sheep's horn (Dorset Down of course!) was used at the basis for the button, and was covered with cloth which was then embroidered and was a conical shape upon completion. These were known as "High Tops" in the industry. The diameter of the buttons varied greatly - from 1/2" down to an amazingly small eighth of an inch. With the poor lighting in most cottages, especially in the evenings and winter months, this must have been very bad for eyesight. Metal rings were then introduced, being cheaper than the horn base for the buttons. The industry was originally centred on Shaftesbury, in the north of the county, but then moved south to Blandford. An enterprising shop-owner (a Mr Fisher) opened a Button Depot at his draper's shop in the Market Place and workers sent (or took if they lived close enough to walk) their wares to this shop to be sold on.

Cloth-covered buttons sold from as little as 8d a dozen, up to three shillings. The women making them could earn up to two shillings a day for making 6 or 7 dozen buttons, and this was wealth indeed when the average farm worker's wage was 9d a day. This industry enabled widows to support themselves once the main breadwinner had died, and married women were able to stay in the home to care for young children whilst still earning a very good wage.

The best quality buttons (for export) were mounted on pink paper; 2nds on navy blue paper and 3rd class buttons on yellow paper.

This cottage industry ended after the Great Exhibition of 1851, when Mr John Ashton displayed a button making machine. It spelt the end of the Dorset Button Making industry almost overnight, as buttons could be made at a fraction of the cost. Starvation stared families in the face. The elderly and widowed ended up in the workhouse. Those who were able, fled to the colonies. 350 families from the Shaftesbury area alone emigrated, at the expense of the Government.

Many thanks for these two links for the history of the Dorset Button:

And here's a "How To" page with photographs.

Here's a link for booklets and kits :

Sunday sunrise

We had the most fabulous sunrise this morning. However, that old saying, "Red sky at night, shepherd''s delight, red sky at morning, shepherd's warning" came true and we had snow just after breakfast. Not too much - just enough to make life interesting going down our steep zig-zag hill! Not a gardening day then . . .

After we'd collected our son from his friend's house at X-hands, I stayed indoors and made this:

and this:

Cheese and Mustard Scone, and a fresh loaf of bread which rose very well as it was half white and half Spelt flour.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Some detail on those Ag. Lab ancestors

My lovely old butter churn. I bet some of my female Ag. Lab. ancestors were very familiar with this - and its bigger cousin the barrel!

Very few people seem to visit blogs at weekends (well, my blog at all events, or comment), so this is probably going to be Lost At Sea, but what the heck, I'll share it anyway. I've been going through my collection of old Countryman magazines this week, looking for a particular article, which I've not come across yet. However, I did find a very interesting article about Husbandry Apprenticeships in Devon, where apparently they were common.

Children would be apprenticed around the age of nine years, and bonded until 21 years (or in the case of the girls, until they were married). Indentures were signed by the churchwardens and overseers in that parish, and the law allowed the overseers to "apprentice any child whose parents, in their opinion, were unable to maintain it. Neither parents nor children were consulted."

Naturally, whilst there were good placements for children, and where they would certainly fare better for good food than had they stayed at home, this system was also wide open to abuse. With no inspections or general rules beyond providing the apprentice with "sufficient meat, drink, and apparel, lodging, washing and all other things necessary and fit for an apprentice" (and those open to the interpretation and mean-ness of the Farmer concerned). Any farm with an annual value of £10 or more were forced to take the parish poor as apprentices. In 1808, a report made to the Board of Agriculture thought the system good and recommended it being adopted in other counties (although generally speaking there was just an overspill into Devon's borders with Somerset and Dorset), but he noted that " 'some further regulations should be made to soften the severity of their servitude' for girl apprentices. What, he asked, could a girl of ten or twelve be expected to perform with a mattock or shovel."

By the Report on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture (1843) there is evidence given from the apprentices themselves:
Charles Medway of Doddiscombesleigh, labourer: 'I was born at Bridford. My father and mother were farmers' labourers. . . . I was first put out at 6 years old to a place to fetch cows, water, etc. I was afterwards, between seven and eight, apprenticed. . . It was a very good place, as good a place as a person could wish to be in: plenty of meat and drink. As for work, why people must work, and there was plenty of that. The boys lodged with master's sons, in the same room; the girls slept in another room with master's daughters. There were 21 of us in the family all at one time. I was clothed pretty well: I had two suits, one for Sunday and one or week days. I always went decent to any place on a holiday. There was never any serious disagreement between master and mistress and the apprentices: a few words, perhaps, but none of them ever went before a magistrate. I was living much better in the farm house than I might be at home . . . I learned to read in the farm house. Master took care we should read on winter nights, on Sundays particularly. All the apprentices were brought to the reading in the same way. I went to church twice on Sunday generally. I said my catechism every Sunday to the master; he made his sons and daughters attend to us. I was confirmed: master was always anxious about that with his apprentices . . . I think apprenticeship a good thing: a labourer gets rid of children and the children are better off, in a god place. I was in a good place, but I was lucky. I know many places where I should not like a child to be sent to: the children in such places have no clothes to wear; they are beat and half-starved. There are many such places; but, generally speaking, places are good."

This next extract if from Mary Rendalls of Exeter, whose husband Patric was a labourer: "I was born at Shorbook; my father was a mason . . . I was apprenticed between eight and nine to Mr Thomas Nicholls, farmer, of Lower Woodrow. . . . I stopped with him till I was 16 . . . Generally we had good food, better than many apprentices had, as I have heard them tell; oother times not so good. . . I always lived better than if I had been at home. I always had a bellyful. When I was an apprentice, I got up as early as half-past two, three, four or five to get cows in, feed them, milk tthem, and look after the pigs. I then had breakfast and afterwards went into the fields. In the fields I used to drive the plough, pick stones, weed, pull turnips, when snow was lying about, sow corn, dig potatoes, hoe turnips, and reap. I did everything that boys did. Master made me do everything. I took a pride to it, when I used to reap, to keep up with the men. . . My mistress was a very bad temper; when bad-tempered she treated me very ill; she would throw me on the ground, hold me by the ears, kneel upon me, and use me very ill. i used to scream. This has happened several times a week. I have not been free from sore from one week to another. I still have marks upon me from kicks (she was 41 when she gave the evidence). At other times she treated me pretty well. When she was violent, we had not enough to eat. My master beat me, and I went home to my father's house. My father was afraid to let me stop, as he might be summoned, as I was an apprentice. My brother took me to Chedworth, about 16 miles off, to prevent my going to Bridewell** . . . There were many bad places in the same parish; people used to dread the time when children had to go out. Apprentices were often badly used at that time, not so bad now, things are more looked into."

** Bridewell - this was Bridewell Prison, one of two in Exeter.

Friday 29 January 2010

Not the most enjoyable walk today

If you enlarge this (double click) you should see a faint rainbow.

Sometimes you really should listen to your body when it is having trouble trying to summon up enthusiasm for a walk. Guilt was leaning heavily on my shoulder, and I've put on a few pounds rather than lose them in the last couple of months when the weather has been against walking, or I was stapled to the sofa with my Christmas cold etc. I went with OH to get his paper and got him to drop me off about 3 miles from home. That is a good ploy as it means you can't possibly cheat and make it a shorter walk because you're being lazy. It was cold, threatening rain (showers) and I soon found I had no energy. I had to just plod. As I plodded my back began to ache, and then my right leg. My breathing wasn't too clever either - even the least little incline had me puffing, and that's no fun.

The furthest wooded hill is t'other side of our valley.

Winter treescape at the start of the walk.

Off Piste - onto the bridleway.

The little stream was keeping within bounds this time.

Looking across the Towy Valley at the incoming weather.

A glimpse of the high moors which overlook Brynamman. The silvery beige is the sunshine on the moor grass.

Anyway, I took some consolation from the scenery (between showers), hunched up into my collar to avoid the piercing wind, and was glad to find that the bridleway wasn't totally under water, as it usually turns into a stream after the least bit of rain. Looking towards Bryamman mynydd, and Black Mountain beyond, I could still see streaks of snow highlighting the highest ground. The landscape was drab and sere, lit only behind rising rainclouds and the occasional streak of sunshine across the mynydd, giving the blanched moor grasses a soft almost transluscent look. There were a trio of lambs out with their mothers in one of the first fields I passed, so that's the first ones I've seen this year.

First shoots of Cow Parsley.

There were the first tiny pinches of Celendine leaves poking through the mud, and tobacco-leaflike curls of Lords and Ladies (Wild arum lily), and along sheltered hedge bottoms, quite a good setting of the earliest Cow Parsley leaves. My horse Fahly always loved to eat Cow Parsley and would pretend he had an itchy nose which he just HAD to rub on his knee, and of course, then his mouth would be at Cow Parsley height and he would grab a mouthful. Or if I was Being Severe, he would march up to a particularly delicious-looking clump (he was always eyeing up the hedgerow bottoms!) and stand still and paw the ground to say "Please." He had my number!

A fairy's garden.

For MM - if you ever wonder why Wales is so green . . . we have lotsa rain!

The downhill stretch, and a view of the lovely Chestnut tree in winter.

The first snowdrops on my neighbour's bank.

The river is rising and full of run-off from the steep slopes up by Twm Sion Cati's Cave.

I've just gone down to take my Pear Pie out of the oven and is is chucking it down with sleety snow . . . I said it was cold! I think I'll cwch up with my x-stitch now and watch the racing.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Breast Cancer

My eldest daughter has just sent me an e-mail. I am sure I'm not alone in knowing people, having friends who have breast cancer or have managed to beat it. For my dear friend Noreen in South Africa, I am praying you will soon be amongst the latter. This is the best way I could think of spreading this message, so please:

Please tell ten friends to tell ten today! The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on 'donating a mammogram' for free (pink window in the middle).

This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammogram in exchange for advertising.

Here's the web site! Pass it along to people you know.


Armageddon in a Welsh valley . . .

Death and destruction for the plants alongside what used to be a pathway through the woods on Next Door's farm. A few years ago he widened it into a four-berth cow highway. Then before Christmas he cut dunnamany trees down, mostly sickly ash and sycamore, but some decent specimens too. It all went for firewood. Now the big yellow JCB lumbers up and down, and having dragged out the stumps it is now digging away at the hillside and broadening the trackway so half the 250-cow milking herd will be able to walk abreast along it. The yellow boulder clay forms a base for the slate and shale bedrock which is dragged out next, although with that number of cows traipsing back and forwards twice a day in each direction when they're pastured over that side of the lane, the shale soon turns into mud.

The top of the track, as it was.

Blackthorn flowering.

Celendines (in our paddock, rather than along the trackway, although they were prolific there.)

Cow Parsley.

Yellow Archangel.

Red Campion.

I hate to hear the bellowing and shrieking of this citric yellow monster destroying the countryside - a trackway I know well from dog walking, horse riding, blackberrying. The flowers of this wilderness are now gone, mangled beneath tons of earth and shale. I shouldn't think the badgers are impressed either. The Elder trees which lined one side of it are ripped out and buried beneath the wider track. It will be years before the soil re-establishes itself from leaf-fall and the colonies of wild flowers make a proper comeback. No Foxgloves there this year. No Blackberries. No Celendines. No Red Campion. No carpet of Bluebells or embellishments of yellow Primroses deep into spring. No creamy mopheads of Elderflowers in May and June and no Elderberries come autumn. No Flowering Wood Rush, or Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, and no Dog roses, for the beautiful arches on the bend which have been there as long as we have lived here, are now ripped out. Progress is it?

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Curioser and curioser

I have been looking through a few of my old Countryman magazines (I seem to collected have 50 or so over the years and they will be coming with us when we move) looking for a particular piece about rat armies. I haven't found it yet, but have been wonderfully side-tracked by articles and snippets, including this one, from the Spring 1962 edition:


During last lambing season mysterious casualties were occurring: several lambs were picked up dead, generally with mangled heads, one of which was bitten right off. Yet it did not look like the work of a fox; the bodies were quite untouched. Dark threats were muttered against a neighbouring Alsation; and the next night, as the moon was nearly full, the farmer decided to sit up with his gun, taking turn about on guard with his shepherd. A cold February dawn was breaking, and he was thinking of throwing in his hand, when he saw his daughter's cob approach a lamb that had wandered away from the ewe. The horse laid back his ears, raised a shod forefoot and crashed it down on the skull of the lamb, which collapsed without a bleat. Then he savagely shook the corpse and bit into the back of the neck, before dropping it and walking off slowly with an air of unconcern. The culprit was hastily moved to another field, and no more lambs met that sort of sudden death. The cob is a good-tempered animal and had always been quite friendly with the ewes, although he had not previously been with them at lambing time. We wondered if this lamb-slaughter complex could be a form of jealousy. F.E. Welchman, Wilts.

I don't know what was going on in that horse's head, but our little rotund Itsy had a habit of chasing the cats if she caught them in the middle of the field, and unfortunately probably caused the demise of one of our elderly cats, Sooty, when she caught her with a hoof. I think it's to do with territory, as my Arab Fahly would chase off people he was unfamiliar with (my son on one occasion).

Something has to change

Looking over my shoulder out of the window, all I can see is a monotone landscape. Shades of grey, greeny-grey and browny-grey. My late m-in-law (always a cheerful soul, NOT!) would have called this "suicide weather". I am inclined to agree with her this morning, having slept very badly last night thanks to Lucy-cat sitting on my shoulder all night, purring loudly and dabbing me with her paws. At 5.45 a.m. I gave up the battle to sleep and now feel thoroughly drained. I have done the last of the ironing to warm up, then decanted some bulk-bought spices into re-used (again and again) glass spice jars. The last one I did was chilli flakes. I picked up a few straggler-flakes. Then I blew my nose. Bad idea. Now it has chilli-flake-itis and is streaming . . . Just shows how awake I am this morning.

Last night I was reading Henry Beston's "Northern Farm". If you have never read any of his work, may I recommend anything he ever wrote. His relaxing prose and short chapters were just what I needed last night, although one paragraph has set my mind working on a particular spiral today. In the preamble to this paragraph, he was speaking of "the need of men for a community to live in and live with." That this was as yet an unrecognised need - certainly a concept totally alien to politicians at national level, and yet surely it is a fundamental basic of nationhood - that people interact and work together for the benefit of themselves and their community. He goes on to say:

"I suspect that if this open wound is to heal, it will have to heal like all wounds from the bottom, and that we shall have to begin at the beginning with the family and its obligations, with the village and its responsibilities, and with our universal and neglected duty to the earth."

Wise words, and very pertinent now, although I believe Beston's slant was more towards "our universal and neglected duty to the earth."

With the recent court-case about the feral boys who tortured, sexually abused and damn near killed two other boys who they saw as victims, this comment seems particularly relevant. The structure of family, for some stratas of society, seems to be in meltdown. "Dysfunctional" as an adjective attached to the word "family" is common coinage in newspapers. There have no doubt always been families through civilization whose attitude to child-rearing has been at best slipshod (think of that famous Hogarth print, with the gin-sodden mother not noticing as her baby falls over the railing), that children were perhaps just a commodity by which you might earn money - it was common in Victorian times for children to be sold into prostitution - or at best, those from working families had to earn their keep and support their parents as soon as they could do something - anything - useful. Think of Charles Dickens in the Blacking Factory children up chimneys, working down mines and amidst the mill machinery, bird-scaring or being (literally) "farmed-out" at 8 years old.

Now children are being sold downstream by parents who renege on their social obligations - have nothing to pass on to their children from their experience of the world, and at worst, like the boys above, were only taught the degradation of mankind via family violence, alcohol and drug-abuse, and violent and/or pornographic films so that is normal in their world. In the milder instances, some parents see no obligation to teach their child to be continent before going to school (the teachers can do that), and they see it as the school's job to teach the children moral boundaries, ethics, social skills - even speech in extreme cases. It reminds me of one family I came across where the mother had one supper for herself and her "partner" of decent food - even lobster or steak - and then a jam sandwich and crisps type "meal" for her - 7 - children. The youngest child spent its time strapped into a pushchair in front of the television all day long.

It worries me to read that so many young people have no life skills whatsoever but live in a house with every possible convenience money can buy, but having come from a family in which both parents worked, so the skill of cooking from scratch became one of shoving something instant in the oven or microwave, in one or two generations, a basic building block of family life, food - nourishment - has become degraded and undermined. Boys grown to men have no idea how to change a plug, carry out a simple woodwork repair, grow anything in the garden. Children grow up thinking that being a celebrity is a "career" choice . . .

My family mean more to me than anything and I have always seen it as my moral responsibility to equip them to grow into capable and well-rounded adults, with skills that they can pass on to their children in time. My responsibility to teach them the difference between good and bad, to show them boundaries, for them to show consideration to others, to recognize their obligations and responsibilities to their partners, family, friends, workmates and neighbours. When they were growing up it was blardy hard work. Children need those boundaries in place - they seek them because that boundary gives them security.

It is apparent that without any boundaries they are their own judge and jury, run wild and listen to, like the boys in Lord of the Flies, the beast inside us all . . .

Perhaps it is time for the words duty, obligation and responsibility to be highlighted again in family life, from the parents downwards and to heal that festering open wound from the core.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Winter Walk

The view across our paddock the other morning (from the half-landing window). It shows that curious yellow light that we often get before a storm or heavy rain . . . or snow!

Below, which shows the same view across the paddock, only in freezing mist.

We've just got back from a brisk walk up to the junction and back, with the river keeping us company of course. The river is different every time I walk by it and I love it in its many moods. I hope that we will be near a river again when we relocate - preferably the Dart in Devon. We saw a pair of Dippers on the way down, before they saw us. They were bobbing up and down on one of the river boulders, but fled upstream, flying low over the water as they always do, when they spotted us. On the way back we walked very quietly and didn't talk, but they were more aware and saw us first and flew away before I could get a picture of them. They flew to their usual spot by an overhang on the riverbank. I'm not sure if they nest there - it would be too low to the water if levels rose. Mind you, they do pick some dodgy places, as on Springwatch there were a pair who had built their nest behind the bars across a big stream culvert, but when the babies fledged, they had to try and get downstream safely. A couple made it, but I know at least one was drowned when it couldn't get back out of the water in time, having missed the ideal rock to clamber onto.

It is almost impossible to get a picture of the river without a TWIG or branch in it somewhere!

Nature soon colonizes dead tree stumps.

The tree which overhangs the road and threatens to fall further with every storm is still there, hanging on. When it does come down it will block the road and take out our phone line . . . I'm surprized that the Council haven't ordered it felled, though it would need more than just a chainsaw and something like a bod in a JCB bucket, chopping it off a bit at a time!

The "favourite" view of the river, which must be very familiar to readers of this blog by now.

This tree was carried down by the last spate and jammed against a riverbank Ash.

I spent a good hour this morning sorting through 5 old tins of sewing things which had accumulated whilst my cantilever sewing box (below) was waiting for OH to mend it. . . a good many years I might add! My late m-in-law had a big tin full of old needles, packs of darning wool and 2nd hand suspenders. The latter are now keeping company in the bin as they are definitely one thing I have no need for . . .

Below is the little walnut sewing box we found at the car boot sale at the weekend for £2.50 (empty bar for a chess set). Now I've stocked it up for T, who does a lot of sewing. G will have one of the prettier tins with some essentials in, as she is more of a sew-a-button-on-if-I-have-to sort of sewer, but then so was I until my late 20s . . .

Monday 25 January 2010

Just another day

A repeat of a recent photo as I can't find the file which has other M. room photos in it . . .

Nothing exciting happening here, just painting the room which was called the Morning Room on the house details when we first viewed this house, over 22 years ago now. For years we have had it a pale primrose yellow, but a rush of blood to the head saw us choosing a real deep lemon yellow this time - very much a colour belonging to the Georgian palette and since this room is mostly dating from the early Georgian period, it works very well. I was cursing the height of the room as I teetered, paintbrush in hand, on the ladder today. A ladder, I might add, which was teetering itself as the floor is so uneven in there and I had to put a block under one leg before I dared to climb it. I have just about done all the walls bar the bits which are having minor repairs done to and hopefully I will have enough paint to finish. There are some other jobs to finish off - rubbing down a couple of bits that needed Polyfilla, touching up the woodwork (hope I can get more of that colour rf I will have to do the whole lot again!) and OH has to make a length of wooden dentilled coving to replace some which was damaged in the past and removed in renovation work. THEN we can get the carpet laid. The roll of carpet for this room (and some to spare) has been sat in there for about 10or 12 years now, since we bought it at auction . . .

Below is a beautifully embroidered (but with the cotton base perishing) tablecloth which I hope to carry on restoring. I have some very fine old needles specifically for cotton darning, but boy, is it a labour of love. Still, someone spent many many hours creating it in the first place and I think it deserves some TLC now. Sadly it is much-faded. The bottom picture shows the back and a hint of the colours as they were originally - probably in Victorian times - dark navy blue and a deep peach. Whoever made it was a very fine needlewoman indeed.

Sunday 24 January 2010

An indulgence

You will have to forgive the post below as my Sunday Indulgence. I was in a writing mood yesterday so I thought I would walk the census again . . . I think my dad might have said I was showing off . . .

Another wander into the past

She had just set off from the village when the sky began to look ominous. The clouds were darkening to steel grey and although there was still a glimpse of the sun shining through a gap, the landscape had assumed that yellowish hue that it did before a summer storm, with the grass turned a sickly colour. The ivy leaves began to jangle in a rising breeze and the bark of the ash and oak, naked of leaves, turned yellow ochre as the lowering sun aimed one last beam before dipping from sight. She had 4 miles to go: the entire length of the valley. It was already fiercely cold and had been for nigh on a week now. There were hard frosts each morning which never seemed to thaw in the winter shadows of the valley bottom, and water at the shallow rocky margins of the river had turned opaque and milky, areas of intense freezing causing darker rings like frost ripples. Boulders were glazed with ice from river-splash until they each had a solid cap of ice which thickened with each passing day. Cascadings of water droplets formed a frilly edge like a petticoat around each rock. As the cold intensified, the river had been concentrated into one moving central column where the current was the fastest, but in slower parts ice had formed, carried downstream and slowly adding to the frozen border. Hollows scooped by the water from the slate riverbed were filled with the rounded heave of ice boulders, and the Heron stalked the water meadows now in hope of a meal.

As the light faded, she found the whirling of snow confusing her and a number of times found herself stepping into the ditch at the roadside. She stumbled back onto the road, trying to find a reference point in the fading light. Trudging forwards she thought she could hear running water to her left. Whilst she couldn't' see it in the blizzard, she was certain it was the small waterfall which cascaded down through the thick woodland by Ty Coed. She stood a moment, trying to make out the movement of the water through the spiralling cloud of flakes, as big as florins some of them. Taking heart from the fact that it was the waterfall, she knew herself to be half a mile closer to home now. After a little while she thought she saw a light which might come from Pensarn, a small farmstead which hugged the edge of a small copse, but rather than seek shelter she continued towards home, for fear the children would try to cook a meal in her absence and fall into the fire like Betty Evans' little maid had.

For a moment, she could have sworn that she heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, but then scolded herself for such a silly thought. The sudden awful crashing overhead was earsplitting. Ann instinctively dived off the road, landing with a flurry of flannel petticoats in a bank of snow which had already been blow into snake-like contortions by the wind. The thunder growled throatily like a rockfall down a mountainside and close behind it came a flash - indeed, a sheet, of lightning which illuminated the valley before her - each tree encrusted with snow; dark margins of hedgerows sinking into a sea of opacity, a brief glimpse before the magpie elements of night and snowfall closed in around her again. She was terrified. She hated thunderstorms and was still childlike about them, and felt very vulnerable without a roof above her head. She scrabbled in the hedge bottom trying to find sanctuary, some protection. A second clap of thunder and slight delay before the lightning gave her a chance to get her bearings. A hundred yards ahead she saw the darkness of running water, which must be the stream which powered the little farm mill at the ruined holding of Nantgwaun. Beside it would be the trackway which ended at the first of the barns. She clambered to her feet, breath catching in her chest as fear grasped her tightly. She half-ran forwards, twisting her ankles in the cart ruts now hidden by the snow, falling into a half-frozen puddle which soaked her lower skirts, gasping for breath as the cold air assailed her, snowflakes bursting into her face, freezing her cheeks, stinging her hands as she shielded her eyes to search for the trackway. The barn was only a short walk from the lane but it might have been a mile as Ann struggled uphill now, slightly sheltered from the weather by an overgrown hedgerow which bent, untended, across the track. She lurched like a drunk on Fair Day as the uneven path revealed itself as gullies and runnels beneath her feet. She fell again, dragged herself up and pitched forward once more and hitting her head on the frozen earth, lost consciousness briefly.

She opened her eyes and was aware of a damp mildewy smell, as of mouldy hay. Her legs were still wet and chilled by the weather, but above the waist she was out of the wind, which was now soughing and sighing overhead. She stretched out a hand and felt a rough wall. She scrambled into the barn on all fours, settling in a corner out of the draughts, shaking the worst of the snow from her clothing. Here she would bide until the storm had passed. Her head ached. She ventured half-numb fingers to her forehead and found she had cut her head in falling. She watched the snow falling steadily for a while, arms clasped around her knees to try and keep warm, as the thunder began to rumble away into the distance beyond her valley. She became aware of a slow, steady harsh breathing in the barn that was not her own: rather guttural, like an old man with a bad chest. It grew in intensity, the outward breath a slight whistle. The hairs on the nape of her neck stood on end and she sent up a fervent prayer that she had not stumbled upon the old tramp who was sometimes seen in the valley, and who spouted Bible quotes at anyone who would take time to listen to him. Bible Bob they called him, and he certainly knew his Bible. She wondered how he spent his days, especially the short bleak days of winter, with no company beyond the fire spitting and hissing beneath the old black iron kettle. She stood up abruptly: she would rather face him on her feet rather than looking at his boots. As she did so there was a sudden flurry of wings and a white shape swooshed out of the darkness and through the barn door - a Barn Owl. Her breath followed it in a sudden lessening of tension.

Peering out, the flakes seemed smaller and the darkness less intense with the snowlight and she set off towards home again, though her boots soon began to rub her wet feet and her wet skirt and petticoats were very uncomfortable out in the wind again. Finally she passed the steep hill up to Ty Coch and home suddenly seemed much nearer. The stillness was intense. Any beast out in this would be cwtched up in the lee of the hedge, waiting it out. No lights were to be seen in the hillside houses, for no hillside houses could be seen at all. She thought of the Davies family with their two little girls, snug around their fire in their little cottage halfway up the slope and she wished herself home with her own girls. Perhaps Annie-stockings had looked out for them when this weather came in - it was the best she could hope for.

She was deep in thought when she heard her name called and looking up, saw a buttery yellow light swinging towards her through the snow, a light held by a tall figure. It was Will. She had never been so glad to see anyone in her life - even the Devil would have been welcome company on a night like this! His broad shoulders were sheathed in sacking too, and his hat appeared to have only a brim, so covered in snow was it. He clasped her arm, just briefly, enough to tell her he had been worried. "It's getting late," he said perfunctorily, "not a good night to be out." Will's snow-covered shoulders gave no hint of the internal struggle he was fighting as she followed him home through the snow.