Saturday 30 October 2010

Halloween kittens!

I call them kittens, but really they are young cats now, about 6 months old, and still the best of buddies, as you can see here where they are all snuggled up together in the porch on the defunct cushion from a garden chair. They are very playful. Tippy is totally tame and loves to be picked up and cuddled.

Jarvis, alias "Porky". He really is a stout rotund little cat with short legs and a broad beam! He loves to have his tummy tickled. He's not very keen at being picked up yet though.

This is Tippy - or Tippety-do-dah as I call him often. He is SO friendly and quite a character. He has a very loud voice and keeps telling us he isn't fed anything like ENOUGH food! I love the way his little white-tipped tail curls over at the top - he reminds me of the little lad Alfalfa in a childrens' film "Little Rascals" that my children always loved. It's his sticky-up tail with the tip falling over!

Alfie looking pensive.

Miffy is the mama feral cat. She will not tolerate people anywhere near her. We are going to have to borrow a trap to catch her for spaying as although I had hoped that leaving food in the big travelling box would tempt her in, she has other ideas. I thought I loved all cats, but she has other ideas about this and if she were to take herself off elsewhere, it would be a relief to me rather than an upset. She spits and hisses if you walk towards her, though you can actually get much closer (a couple of feet) compared with last Christmas when she arrived, and at the first sign of a person she would be in the farmyard and away. Sadly, she is blind in one eye.

Here are Tippy and Jarvis. Tippy has one eye which lights up slightly differently to the other and I think he may have had a scratch in it which has damaged it. You can't see any clouding or damage in daylight.

Ginger and white Alfie is growing in confidence, but still more timid than the other two, although he is happy to come into the house and even take Tippy's favourite seat inside the front door. He is quite happy to be stroked at length as long as there is food about! They all come inside the house now and have explored the kitchen and even upstairs, though this was when they were younger and more nervous and they soon panicked. Now they are starting to meet the older house cats, who think they are the lowest form of life and hiss and swear at them!

Tippy playing roly-poly in the hall . . .

And then resting on his favourite chair.

All three boys snuggled up together.

Little do they know that they are booked in to have their pockets picked next Tuesday . . . I will spend tomorrow morning cleaning out the lean-to utility room so that they can spend a few nights in there. They aren't allowed to eat from 6 p.m. the previous evening, so they need to be kept in so they don't go off hunting meeces in the paddock . . .

Friday 29 October 2010

A tale for Halloween

A little way up the valley from here stands a house, well into dereliction now, which has always given me the creeps. When we first moved here, I used to get a bad feeling whenever I drove past it. After dark, that feeling escalated, and as it is on a sharp bend, you always had to slow down to negotiate the curve of the road. I would put my foot to the floor as soon as I could and was always glad to be past it and heading towards home.

Once it had been a happy family home, with a little orchard behind it, and a good parcel of land, outbuildings and the most beautiful display of snowdrops on a sunny bank each spring.

This feeling of unease has persisted for all the years we have lived here. One sunny and frosty day, I decided I would be brave and confront my fears. I parked up and wandered past the house, the land becoming increasingly soggy underfoot as the course of the stream had meandered closer to the house, seemingly undercutting the footings on one side.

I found the little orchard, still rimed with frost, and looked back at the ruins, dark and forbidding here in the little dell, despite the sunshine across the rest of the valley. I felt a shudder run down my spine.

I picked up one of the apples - bright green and red-striped and one or two still on the tree although it was December. I would guess that it was an old Welsh variety as it wasn't familiar to me, and neither was the smaller darker red apple from a tree by the boundary.

The roof had fallen in on the house years before. The walls were crumbling and sprouting greenery. The windows had rotted although they were still in place, but the doorway had fallen inwards, and the staircase collapsed. I steeled myself to look through the open doorway, to face my fears. My feelings of unease focused and hit me in the solar plexus like a fist. The most dreadful malevolent feeling engulfed me - like staring into the pit of hell - and I was gripped by sheer terror. I turned and ran past the building and past the barn to the car, and wrenching the door open, was away and driving up the valley like the Whisht Hounds were grabbing at my tailcoats.

Nor were my feelings unfounded, as I have since discovered that the folk who rented it once had involvements in some very dubious interests and one of them had been evicted, and he threatened that no-one would ever live in that house again . . . He certainly ensured that was the case.

Thursday 28 October 2010

A strange sort of day . . .

Well, today did not turn out at all like I expected it to. As it was the last Thursday of the month, the horse sale was on at Llanybydder. I decided I would check it out, and have my first run in T's boyfriend's car, which is to be the spare here, and which OH will accompany J out in for driving practice. It is an elderly Peugeot, and drives rather like a tank, but once you get used to the slow responses of brakes and accelerator, it's not too bad to drive.

I had a wander round the tack section and marked down a couple of things which took my interest, though mainly for value rather than bidding on. Then I had a stroll around the horses. It was packed out - pens full of tiny Shetland yearlings and foals, probably hot-foot from another auction; the same again with unhandled coloured cob foals; a few donkeys chucked in for good measure. Plenty of nice Section D Welsh foals/yearlings/2 yr olds too. Some of these were smart for the show which accompanied the sale. There were the usual riding horses and ponies, some so nice you wonder what they are doing at the sale in the first place? A distressed sale, or something dodgy about them healthwise or with their behaviour. I didn't buy a catalogue, but the terms "sold as seen" and "not novice ride" cover a lot of sins, as "has been known to buck" from which you may deduce even the rodeo turned it down!

I fell into conversation with a lady of about my own age, we were rather thrown together as some idiot had just loosed 3 or 4 completely unhandled youngsters with no idea of which pen they were going in and they damn near flattened the folks who were wandering down the centre aisle of the holding pens. I've never seen folk move so fast and I don't blame them as these wild colts just belted into the crowd! It was just as well there were no pushchairs in sight, as it was half-term and people often bring their children.

Anyway, it turns out that Karen was a representative for Equine Market Watch, a charity I already know about. She was there to check on conditions and was horrified at some of the things she had seen. She had already been offered puppies for sale (illegal) and someone had brought along a crate of kittens - "pedigree" ones - to sell (also illegal). Poor things, we looked later when it had started raining and the poor wee things were huddled in a corner which had a couple of cardboard boxes laid across it and a scarf across the back. I didn't DARE to go near . . .

For once I hadn't brought my camera, but Karen took plenty of photos. We had both seen a spotted mare and her coloured foal put through the ring and fetch good prices - as seperate lots. Which meant that the foal would be instantly weaned today when it went to its new owner - also illegal. There was no RSPCA presence that we could see. I haven't seen any for months either. Whilst many of the ponies had haynets and quite a few had bedding, I only saw one or two with water (essential if you are eating hay and much-needed after travelling too).

We also had an interesting conversation with another charity who wanted volunteers to help unpaid carers in the community. I have had plenty of experience with this myself, with caring for my mum for the past 6 or 7 years of her life. I know how difficult it is for these people so I am planning to give a little of my time to help carers in my area. They even have a knitting group - no wonderful skills needed, just knitting squares, so I dare say I can manage a few hours knitting a week as well.

Karen and I are going to keep in touch and meet up next month. I have a single sized patchwork quilt I made last year for EMW to raffle, so I want to hand that over. There is also another larger one which is destined to go to Lluest Horse and Pony Trust, another local horse charity. This should have gone to them last year, but we have had quite a year of things one way and another and it is still waiting in my wardrobe. Members of Creative Living forum supplied the pieced squares for that and I just sewed it together and provided the battting and lining.

When I got home, there was trouble in paradise. A stray ginger (tom almost certainly) cat had turned up in the paddock. We saw him walking up our main valley earlier in the week and I was praying he wouldn't come this way. I have wanted another ginger cat to replace my darling Bumble who went off hunting 20 years ago and never returned. I am trying to harden my heart, as we have the three boys here, and another tom spells TROUBLE.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

An autumn stroll

Sunshine was glinting through the trees as I set off on a walk at lunchtime. It has suddenly become much milder today and it seemed a shame not to make the most of it.

A rusty old storage barn on the valley slopes caught my eye.

A rather glowering sky behind what used to be our chapel (now a private residence), and Mount Pleasant, where a family called the Griffiths lived in Victorian times.

Recent rain had raised river levels and the river ran over instead of around boulders.

Looking across the river to the hill behind and above our field.

Even with this amount of water crashing downstream, there is quite a lot of noise and it makes approaching traffic difficult to hear.

Looks almost like spring in this photo.

This old oak tree has that spring hue to the leaves too, where they are just changing from bronze to green. Shortly they will be changing back again.

This was the old well for Penrhiwmelyn. Nearby is an overgrown pathway which led up to the cottage. It's hard to imagine that even in the 1950s, this was still the only source of water for the people who lived there. Tilly lamps and candles for lighting too, as it was the mid 1950s I think before "the electric" arrived around these parts.

A slightly more autumnal look heading up towards the junction with the busier lane.

This is the lane running up to Llanfynydd, which was about to get the weather before we did in our valley.

Heading back down the hill, the autumn colours were more in evidence.

I walked a bit faster after I saw this weather front approaching across my neighbour's fields. Fortunately I was indoors before it actually rained.

Not a very long walk, and I was trying to take different photos of what must be a familiar route to anyone who pops in here regularly.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

The tyranny of the courgette . . .

Photograph courtesy of Creative Commons

It's over. I pulled the last couple of plants out yesterday. Having picked the last little fingerlings of the courgettes at the weekend, the frost had nipped the huge leaves and sprawling stems but they were still trying to put out more courgettes. I couldn't stand it any longer. Nearly November - they just had to go. The sense of total relief won't set in until I have used up the overflow of courgettes in the fridge and the larger ones (picked a month ago) in the vegetable rack. I have given away all I dared give away. My elderly neighbour at the bottom of the hill, one of those who is still happy to eat stuffed marrow (for that is what the forgotten ones had become) had her final bloated offering on Sunday. Some she turned into chutney, as I did. But there is a limit to how much Courgette or Marrow Chutney a person can eat in a year . . .

My own fault entirely, as I planted a whole packet of 10 or a dozen seeds back in the spring, thinking that I would do a car boot sale and sell the surplus plants. However, we were going flat out on the house, getting it ready to go on the market, and we never found time to do a car boot sale, so I was left with ALL the plants, beautifully grown. Then a friend gave me a couple more. I should have said no, but I was brought up to be polite . . .

The previous two years I had NO COURGETTES AT ALL! They sulked - it was too cold, wet, overcast to put out a single female flower. This year my plants more than redressed the balance . . .

I have to say, we have eaten courgettes in just about every conceivable dish you could add courgette to. I even made chocolate courgette cake (and OH didn't notice it had courgettes in!!!)

Next year . . . I will just plant one or two. No, really . . .

Friday 22 October 2010

Whatever happened to bath cubes?

Early morning light.

Two words set me off down memory lane this morning: "Paraffin heater". On a forum I belong to, we were discussing how we kept warm in our homes as children. For several of us, it was an open coal fire in the sitting room, and a paraffin heater somewhere else in the house. In our case, it was in the scullery (mum never called it the kitchen), and carried upstairs (unlit of course) to the bathroom once a week to bring the temperature to something a little above semi-freezing for the weekly bathnight. I only have to catch a whiff of paraffin to be transported back 50 years to the house where I grew up, or else to the local ironmongers, which sold the "pink" paraffin we used.

Beauchops it was called, the shop that is, and it was separated into two parts. The smaller side sold a few balls of wool (but could order it in requisite amounts for jumpers or cardigans), soap, talcum powder, bath cubes (whatever happened to those?)' eau de toilette (I remember 4711) . . . toilet rolls, hair nets, hair grips, brushes and combs, compacts and pressed powder and powder puffs, dressing table sets (another rarity these days), and, to part me from my pocket money on occasion, it had a shelf-full of the Collins sets of childrens' classics. I can remember going in to the shop and asking to buy a book with horses in. Black Beauty was an instant hit, and Children of the New Forest. Then the shop keeper began to get desperate and in this way I read my way through almost all the children's classics including Lorna Doone (still a favourite with me); Last of the Mohicans (lots of horses but never mentioned by name and even rarely by colour); Heidi - very disappointing - I think just one horse got briefly mentioned in passing but I loved the story and wanted to live in a hay loft like she did; Little Women (I think there may have been a horse pulling a sleigh, once but I loved the film and the book and wanted to look like June Alysson for years); Hans Anderson's Fairy Tales (hrmphh but good stories); and Swiss Family Robinson, where I had to be content with Grizzle the donkey - until the snake ate it!

In the other side of the shop, you instantly became aware that it wasn't the feminine knitting and nice-smelling side, because the overwhelming perfume was paraffin. I can remember inhaling deeply. The smell never changed. I wouldn't mind betting that if you walked back in there (although it is a small Tesco now, sigh) you would still catch a little stray whiff of paraffin. Where the aisles of bakery goods and cereals are now, once there would have been lengths of that wonderfully slightly-stretchy plastic covered wire which held net curtains up, and the hooks and eyes that fastened it. Trays of nails and screws of every dimension and length, glue, ladders, picture hooks, cutlery drawer dividers, enamelled plates, pie dishes and mugs for the kitchen, tin openers, rubber things with a slit cut in them to take the thrust end of a teatowel, dustbins and stepladders, tin baths and buckets, string and twine, packets of seeds and spring bulbs.

It is long-gone now of course, except in my memory, where it is like yesterday . . .

Thursday 21 October 2010

In Praise of Apples

These are photographs taken whilst we were in Hay-on-Wye recently. It is so good to see local fruit offered for sale in the green-grocer's and I couldn't resist getting 4 different types to try. I had a lovely chat to the storekeeper about proper English apples. I'm sure he must have thought me a bit "twp", the way I was getting so enthusiastic!! The Devonshire Quarrenden is one I should have planted here years ago, but will definitely find a space for when we move. It has the most wonderful red flushed flesh and a slight taste of strawberries. Apparently the warmer the summer, the better the red colouring - these were REALLY red-flushed so it must have been warmer than us in Herefordshire this summer! I am definitely going to have this in my little mini orchard when we move, along with Pitmaston Pineapple and Cornish Aromatic and . . . I do have quite a long list now! Perhaps the orchard wont be quite so mini!

The Monarch apples are primarily cookers, but more like the dual-purpose apples I have in my garden which you can eat or cook. To eat, they were crisp with a fresh acidic taste. Parentage is apparently a cross between Peasgood Nonsuch x Dumelows Seedling.

You can just see a basket of "Falstaff" apples and some "Worcester Pearmains" (pronounced "permain") which were the other two we bought. The latter were for my husband, who likes his apples sweeter and softer, and they suited his palate. The Falstaff were crisp and juicy and I liked them, though they were a lot more acidic than my husband's choice. They are a newish variety, "bred" in the 1980s in Kent. I think it's a cross between Golden Delicious and James Grieve.

These are apples from one of our trees here - just the humble everyday Bramley - but it is a prolific cropper, even though it has fallen over now. They keep well and make the most wonderful apple pies, and of course cook to a pulp for apple sauce. As the picture below shows, we get a really good picking from our trees most years - this was just from the Bramley.

Until last year, when it finally gave up fruiting due to disease, we had an ancient Russet tree in the paddock, a good 30 feet tall. It was probably a Welsh "Leatherjacket" and had always fruited prolifically. It must have been planted in Victorian times . . . Anyway, it ended up keeping us warm through the bitterly cold months of January and February last winter. This photo still chokes me though but it was SO diseased it was going to split and fall anyway.

This is one of the books I bought at Hay last time. It just had my name written all over it, as I am passionate about English Apples. Inside are chapters about the history of English apple orchards and cider making; plenty of recipes, and a gazetteer of local varieties, as well as a whole section on saving our apple orchards, identifying old apples, celebrating apples, lists of suppliers etc. A fabulous book.

Below is a book our eldest daughter bought me when she was working at the Botanic Gardens a few years ago. It is an American book but still has plenty of relevant information for those who aspire to make their own cider in Britain. I fear my own large bucket of cottage cider which I have brewing downstairs is not in the same league, but as long as it is drinkable, I shan't complain!

These were the other two books I bought in Hay. The Nimrod one came home with me as it had details of coaching in early Victorian times, and as my g.g. grandfather was a coachman in Devon, it is helping to show what his life would have been like.

The dialect book, West Country Words and Ways will have its own blog-post, when I can get myself organized - my brain is still kerfuffled from this recent cold.

This is one of my dual purpose cooking/eating apples. As you can see, it has an identifiable lumpy top. It cooks up whiter than a Bramley and will hold its white flesh even when it has been cut for several hours.

And this is one of its babies (grown from a pip) - it has obviously reverted to a parent of the apple (not that I am any the wiser as to which either of them are yet - more research needed) though the actual leaf remains the same. This still has the lumpy top, and is a dual-purpose apple, but without the red streaks of the apple above. There is another tree which has much smaller fruit with the red colouration, also grown from a pip from this same original tree.

No photo of my Christmas eater (probably the late Victorian Christmas Pearmain) - the fruit still cling tightly to it and I will have to wait for them to fall, as the tree is smothered in my Paul's Himalayan Musk rambler rose . . .

Friday 15 October 2010

Totnes part II

The main reason for visiting Totnes (apart from it being a lovely place to visit!) was to try and track down where my ancestors lived in the 1800s. The main residence I hoped to find was Rose Cottage, where my grandmother and great aunt (Bow family) were born in the 1890s. The nearest I could get was that Rose Cottage was either a row of 4 single-family occupancy or fewer multiple-occupancy cottages, with Shaftesbury Place a couple of doors away, and near Leechwell Lane and South Street, which are at the back of the High Street - with a lovely view across the town I might add.

I had printed off several useful maps pinpointing where various locations were which I needed to search. We found a very central car park which, I realized only when we got home, was probably exactly where Rose Cottage may well have been . . . There were 4 small car parks intersected by roads, where sub-standard housing has obviously been cleared in recent years. Perhaps when we go back we may find I am wrong, and there is still a Rose Cottage a little further down the hill, but I fear it may be gone forever. ** This time we didn't have time to visit the excellent Museum, with its genealogical research area at the back, but perhaps OH and I can get a couple of days down in Devon and do some more research.

** I've just been doing more on-line research, and the bit I had jotted down "Rose Cottage, Maudlin Street" which I thought totally irrelevant (!) now, upon further checking, would seem to be just where my grandmother was born. There are several rows of 5 terraced cottages, late Victorian (so her parents would have moved into a virtually-new cottage, upon their marriage). These are divided into Garfield Place, ??el Place (blame Google for not focusing properly!), Albert Place and Shaftesbury Place. Rose Cottage was just put down as Rose Cottage, Totnes on the 1891 census, so not a greatt deal to go on - I had to check the neighbours to try and pinpoint the area, and Leechwell Lane went on much further than we explored on foot on Tuesday. THIS is Shaftesbury Place. Rose Cottage(s) are somewhere along here, probably the ??el Place two terraces up . . . Drat - I've just checked the links and they lead to the big map! You will have to zoom in and then click on the little yellow man to go walkabouts . . .

Meanwhile, we got our bearings and after popping in and out of shops in the High Street and Fore Street (including the most wonderful Vintage shop with a very helpful owner - we thought we had lost our eldest daughter there for the entire afternoon as she was in heaven!), we wandered the back streets. Warland, the area where my g.g. grandfather Daniel Brown lived for over 30 years and brought up 14 children (!) is still very much there. Only since returning home have I searched the 1881 census again, looking at Daniel's neighbours, and found out he WAS at end of Warland which we were taking photos of. Apparently his dwelling was a few doors up from a building called Snail Mill, with Jerusalem Cote (cott?) and a row of 6 Jerusalem cottages, and then the posher bit at Moat Hill, so more investigation is needed. Have just discovered that this would be the far end (warehouse end) of Warland. At the end of Warland nearest what are now warehouses fronting the River Dart, I have my Rogers folks in lodgings in 1841. These buildings were obviously long gone and I suspect mere hovels when my folk were living there.

As I mentioned yesterday, the only positive ID of a family home was the Lord Nelson inn in Fore Street. One other building I had a positive number for was 7 New Walk, but this is either flattened and rebuilt over, or could possibly have been what was now the Unemployment office for the town . . .

Still, it was a successful search on the whole, and I can now visualize the town's layout so much better, so as I continue with this area of research, it will make piecing it together easier.

Steps which I longed to explore!

We didn't have time to look inside this shop, but what a fabulous doorway.

One of the little alleyways of the Elizabethan town.

Cottages in Leechwell Lane.

I believe this is the Mill Leat, which held a dark secret when researching the family history.

Warland Villa.

Is THIS Snail Mill??? It's what Google came up with when I did a search. This Medieval building was certainly here when Daniel lived nearby. A good way from the river, so perhaps someone has it wrong.

A much earlier blocked-up window in the same building.

A view of one side of Warland.

Rose Cottage - but sadly not the one I was searching for.