Friday 23 September 2011

An Autumn evening walk

Yesterday was yet another "glum" day for me. Family worries have dragged me to a very low ebb in recent weeks. I forced myself to go through the necessities, but there was no satisfaction in a job completed and even jam-making was a chore. Just before tea I suggested to my long-suffering husband that we drove up the hill overlooking our valley to get some fresh air. I'm glad we did as it cheered me up. The sun came out just as we parked the car, and the views were soft and the colours of the landscape muted, awaiting rain.

We made a fuss of two Welsh Cobs (mother and daughter?) who came across to us, and noticed that we had looked in the wrong place for blackberries, as there were a lot more up here, and larger than the miniscule ones I have been forced to pick along our lanes.

Although we didn't walk far, the views lifted my spirits and I felt better for having "touched base".

I shall now be away from the computer for a few days. Hopefully I will have lots to post about on my return.

Looking towards the Towy Valley.

I am sure I have never noticed this little cottage and outbuildings before. I shall have to go and check it out on the map, and how it is accessed.

Back down the hill the distant fields faded to the palest jade.

Whilst above us, storm clouds threatened and the sun turned the field an acid green.

There is Arab blood in many of the Welsh Cob bloodlines - 100 years back perhaps, but it still shows - look at the profile of this little lass, with her dished face and big jaw.

Looking across the valley, where I was trying to work out if Jim had put his TB broodmares in the long apostrophe-shaped field.

Neighbours' farms across the valley.

It looks like it will rain soon, judging by the lowering clouds.

The soft colours were so beautiful.

Sunday 18 September 2011

In praise of Cats . . .

What a miserable day out. Rain just falling as if someone's taken the stopper out of the clouds. NOT a car boot sale day, that's for sure. I have a date with some windfalls so I have decided to turn them into this year's Mincemeat for Christmas and beyond.

I thought I would share some recent cat photos with you . . .

Cat in a box. Miffy, mum to the boys, proving that Every Box Attracts Cats! This one has apples in it . . .

Brotherly "love"!!!

Alfie in the office (where he is currently sat at my feet, looking at Lucy, who is on my lap).

Tippy having a stretch. He is currently off hunting again, being the Wilderness Cat, but now the rain has set in, I have a feeling the wanderer may return.

A smug-looking Alfie out on the patio. He is very loving and affectionate with a BIG voice!

This is Little Whale (aka Jarvis) proving that if you shut your eyes you can't see anyone!

Above and below, my favourite, Lucky, who is an Old Lady now - at least 17 and possibly older. She has heart problems and has to be on medication, but she is a good girl about taking it in a dab of butter. We used to see her around the place, long before she came to us, desperate for food, one winter. She worships me, as I was the one with the food . . . She only has half a tail, but we don't know how she lost the rest of it as that happened before she came to us.

This is little Banshee, who I found as a tiny kitten on the side of the lane one day. She is a quirky little madam and my husband's favourite. He gives in every time for her loud demands for Cheese - and QUICK about it! She is very imperious, and has never grown beyond the size of a six month old kitten, so is a wee girly.

Here is Lucy, aka the Racing Snake! She hunts a lot and prefers her own caught food to tinned food, unless it is Whiskas : ) She is on my lap right now. She just has one eye, after her sister Fluff (below) dabbed her in the other one and despite veterinary treatment, she had to have it removed. It doesn't affect her hunting, but she doesn't go for rabbits any longer.

This is Fluff, Lucy's sister. They are both about 14 now I think, but still very sprightly. She has a funny temperament - you have to warn her if you are going to pick her up - especially if you are going to move her somewhere else. If you just pick her up she will have you! She is too handy with her claws, this one.

This is Amber, who is such a pretty puss-cat. She came to us for help when her owner went into a nursing home and three cats were abandoned. We took them all in, but the other two, Timmy and the first Snowy, have passed on now.

Here is Gypsy, who knows she shouldn't be on the table (but does anyway!). like all cats, if you have a recipe spread out, or a book open, they cannot resist sitting in the middle of it, all the better to help you. Darling Snowy had a PhD in this! Gypsy has managed to get the loose recipe AND the open book to keep her derriere warm!

Friday 16 September 2011

Trapped Welsh Miners

Some of you may be aware of the four miners trapped underground in a small Welsh mine in the Tawe valley above Swansea. Gleision Colliery, at Cilybebyll near Pontardawe, is a small privately-owned coal mine. Nothing like the scale of the deep shaft mines that used to litter the Welsh valleys further East and where my maternal grandfather was a miner, in a colliery in Aberbargoed, back at the beginning of the 20th C. He left following long-term strike action around 1910 and walked to Newport to sign up with the Army. .

Anyway, this is a small drift mine, but there are extensive workings and some of these are close to long-abandoned and forgotten workings over a century old. When I checked up about this mine on-line, it was mentioned that it always had severe water problems . . . One of these old mine workings may have been breached yesterday morning when, having set off a small detination to bring down more coal, a sudden influx of water flooded the level. Two men managed to escape, and they rescued a third, badly-injured miner, who is now in intensive care in hospital. This left 4 men unaccounted for. Sadly, the falling water levels from constant round-the-clock pumping, revealed the body of one of the 4 trapped miners. Four families wait in fear to discover which of them has lost one of their menfolk. . . . Friday teatime update: another two bodies have been found, but there is still hope that they may find the one remaining miner alive . . . Further update: they have just found his body. R.I.P. four good men: fathers, sons, husbands, brothers or whatever. They will be missed.

It is hoped that the remaining three may have survived in other dead-end tunnels in pockets of air above the flood levels. No contact has been established, however. We must wait and see. Please remember them in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Autumn gardening

From windfall apples reel drunken wasps,
And a cat curls asleep in the border,
Coat rusty with age and lifted with purrs.
A hollyhock unfurls crimson skirts, and
A moth stutters like Morse code from flower to flower,
Discarding each daisy thrice visited.
White-bellied spiders teeter from leaf to stem,
Hurrying from the gardener's hand,
As it pauses, cuts,
And summer's magic collapses to the ground.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

In praise of older men - husbands that is!

When I was in my teens, my idea of a nice lad was someone who had nice eyes, a lovely smile and if he was the DJ too, he was ultra cool.

In my 20s, I still looked for nice eyes, but a sense of humour became important, and sharing common interests.

In my 30s, and married to the man with the nice eyes and sense of humour and the shared interests, the ability to change a nappy and a tap-washer were required (not necessarily at the same moment in time!)

In my 40s, I wanted my man to deal with fractious teenagers when my hormones were all over the place and I couldn't cope.

Now, in my late 50s, I find that my lovely man's most important attribute is to be able to make furniture from scratch and to mend things. When my wheelbarrow collapsed yesterday, I did not doubt for a moment that he would be able to mend it. And he did. Bless him.

Monday 12 September 2011

Volunteering, and back to normal???

Well, this is the first day in I don't know how long when I can say - tentatively, so as not to tempt the fates - that I feel "normal". For starters, I didn't have to phone in to say that I was unable to volunteer at the "Big House" today because of illness. Yet all of August was spent doing just that. Even last Monday when I thought I would be fine to go in, having volunteered the previous week, there was a spanner in the works and I found myself in A&E having various tests and back on heavy duty anti-biotics yet again. However, that turned out to be a blip and I was off the a/b's as soon as I was on them. Yeesh.

I enjoyed myself SO much today. My son cannot understand why people volunteer. He happily gives handsomely to various charities but he thinks that volunteering is "working for nothing." Not so, I have told him. I get SO much back from my 3 hours a week, as a room assistant at Newton House (Dinefwr Park). I have a chat with the other volunteers and room stewards, and as we all like old houses and history, we have lots in common. I get to "work" (yet it doesn't feel like that) in the most wonderful surroundings, in a beautiful old house set in wonderful parkland, with 100 deer in the Deer Park, old trees anything up to a thousand years old, and just soaking up the history of not just a small part of Wales, but what was part of an entire region in the control of a ruling dynasty when the Normans arrived to set their stamp on the principality.

Most of the people who visit are "the converted" and readily ask for further details about the family - Rhys, then Anglicised to Rice, and then back to Rhys again - and the castle, and how old the house is and of course, who the people are in the family portraits which line the dining room. Using these portraits (which I am still learning about) and the paintings of the castle and house in the entrance hallway, we room assistants are able to paint a bigger picture of the family and the house & castle, and their joint history and bring it all alive. I love it and it is so rewarding sharing this history with people who appreciate it.

Meanwhile, I am busy at home dealing with produce from the garden. I have plenty of windfall apples after the recent gales, lots of Autumn fruiting raspberries of huge size, a late glut of courgettes and runner beans, and I am using everything which comes our way to squirrel away for the lean winter months. Blackberries have been poor this year, but I pick those that I find and freeze them. There are plenty of Sloes, which will go in the freezer. Excess Damsons have been frozen or turned into wine and Damson Gin. Elderberries will also be frozen - they are good for coughs and tight chests in the winter months. I have made some Damson Ice Cream, and made the first batch of jam using Pineapples and Kiwi fruit from Abergwili. The jam is destined to be gifts for friends, as we eat little jam in our household, but I love making it.

Dinefwr Castle, viewed across the park. I always expect Edmund Blackadder to gallop across . . .

Friday 9 September 2011

The de Lacys, Llantony Priory and Welsh Characters

Around the year 1100, William de Lacy came upon the ruined chapel dedicated to St David, at this spot in the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons and some seven miles north of Abergavenny. He decided to devote himself to solitary prayer and devotion and was subsequently joined by Ersinius, who had once been Chaplain to Queen Mathilda (wife of King Henry I.) They were joined by others who set to and built a church here dedicated to St John the Baptist and consecrated in 1108. Just over a century later, a priory was begun here, and in the 3rd quarter of the 12th C, Hugh de Lacy (the 5th Baron) left monies to rebuild the priory church, which was completed in 1217. The priory remains are all that are left of a once-great Norman and Gothic building, which had been added to in the 13th C and then fell foul to Henry VIII's rape of the monasteries at the dissolution. Painted by Turner, and written about by poets Landor and Southey, the buildings slipped into decline.

HERE is further information about the Priory and Father Ignatius, who was also bound up in its later history.

THIS SECTION is a repeat of a posting I made two years back, but as it had a few photographs of Llanthony Priory, I thought it worth repeating, because of the de Lacy link between today's posting about St Mary's Church at Kempley, and the Priory, which was also founded by the same family.

This is a little extract from one of the books garnered at Hay-on-Wye last week -" Welsh Country Upbringing" by D Parry-Jones, printed 1948. He is writing of his childhood at the turn of the century . . . The view above was taken from the car park at Hay.

Below - on the top of Hay Bluff, driving towards the Priory.

"Round the farms came at regular intervals the stocking woman, a small, frail, gossipy little body, much under the influence of religion and, especially, of the revival then raging through Wales. She moreover undertook, as part and proof of her renewed faith, work on behalf of a temperance society in which she was quite as successful as in her legitimate business. There were many feet to cover and many drinkers to reform. As a potential member of this latter class, I was myself, with all my brothers and sisters, rescued at the tender age of twelve. Well do I remember my very determined resolution to abjure this form of wickedness and, in proof of my enthusiasm and conviction, did, again in the company with my brothers and sisters, some missionary work in that direction by learning one or two temperance pieces and reciting them in the Penny Readings. She was assured always of a good long rest at our home and a cup of tea, for my mother dearly loved to talk about religion. As to the attitude of my father towards her I think he liked her well enough when she confined herself to her primary business, but he became very impatient when the sideline was being pushed, possibly regarding it as a dig at him for he had his glass of beer - and enjoyed it."

Kilvert always said the little chapel at Capel-y-Ffin, with its squat proportions and leaning tower reminded him of an owl . . .

'Sally'r Sannau' (Sally of the stockings, for that is the name she went by), was the last in our parish to ply that trade. Like the bidder, she too, has gone! She belonged to a fraternity that at one time walked far into the counties of England, following their trade - even as far as Oxford. Two hundred years ago they carried messages from one home in the district to a son who was at the time a minister near that city. I often try to picture what the lot of these poor women must have been, for they were exposed to terrible hardships and dangers. It rained, I suppose, in those days as it does now. Where did they get their clothes dried, where did they put at night, or were there kind people in those days that took pity on the poor? Sally, the last of them, has passed out of sight round the corner of the road, she walked alone, none came after her; light and frail of body she was eminently fitted to be the ghost of all her sisters that had pilgrimaged before her."

The winding road . . .

As for me, I never signed the pledge and will have a little glass of wine tonight. Purely medicinal you understand . . .

A little painted church - and a LOT of photos!

Today's post is one which got missed in despatchs around the time of my birthday back in April. St Mary's Church at Kempley on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire borders is far too interesting to ignore, so I will tell you about it today. We had heard about its wonderful NORMAN wall paintings. Yes - Norman - that's 12th C (or elevenhundredandsomething to those of us who use their fingers for counting!) That they survived at all is absolutely amazing, but we must thank those with whitewash brushes after the Reformation, who painted over the marvellous artwork and thus saved it for posterity, although the colours are just a pale echo of what they would have been when the frescos were originally painted.

The manor of Kempley belonged to the de Lacy family, Norman knights who had settled there. The church is thus 900 years old. Baron Hugh de Lacy was a confidant and advisor to Henry I and he almost certainly had the church built in memory of his father, Walter de Lacy who came over with William the Conqueror. The paintings date from this time too. After being covered in whitewash, they were not rediscovered until the 20th C. The tower dates from the 13th C and was added at a time when the Welsh wars involving Edward I (who had many defensive castles built in the principality to "control" the Welsh) were causing civil unrest, although it is not known if they had much effect at Kempley.

It is a quiet spot now, and it was probably thus ever since the villagers gradually migrated to higher ground a couple of miles from the church.

Sculped design at the top of one of the capitals.

Note: above and to the left of the lovely Norman arch is a little doorway. There is one just like it at Manorbier church (dates from a similar period), and was for refuge - the rope you climbed up (as priest?) would then be drawn up after you. Fine and dandy unless the attackers decide to set fire to the church!

"The subject of the paintings in the chancel seems to be the Last Judgement. In the centre of the barrel-vaulted ceiling Christ sits upon a rainbow, adored by winged angels (seraphim); on either side of him stand the twelve apostles, with the Virgin Mary and St Peter closest to the chancel arch.

Above the simple round-headed windows there are representations of the heavenly Jerusalem, and between the windows and the east wall there are two figures with the hats and staffs of lay pilgrims. These are almost certainly Hugh and Walter de Lacy. The identity of the bishops painted on either side of the east window is not known, but they may be early popes.

Wall paintings of this kind are very rare in England and their muted colours and treatment of drapery are typical of the Romanesque style of painting in France. The artist may well have been a French monk from Hugh de Lacy’s own foundation at Llanthony Priory.*

In the nave of the church there are more paintings of a slightly later, probably 14th century, date. These are worked in tempera painted on dry lime mortar unlike those in the chancel which are frescoes (painted directly onto wet plaster). Their subjects – appropriate for the nave of a church, which was used by the laity – warn of the dangers of temptation; they include the Wheel of Life and St Anthony and the Devil." Extract from the English Heritage webpage about this fascinating church.

Double click on these to read about the paintings.

This splendid coffer was literally a tree trunk roughly squared off and then hollowed out and kept locked with huge blacksmith-made strap hinges. It dates from the 16th Century and the tree used was approximately 250 years old when felled.

This caught my eye: "Aged 7 months" - poor little mite. In this day and age it is hard to comprehend the scale of infant mortality mothers suffered in previous centuries.

All the solid oak doors had beautiful hinges.

Decorative gravestones in the churchyard. Slight changes in the headstone designs can date them accurately even if the dates have worn away.

William Wingod: his memorial.

Although the beautiful wild daffodils had gone over, Cowslips were there in abundance.

Two views of this beautiful old church. It had an atmosphere all of its own and I know that the spot it was built on was chosen deliberately. Inside, there were two definite focal points where - how do I describe this - you could pick up on "something" - earth energy is the nearest I can come to putting a name to it. In one spot it was almost like a vibration. It was one of the reasons we visited, as my friend had told me about it - although it had been much stronger when she visited a couple of weeks earlier. Strange.

HERE is another link you may want to visit.

* I will do a posting about Llanthony Priory over the weekend. It is a beautiful place to visit and one of our favourite destinations for an outing.