Monday 30 August 2010

Today in a hundred words . . .

Individual words would be too boring . . .

So how about sunshine - and enjoying it.

Gardening - weeding borders, dealing with Nasturtiums, seed-saving and more weeding.

Contemplating the painting of jumps . . .

Resting and reading.

Old books and house-buying 1920s style: Gone Rustic.

Idly counting goldfish as they sunbathe.

Picking plums.

Making something with mince.

Today feeling twice like Sunday . . .

To heck with the hundred words . . .

Sunday 29 August 2010

Driving into the view . . .

It has been an afternoon of taking offspring places - first our eldest daughter to the train station for onward transportation to Sheffield, and then to drop our son off at Cross Hands, where he's meeting up with his mates to celebrate a friend's birthday. We drove home cross-country, in beautiful sunshine (which has been teaming up with stonking great slate-grey clouds all day and doing shine and heavy showers turn and turn about). The view across the Towy Valley was superb. This particular photo shows the meanders of the River Towy as seen from Dryslwyn Castle on a winter visit.

As we dropped down the steep winding hill from Penrhiwgoch, the land fell swooping away towards the river valley. A gate stood open onto a woodland ride, and the narrowing edge of a field was edged by oak and ash - looking so peaceful I half-expected Bambi's mother to step out of the shadows and look around. The wind combed through the trees like a blast from a hairdryer, racing across the many-greened squares of fields and bucketing through their hedgerows.

Passing Dryslwyn Castle, I could see that the House Martins were flying loops around the curtain walls of the castle, diving through the empty windows and dipping over the river flowing at its feet. The wind plucked thistle-fluff and tossed it into the air. At the roadside, the sorrel was a deep rusty brown, and the hedgerow bottoms already turning umber. One of the Umbellifers (I must go and look it up) had turned a deep ruby red.

Autumn is here.

Being self-reliant . . .

Do you remember what I said the other day, about being self-reliant? It is as much about doing things for yourself, and learning new skills, as it is in sometimes having no other option but to step up to the mark because there is simply no other alternative.

Back in the spring, when we had the scaffolding up, it was constructed around the chimneys - this meant that one of the jobs that needed doing - cleaning out the highest bit of guttering - had to be done from the nearestt scaffolding tower (around that back chimney). We did employ a specialist to come and clean the guttering out, as the alternative was for my husband to tie himself to a beam and climb out on the roof - a somewhat perilous job.

Well, as you can see, we had to bite the bullet in the end as part of the guttering was either pulled apart when it was being cleaned, or else the connection joining two lengths of guttering was never properly united in the first place. At all events, we had a leak, quite a bad leak, every time it rained. Since we simply don't have the money for more scaffolding or for replacement guttering, my husband has been trying to mend the gap with glue, by leaning out of our bedroom window. This was partially successful, but then after the last good rainfall, there was still a problem. The only way to cure it was to tie himself to that beam, having somehow manoeuvred the long ladder up the stairs, through into D's bedroom and then out of the velux window and onto the roof . . .

I went blackberrying with all this going on so I didn't make matters worse by flapping, but when I came home OH was STILL OUT THERE! I decided that as he WAS tied on round his waist, and it WAS a hefty beam and stout rope, perhaps I could linger long enough for a photograph.

And did the glue work? Well, again it improved matters but it's still not fixed, so he may have to do it all again . . .

Friday 27 August 2010

Stepping into the Mesolithic . . .

That's what I feel we are doing every time we head for the seaside in the summer. Only instead of finding shells with inhabitants to EAT, we are looking for pretty empty ones to take home as decorations and memory prompters. We felt we were due an afternoon off, and the weather was absolutely glorious today, so we headed for Pendine (our favourite bit of the coast), stopping at a well-known supermarket for the ingredients of a car picnic. Pastrami rolls and crisps eaten, we headed for the beach.

Whilst the others strolled beachwards, I visited the little Museum of Speed, where Parry Thomas's land speed record car, Babs, is housed. Pendine Sands were the perfect place for a land speed record attempt - they go on for miles. Sadly Thomas was killed in his attempt. HERE is a link to the Pathe News story of the car Babs (buried on the beach by his friends in 1927) being exhumed in 1969.

The car has the most incredible presence - it is almost as if it is a live person in the room. I think I have mentioned before that I pick up on atmospheres. Last time I was there I was aware of the feeling of terrific speed. I wanted to see if I had been imagining it. Today what I felt was apprehension. Not fear, but an awareness of something not being right. It grew stronger as I stood there, so I took a few photographs and left for the brightness of the sunny beach. Even looking at these photos again, the sensation returns. Odd. I can't explain it - it's just something that happens to me sometimes. Empathy . . . and more.

We wandered around the headland into the sheltered cove where there are lots of caves and rock-pools. G was tired (I had dragged her out of bed before she'd had her sleep out, so she elected to sit quietly in the sunshine with a puzzle book, whilst the rest of us took off our shoes and socks and rolled up our trousers to go paddling!

It was so relaxing. I took photos, looking across the sparkling water towards the island of Caldy, a short boat trip from Tenby. I would like to visit it before we leave Wales. I may make it my birthday day out next April. There is a Cistercian Abbey there and whilst women are not allowed within the Abbey itself, there is still plenty to see.

The view of Pendine village from the headland.

With our feet in the water and our backs to the sea, this was our view.

If you click on this and enlarge it, you should see the steps leading up over the headland. Quite a steep climb, but fabulous views and a great "short cut".

The sea has worn and bleached these rock pillars at the cave entrance.

There are other caves higher up the cliffs too - perhaps due to natural formation from rock falls, though one looks like it has a big round window.

My husband with our eldest daughter, paddling. That's Caldy Island you can see in the distance behind them.

A natural little "rock arch" in a rock pool.

This looks like a big lump of the "conglomerate" rock found in these parts.

Looking along to the next headland, with the sun streaming through the clouds onto Caldy Island in the distance.

Looking back the other way towards the Gower peninsula.

A better view of Caldy.

When we climbed up the steps, and over the first little headland, beyond the Jackdaws you can see the vast (and virtually empty) expanse of Pendine beach, where the land speed record was attempted.

A very tired middle daughter . . .

And a slightly more awake eldest daughter and unshaven husband!

Wednesday 25 August 2010


Firstly, may I thank Mrs C for a very thought-provoking post and the link to an equally thought-provoking post HERE. These posts have served to reaffirm what we have always believed, that for certain of us - perhaps for many of us, truth be told - the best choice is to step off the gravy train and take charge of your own life. Of course, it is not something which can be done overnight and may have to be long in the planning and execution, but it can be done.

My light-bulb moment was when I was stuck in a traffic jam trying to get home from my horribly tedious but necessary job temping in the offices of Barclays Bank in Poole over 25 years ago now. Note, I wrote trying to get HOME. Night after night I would join the line of traffic trying to get out of Poole town centre. I can clearly remember thinking, there has got to be something better than this, and that I was truly one of the rat race. I decided that enough was enough, though at the time, I had to keep persevering and grinding my teeth as you cannot change things overnight.

I had already met my future (2nd) husband and we lived at the margins of a pleasant Dorset village. However, it wasn't until our first daughter was born that the time came for change on a larger scale. We decided to grab life by the throat and sold our house and relocated to Wales. It was to have been Devon, but this was when house prices were literally rising week by week and we had to look elsewhere.

We have worked very hard to restore what was a semi-derelict former mansion house, using traditional building materials and keeping faith with the original features and character of the building. We had to learn new skills, and try and find legal ways of boosting a meagre income, whilst raising three children. We learned patience. We raised "make do and mend" to a whole new level. We restored not only the house, but often the furniture to go in it. Our mantra was "self-reliance."

Now our children are grown and just setting out on the ladder of life and they too, are faced with having to think outside of the box and look at alternative ways of earning a living other than the traditional working for a pittance in a boring job. Obviously, they are going to have to do that for a while - any job, just to try and pay off some of their University debts - but we have had some fascinating discussions in the past couple of days, and the concept of livelihood rather than wage-slave has already occurred to our eldest daughter and her boyfriend. It is now dawning on our two younger children and we have had an absolute brainwave for a future for our son . . .

Monday 23 August 2010

Walking into the weather . . .

I have had a satisfying day today. When we got back from town I racked my Gooseberry wine into a clean demijohn, and then carefully strained my Blackberry wine into another demijohn. That is now working very busily and I feel like an alchemist! The Gooseberry is sulking, but it didn't work much to start with - since this was made with a sparkling wine yeast I expected more action! Now I have some Blackcurrant in the wine bin, and will add the yeast this evening now it has cooled down sufficiently.

This afternoon I managed an hour's walk between the heavy showers. The route out was uphill pretty all the way, but as I had taken my asthma inhalers just before setting off, I coped just fine and didn't push myself on the steepest bits. There is no shame in stopping when you are unfit, after all.

The clouds were racing across the landscape like galloping mustangs. Over Black Mountain, they were stacking up in steel grey layers, like a pile of overcoats thrown on a bed at a student party. The moor grass, faded to ecru now, must have been rippling in the rising breeze which was probably blowing half a gale up on the moorland above Llyn-y-Fan. I strolled along in the sunshine, the breeze kicking at small dessicated leaves already cast off by the Hawthorns, bowling scarlet Gean leaves from side to side of the lane and making the blackberries dance on their stems.

The red Campion jittered in the hedgerows, whilst the bees were even tempted by the small pink flowers of one of the Cranesbills.

I stopped for a moment to watch the ducks at Old Isaac's - or the holding that used to be Old Isaac's when he was alive. The old bothy which had once been home to probably his grandfather's family is now more than half crumbled onto the turf. Once the back was broken on the roof, it was the work of but a few harsh winters for the end wall to follow it earthwards. A small window now leans crazily in what remains of a side-wall, the mortar between the stones which once held it upright cracked with the efficiency of a hammer by consistent wet and cold spells. The twisted corrugated iron sheets hide what remains of the thatched roof and the cruck beam which supported it for two centuries or more is now bed and board to woodworm and Death Watch Beetle.

This photograph shows how easily much of the Welsh countryside would return to feral woodland given half a chance. A dense covering of trees such as those in the foreground would have been a familiar sight to Roman legionaries marching up the A40 towards the next fort at Llandeilo or Carmarthen . . .

The sun went behind the clouds and the view towards Black Mountain turned grey-green.

There was a lot of sky today . . .

The lane ahead - but I turned for home.

The views through this walk are just breathtaking.

The road home with the Italianate tower of Pantglas in the distance.

Dryslywn Castle in the centre of the photo. The curtain walls, what remains of them, can be seen on the right, and there was a village to the left of the castle in Medieval times. The buildings are just bumps beneath the sheep-nibbled turf now.

This bee was obliging enough to stay still long enough for me to photograph it.

There were an uncountable number of small black flies which reeled off the fruit like drunken sailors, and tumbled groggily into the undergrowth. A plate-sized roundel of tiny flowers on a late Umbellifer tempted dozens more. I have never seen so many of these little flies in one place before.

Saturday 21 August 2010


I am sorry to have been so quiet this week. Partly this is due to our eldest daughter and her boyfriend being in residence, and I have been busy in the kitchen, baking and cooking for 6 of us, which makes a pleasant change.

I have also been dealing with garden produce. Surprisingly I had a last usable picking of Rhubarb, but I really DO think this is the last this time. I have beans of various persuasions coming out of my ears, and the courgettes are having a race to see which one can become a marrow first!

On Tuesday I met a penpal of VERY long standing. We started corresponding when we were 15 or 16 years old, but because she lives at the other end of the country, have never met. She was down in Wales for the big dog show at Builth, so she and her husband, eldest daughter and grand-daughter came to visit, and we talked and talked. It was lovely to meet them and we all got on so well. I hope it won't be another 42 years before we next meet or we'd be centenerians!

We have had it up to HERE with the estate agent. I am afraid incompetent is the understatement of the year. We are sick of being fobbed off with stupid excuses, and now downright lies, and have appointed another agent who, to be honest, we should have gone with in the first place and lowered our price to a more competitive one (t'other agent wrong on that too). Their website has a big footfall of people wanting places with land, so fingers crossed . . .

Alfie with a mole his mummy caught for him . . .

Monday 16 August 2010

Sunday's book haul

I was fortunate at the boot sale on Sunday and found 4 books which were just up my street. Here they are, with short extracts from them:


(Actually gooseberry and rhubarb chutney, but the above moniker seemed more appropriate!)

2 lbs green gooseberries
1 lb rhubarb
small onions
1 pint malt vinegar
1 level teaspn. pepper
2 teaspns. salt
2 " mixed mustard
1/2 lb Demerara sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Prepare gooseberries by topping, tailing, washing, and thoroughly drying. Cut up rhubarb into 1 inch pieces. Skin and chop onions small. Place all in saucepan and stir occasionally while cooking slowly. When quite thick, pot up and cover when cold.

"It is a raw evening in February; the wind and rain are bitter cold. You arrive home in the dark, tired, cold and wet. The light glows cosily from your windows and, your day's work over, you hang your streaming coat on a peg and greet the family.

There on the table is a steaming rabbit pie, fragrant with mushrooms and herbs. The rabbit, you recall, you shot on a distant Autumn day when the sun was warm on the stubbles. It is flanked by a selection of your home-grown vegetables; runner beans, carrots and potatoes. A decanter of elderberry wine stands by, glowing with a warm inner light. Your rabbit is followed by blackberry and apple, the results of a family outing along a summer hedgerow. As a finale you nibble a few sweet chestnuts and sip thoughtfully at a glass of your own sloe gin, potent and warming."
Nothing was wasted in the Victorian household:

Pig's Ears:

This was also used for a main meal in the poor houses of England in the 1800s, but was one of the most attractive dishes in the household of the gentry.

Two ears, sage and onion, quarter of suet, a handful of breadcrumbs, salt and pepper to taste, two eggs, half pin of gravy, and a piece of butter the size of a tea cup.

Parboil the ears for half an hour. Make a forcemeat (stuffing) of the sage, onion, finely chopped suet, breadcrumbs, pepper and salt. Mix and bind it with the beaten egg yolks. Raise the skin of the upper sides of he ears, and stuff them with it. Fry the ears in fresh butter to a nice brown. Pour away the fat and drain them. Place in the gravy and cook over the fire for half an hour. Serve with fresh parsley.

Blackberry Junket:

"I'm now going to quote Richard Mabey for this one" (says the book) "as it's one I've not tried yet. It sounds delicious, and I'm sure Richard would not mind my sharing it with you."

"The most delicious blackberry product I know," says Richard Mabey, " is a junket made from nothing other than blackberry juice. Remove the juice from the very ripest blackberries with the help of a juice extractor, or by pressing them through several layers of muslin. Then simply allow the thick dark juice to stand undisturbed in a warm room. Do not stir or cool the juice, or add anything to it. After a few hours it will have set to the consistency of a ligh junket, and can be eaten with cream and sweet biscuits."

Sunday 15 August 2010


That's how I feel today. Our house was meant to be advertised for sale in a big Sunday broadsheet. The agent phoned us last week to tell us it would be in today. We bought a copy of the paper, only to find that our house WASN'T in it. . . This is part of an ongoing catalogue of errors and I shall be glad when the three months are up and we can go elsewhere as we have worked SO hard and it is soul-destroying never to have a single viewer because we were promised a wider remit for the advertising and parochial adverts just WILL not do.

So I took myself off for a walk.

The start of the walk - looking southwards.

Sheep-proof gateway . . .

I walked past an old farmstead which hugged both sides of the road.

I think this was the old vegetable plot, now abandoned to Umbellifers.

The inviting curve of the lane ahead of me. Notice the rough bracken hillside above the road. A common sight in these parts.

The steepest hill for miles around I think - I'd need a block and tackle to get me up this one!

Looking across the valley above a smallholding which always looks half-abandoned.

It's tiny, but it's a Holly Blue butterfly. I love blue butterflies - they remind me of Dorset walks and Dorset countryside, but sadly we don't often see many blues in our part of Wales. This one cheered me up no end.

It was downhill all the way for the first half of the walk. Passing the steep-sided valley where a stream fled southwards, a blast of hot moist and blackberry-smelling air engulfed me.

Willowherb swooned in the last of the summer sunshine, strands of silk bursting from the seedpods.

Part of a neighbour's big flock of Christmas geese. I think she must have a hundred or so.

Looking back along the valley.

This is Orpine, which is related to the garden Ice Plant. I have only ever seen it growing wild in our area - never in England.

The last hill, leading up to home.