Saturday, 26 March 2011

Birdsong . . .

. . . subtitle: I thought I lived a normal life!

I have spent a good hour or so this afternoon tackling the overgrown finger of land between the back of the paddock and our top field, which has always been called the "triangle", or if you are my oldest daughter, it is where the fairies live as that was her sincere belief when she was about 5 or 6 . . .

Since our horses have all gone to their new homes, everything has gotten very overgrown. My horse, Fahly, used to love zipping round the corner of the triangle, across the edge of what was once the Mill pond, and then leaping into the sunlight over the little patch of brambles at the paddock edge. I thought of him today, as I chopped brambles, both live and dry-as-a-bone dead, into managable pieces for a later bonfire. He wouldn't be able to zip round there today, as the old willow had finally fallen so far as to touch ground and had blocked the pathway completely. What's more, the slope to the stream where the Celendines grow was a mass of totally overgrown brambles, which is going to take a week of hard work to clear.

As I wielded my secateurs, I listened to the burble of the stream as it passed by, once it doubled as a leat and fed the Mill pond, which now has three very well grown ash trees in it. Some of the old mill workings were still here when we arrived, but I think the Mill must have fallen out of use some time in the early 60s. At one time, virtually every farm near a water source, had a mill of some sort - usually to drive a belt to run a band saw for timber.

A Blackbird sang plaintively to his mate, and there were the voices of Blue Tits and Great Tits in the trees above me, and a rather annoying Pigeon who insisted on singing just part of his song "My Toe Bleeds . . . . My Toe Bleeds . . . My Toe Bleeds . . . and never the final "Betty" part of the refrain.

Glancing up I could just see the roof of the house, where I knew that a Pied Wagtail would be prancing up and down, looking for insects (hah - probably Cluster Flies escaping from the slates over the attic). I knew without hearing that the Sparrows ("Spadgers" as my Hampshire mum used to call them) would be cheeping monotonously and squeezing themselves under the barge boards beneath the guttering, where they nest.

My mind, allowed to wander, pondered on the death of Elizabeth Taylor this week, and her relationship with Richard Burton. For the first time she had actually married someone more intelligent than herself, and they could "have a decent argument"! They both loved books, and had long discussions about the merits of books they loved. Soulmates physically and mentally - what a shame that booze had to get in the way. Someone on a Forum this week remarked that they betted that up in Heaven they were desperately trying to get Richard Burton sober by pouring black coffee down his throat . . . Wouldn't mind betting she gave him a piece of her mind when she got there!

I also thought about a Library book I was reading by Denys Val Baker (Upstream at the Mill). Not the best book I have ever read, and I hazard a guess that it wasn't his best book either, as it seemed a little bitty and early chapters just seem to talk about other books and articles he had written, but an interesting book all the same. At least he managed to earn his living from his writing, and he and his family lived in a number of Cornish properties before they ended up at the Mill. They lived a similar life to us - shunning town life and moving Westwards. They also had to struggle with the elements at times - they had an over-abundence of water each winter although it sounds to have been an improvement on the house they lived in near the sea, which got regularly flooded by it on the ground floor! He did sound a note, however, which resonated with us, as we contemplate moving from here. He mentioned the first sight he had of Mill house was when he saw the previous owner hand cutting up logs in front of Mill House. "I always felt it must have seemed very sad that old age made it necessary for them to move to the greater convenience of a town house." Whilst we're not quite ready for a town house yet, there are definitely times when the convenience appeals . . .

I was in Lidl for some groceries this morning, and fell into conversation with the lady behind me in the queue (she had gallantly let me and my two purchases go in front of her). We talked about gardening and she asked what I did with all the garden rubbish, as she could never find a bin bag heavy duty enough to bag it up for the dustmen without the branches poking through. It is not a problem I have EVER had, and I had to tell her that we just had a bonfire, but then we lived on a smallholding so the garden bits were never a problem.

I wondered what she would have thought if she could have seen me at work with the brambles today, or later dragging branches away from the willow tree as my husband cut the bigger branches into logs, or yesterday, when we were wrestling with a hawthorn tree tangled up with 20 years' growth of Kiftsgate rose, which had to come down so that Western Power could give us a functioning earth again. And what she would have made of having 150v of "earthed" electricity coming through her taps (and in the water therein!) Or having no central heating when there is a foot of snow on the ground. Or trying to count tadpoles or watching fighting cockerels when one named "Dinner" escaped from his pen (I can see why people used to bet on them!) Or having a swarm of bees coming down our bedroom chimney and wanting to set up home (twice - only Radio 1 played VERY loud in the fireplace below deterred them). I can't help feeling that Denys Val Baker would have recognized a few of these situations!

As I said, I used to think I lived a normal life . . .


  1. Just dropping by to say 'hello' after a long absence; and to say that your description of hawthorn/bramble clearing and so on replicates what I am trying to do here. And wondering what I will do when my strength finally fails me, with my poor husband meanwhile bemoaning the final collapse of the rotovator. Hope you are well, and I'll try to visit more often this Spring/Summer.

  2. What a lovely rambling, wandering post and how I enjoyed reading and sharing in your activities without the scratches from the brambles! I had forgotten all about Denys Val Baker's books, I used to read them years ago and as you say, they were not all that brilliant, but they were easy to read and enjoyable. That soret of genre seems to have died out these days.

  3. Hello Ann - glad to see you are "back in circulation" again! I know how life gets in the way sometimes . . .

    WG - I want to read one or two of his others. I wasn't surprised to learn that he had died (aged 66 I think) just 2 or 3 years after Upstream at the Mill was published, as he was speaking of ill health then . . .

  4. Sounds like an idyllic life there.

  5. I so enjoyed this post! We seem to be tackling similar outdoor tasks these days. Not sure I would have the energy left over for a walk if the opportunity presented--perhaps if the promise of tea was held out for afterward.
    Bees in the bedroom fireplace--what a happening. I'm reminded of the old farmhouse years ago and the bat that came down and swooped about the bedroom.....