Tuesday 31 March 2015

March winds and Mollyblobs

I expect most of Britain had gales last night, and we were no exception.  They didn't seem to me to be any worse than we have had here over the winter, but perhaps I was asleep through the worst bits! Anyway, I still got a bit of a shock when I went out in the yard this morning and found that my Wyevale polytunnel had taken off in the night and was nowhere to be seen.  It is in a fairly sheltered spot in the yard, protected from the worst of the weather by the house, stables and outbuildings, but last night the wind must have been from a particular angle of N-W that ripped it from its moorings.  I knew roughly the direction it had taken and wasn't at all surprised to find it about a 1/4 of a mile away, on its back in one of Next Door's fields . . .  OH and I managed to carry it back, separated from its cover which had been ripped off one end but still attached at the other, if in a tangle, and with one corner ripped asunder.  I shall re-erect it when the winds have gone, affect repairs, and use it for my tomatoes and cucumbers this summer.

I know, it looks a proper mess there.  The poly tunnel was hiding all last year's dead weeds and brambles.  The area inside the breeze blocks is my veg. plot.  3/4 of it is covered by the black polythene, but that last corner will have to be dug over as soon as it dries up a bit.  What a mess.

Meanwhile, there were all my seeds which needed cover, and straight away, so I had to go into town and buy a small upright seed stack type plastic greenhouse, and I put it right against the house, to keep it warm and anchored, in between the Damson tree and the Clematis Montana Rubens.  The damp on the wall behind is the remaining area drying out after having a clay-filled stack/support which was built originally (before our time) to take the oil tank when they thought of having central heating put in.

Finally, my Marsh Marigolds/Kingcups are out in flower around the wildlife pond, but I checked along the lane last week and the first leaves are only just starting to come through the ground in the damp woodland where they grow.

Not the best photo as taken about 7 p.m. so the light wasn't at its best.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Life goes on

A Herefordshire view from last weekend.

Although I grieve deeply for my friend, life still goes on of course.  It helps to keep busy.  Though NOT in the middle of the night!  My husband has been sleeping restlessly this week, and had a nightmare on Tuesday, where he was doing battle using one of the swords from his collection (which had seen plenty of battle, having been used in the Anglo-Indian wars.  I can't hold it, for I pick up on its bloody past and within seconds my arm aches as if I have been fighting for my life for hours . . .) Anyway, in this fight, my husband said he decapitated his rival, and although there was a red mark around his neck, it was his legs that fell off!  The next morning, he had managed to strain a wrist, so vigorously was he fighting in that dream.  The same happened last night, though he didn't remember the dream when I poked him and said "oi, oi, oi" as he was flailing about and kicking out and woke me.  That was 2.30 a.m. and I was still awake 3 hours later, although I had come downstairs to read a book (I am re-reading the Poldark novels at present, which I find very comforting).

I am sure you are enjoying the new series of Poldark on a Sunday night, and Mr Ross Poldark is very fetching indeed!  When I was feeling low earlier in the week, I will confess to going on-line and ordering the DVDs of the first two series (books) from the 1970s, with Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees.  I will follow up with the other two next month I think.

Here was a job which has needed doing a long time - sorting out the books in the Junk Room.  This was mainly the Overspill bookcase and we have gone through this and packet several boxes with titles we are unlikely to read or look at again.  I will have a try at selling a few in the Unit and at a few car boot sales this summer, and what doesn't sell can go to the Charity Shops.

Further along that wall in the Junk Room, a double book case awaits our attention, although there will be very few books being shed from this one.  The wooden frame in the centre was once the main entrance to the house when it was an L-shaped hall-house.  On the other side of this there is a lovely arched recess, where we have a dresser and china.  This was done, we think, around 1817 when the house was "modernized".  There is a plaque over the door telling us this and that is was done at the charge of Thomas Lewis, who lived there then.

This was today's indulgence, after we had been to the very wet Car Boot Sale at Ffairfach - which also hosts a largely poor house clearance type of auction under-cover, a deadstock auction out in the field, and a poultry and occasional livestock auction also under cover.  We were up late because of sleeping poorly, and set out half an hour later than planned last night, by which time the light drizzle had turned into lashing rain.  The few stalls of the car boot sale outside, were soon done and dusted and we went under cover to see what was on offer inside, and came out with two axe handles we needed and a replacement tyre/wheel for my wheelbarrow.  The rain was still lashing down sideways and I was blinking furiously after rubbing a wet eye and getting mascara and an eyelash in it.  Yuk.

We needed bread, so I made this Multi-Seeded Wholemeal loaf from a recipe in the magazine.  Slap hands though BBC, whoever is doing your proof reading made some schoolboy errors and whoever worked out the recipe for this loaf MUST know that 250 ml and over 500g of flour does NOT mix.  Admittedly the recipe did reluctantly say that you could add more water a spoonful at a time if the 250ml wasn't enough but since the original amount was meant to be a moist dough, I'd hate to see what a dry one looked like!  I should imagine it would bring a newbie baker up short cutting their teeth on this recipe.

Between a death and a funeral is a time of limbo and I felt I needed distraction this week.  Over on Facebook I have been following the pages of Southampton Memories, and it was been good workout for my mind, trying to remember places as they were when I knew them, and see the changes since earlier photos and postcards.  During my clearout today, I came across this book from 1980, when I went back to live in Southampton after my dad's death.  Some things don't change, like God's House Tower above, which is now a good little Museum.  Or it was last time I visited.  It was strangely comforting to go back in time, even though a lot of the photos were well before my time . . . .

Mindless crochet has helped too and I have finished the very simple border on a throw for middle daughter G, which has been abandoned for a year now.  Then I picked up this book with a view to trying out some new designs, but these require concentration, so Poldark it is then . . .

Friday 27 March 2015

Quiet inspiration

Last time I was at Annie's, I took a few photos of the scenery near her home.  This is the little lane which leads on up into the mountains.  I have always loved driving deeper into the wildness of this area.  Its beauty inspires me to jot down notes of what I see, and my last few visits have seen me pulling over in the car and feverishly writing down a few lines of poetry, to be worked on and improved later.  Here is one of the "poems" (well, bit of writing anyway) that came from this wild and untamed landscape.


A carapace of moss spews over boulders -
Disrupting harmony of drystone walls, and
In the sparrow brown of last year's leaves.
Tumbles of small birds swarm.
In beech trees, trunks plastered emerald from
Winter's steady drip, 
Blind buds listen for spring.
Ancient boundaries slew with knotted roots,
Which heave boulders with nonchalance, and
A dank miasma of moss slimes the boggy valley
With a creeping velvet breath.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Tribute to a friend

Yesterday morning I had the phone call I was dreading.  It was a dear friend's daughter telling me that her mother had passed away the previous evening.  I had only spoken to Annie last week, and she sounded very upbeat and cheerful, although we knew that now they had withdrawn the chemo because it wasn't helping any more, she didn't have long left.  She set a date for me to visit next week. I thought at the time, that seems a long way away, but thought that obviously Annie had Dr and hospital appointments to keep.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I think she knew we had said our goodbyes.  Her one desire was to die in her own home, with everything that she loved around her, and where she felt safe.  I was so glad to hear that this had come to pass.

We had been friends for 20 years, and met when we were doing an Access course in English Literature and were both inspired by our Lecturer, who was superb. We both went on to do degrees - hers in Victorian Studies and mine in Archaeology.  Annie and I clicked from the start - we were both adventurers in life, saying goodbye to life in the town (London for Annie) and both taking on half-ruined smallholdings in the Welsh countryside, though hers, in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains, was more remote than ours.

I can remember Annie telling me that they never had the chance to even properly view the cottage they bought, because it was rented out, and the people weren't there when they came to view.  It was unlocked though, and they just peeped into the kitchen, and looked through the windows and liked what they saw and went back to put in an offer.  When they first arrived, all the ruined farmhouses and cottages along the lanes to her smallholding were being squatted in by hippies.  This was the time of articles in Country Bizarre magazine, which told people how to squat in abandoned houses!

Like us, Annie and her husband spent years and all their money doing up the cottage, and it was a lovely home, crammed with all the sorts of things our house is filled with, especially books.  Every time we sat drinking tea and eating cake, I would look at her ceiling to floor bookcase (just one of many throughout the house) and see the same books I had on her shelves.  She was an excellent cook and like me, enjoyed baking.

Annie lived for her garden and created the most beautiful garden out of a sour, damp Welsh hillside. She was a real plantswoman, and had green fingers.  It must have broken her heart when the Hospital told her she must give up gardening because if she picked up an infection from mould, it would go badly for her.  But that didn't stop her planning, and I helped her to source some unusual Rhododendrons and other plants last summer.  I had been hoping beyond hope that spring would come early and she would see her new Rhododendron "Gomer Waterer" flower but sadly spring has been dragging its heels this year.  Whenever I visited I brought her pot plants or bulbs to grow in pretty little vintage jugs I had found - old china was another of her delights.  Old embroidery and crochet too.  I delighted in leading her astray with more pretty "stuff"!

When she moved to Wales, she joined the Local Spinning and Weaving Guild and was a real craftswoman.  She loved embroidery too and was trying to finish a piece for her daughter whilst she was still able.  I will offer to put the final stitches to the border. . .

Aren't the colours stunning?

Annie loved beautiful things.  She loved learning new skills.  She had chickens, took in stray cats and like us, had 9 at one time, and loved all animals.  She was a very gentle soul and was a bee-keeper.  I wonder if anyone has told her bees that their mistress has died?

Self-effacing and modest, she was none-the-less quietly stubborn and declined the offer of going into a Hospice to end her days.  Her home was where she felt safe, surrounded by all her pretty things, and her beautiful garden.  The barn with the Barn Owl in residence, the wild birds which she fed through winter, the light from her stained glass windows throwing shards of colour across the room.  Rooms filled with memories of her beloved husband who predeceased her, and of their family growing up there and bringing their own children to visit.

I shall miss you Annie, but I will never forget you and am so glad of this last year when we laughed together, and cried together, and  I had the chance to give you a little brightness at the darkest of times.

Monday 23 March 2015

The wild daffodils of Dymock - photo heavy

We were at Malvern again yesterday, to check out a Militaria Fair they hold there.  Homework done and no need to go again.  On the way out, we stopped so I could take photos of the stupendous views.  Needless to say, houses in Malvern with a view like this sell at a premium . . .

Then we drove on to the beautiful ancient church of St Mary's at Kempley, where we were meeting with my friend J.

Kempley church has stunning Medieval wall paintings, which were whitewashed over as "idolatory" in Cromwell's times.  Fortunately they have been rediscovered and restored where possible.  I have written a post about this church before, so will move on to the beautiful wild daffodils which still grow in this area.

So we left the churchyard, with just a quick photo of the daffs growing there - but they need another couple of weeks, J thinks as there is just a sprinkling at the moment.

So from Kempley we drove through Dymock to a piece of woodland where daffodils used to be picked for the Birmingham market.  J's aunty (nearly a centenarian now) and her mum and gran, used to be amongst the pickers.  Even before school to satisfy demand if Easter was early and the daffodils few in number, because then there would be a premium for them.

Another rarity these days, the scented White Violets growing on a sunny bank.

The woodland was criss-crossed with daffodil-edged rides such as this one, and if I thought this was pretty and daffodils a-plenty, I had a treat in store.

Between the trees the woodland floor was carpeted with daffodils.

There were primroses too of course.

According to J, these are still only about 2/3 out - and they are always earlier in the woods.  In the fields they are well behind, as we saw later when we visited one of the few fields which has been left unploughed by the farmer, so show this area how it used to be 100 years ago.

I took lots of similar photos, but I suspect you get the gist of this natural beauty by now.

Leaving the woodland.

Aiming towards the sun made it look like last week's eclipse again!

The daffodil field, which in full bloom, you can scarcely see any grass because of the flowers.  It has a way to go yet.

One last close up of these tiny daffodils.  We still have a few here in Wales - they like wetter woods, and I know of some in a damp cleft in a meadow locally.  See these in all their glory and you will never plant a King Alfred again.

If you want to head for the Dymock/Much Marcle/Kempley triangle on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border this coming weekend, you will not be disappointed, as the daffodils are just starting to bloom and it is a beautiful and historically very interesting area.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Thoughts whilst gardening

Below: a hint of May.  Wishing the verges looked like this today.  I would be burying my nose in the flowers.

The spring sunshine has lured me outside again today - it is a shame not to make the most of it, as the weather can be so fickle.  I have been tackling the hedge of Snowberry (very overgrown) which tops the bank and wall between the main garden and the drop down to the lower yard.  How short to cut it, I wondered, as if I get carried away we will have no privacy from passing cows!  Wound through the Snowberry are yards and yards of Bramble runners.  One long Blackberry runner was a "Brimble" in the Devonshire dialect (new to me book found this week - The Devonshire Dialect by Clement Marten, and signed by the author too).  There is a Devon surname "Brimacombe" and I wonder if that is a variation derived from someone who lived in a bramble-filled valley . . .  My thoughts wander whilst I am working and every time I cut brambles I think what a waste, in the olden days these would have been stripped of their thorns through stout leather gloves or a wooden gripper designed specially for this task, and then wound into baskets and bee-skeps.

There was a constant flutter of wild bird wings as I worked.  I was near the feeder in the eating apple tree and they were flitting from branch to branch, wondering if they dared land on the feeder and grab a seed or two.

A song kept playing through my head, one from the late 1960s - Peter Starstedt's "Where do you go to my lovely?  I don't know where that came from but I've just had to play it on Youtube - sad that I am I still remember all the words!

Then I thought of my dear friend A, who is very ill, and was told when diagnosed, that she must not garden any more because of the risk of mould spores causing a fatal infection.  To her that must have seemed like having her hands chopped off as she lived for her garden, and is a knowledgeable plantswoman, and far better than I could ever hope to be.  I garden like I cook usually - "bung-it" . . .

Then I was thinking of the book I am reading now, "Possession" by A S Byatt.  I can quite understand how academics get so immersed in a subject that they just live and breath it all day long, and look into the infinitesimal levels of it, as is happening in Byatt's book.  I am sure that some folk wouldn't hesitate to be totally devious and unscsrupulous in order to access a rare letter or document which they think could give them the edge on a book or piece of research they are undertaking.  I love the way she writes, and the sub-plots inside the novel (also evident in The Children's Book, the first novel of hers I read, and which I can thoroughly recommend).  I can remember going to a Conference on Insular Art after I had just completed my degree.  I was quite blown away by the microscopic detail a speaker had gone into whilst researching their topic - for instance how the goldsmith's dots on the terminal of a torc corresponded with a virtually identical technique on a totally different piece of work.  How would you notice unless you looked at just about every piece of goldwork found in that area, period in time, book, article etc.  But then, I had done the same when working on my Dissertation which subsequently was joint-winner of The Society of Antiquaries dissertation prize so I understand the blinkered intense research.

I hope this sunshine has spread a little across the country this weekend so we can all enjoy the great outdoors.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

My cure for the March blues

This recent flu-type bug I had left me with a bad case of the Blues.  Day after day I felt no positivity, took no pleasure in anything.

Yesterday I decided I would try and work a cure, so took myself to Wyevale where I don't often go because they are so blardy expensive, but they DO have the best selection of Seeds hereabouts, so it was a case of needs must.  My husband sat in the car with the paper.  He HATES garden centres and doesn't like gardening, but mows the lawn (muttering) and if he had his way, his perfect garden would be a lawnless back yard with a few things in pots and NO VEG.

I didn't go mad - the prices forbade that - the Sweet Pea selection was £4.69 on its own, but actually represented very good value for money as there are 6 seed varieties and only one had less than 18 seeds in it.  The individual packets of Sweet Peas cost over £2 each for a similar amount of seeds.  The Franchi seeds are good value too - excellent germination and after going to Florence last year, I am now a sucker for Italian anything!  I wanted the green flat beans, rather than the yellow, but only Duchy Originals (Organic) offered green and there were very few seeds in the over-priced pack, which I have bought in the past but germination was poor.  Whilst I would prefer to be all organic in the seeds, needs must.  I spent a good hour yesterday afternoon sowing the Sweet Peas.  "Take a 5 inch pot and sow 5 to a pot" the directions told me. Then I ran out of 5" pots - or rather, I am sure I have some more but they are almost definitely at the bottom of one of the big bin liners of pots I have lurking in the back of the chicken shed (lapsed).  So I ended up grabbing some 6-hole large plug strips I'd bought young plants in last year - nice and roomy - but even then I had to put a couple of seeds in each plug as there were lots of seeds in some of the sachets.

The varieties are: Bijou Mixed, Old Spice Mixed, Blue Velvet, Spencer Mixed, Cupani and Swan Lake.  I think they will love it in the former soft fruit patch at the top end of the (south-facing) yard and the bees will love them too.

Last week I hit Wilko's and took advantage of their 3 for 2 offer on seeds.  These are destined to be planted near the sweet peas, in that same sunny border.

If you are thinking it is an unbalanced mix of veg seeds, the beans are already sown, and brassicas don't do well here.  Or more likely, I am a crap brassica grower!  Anyway, OH is a fussy devil and tries not to eat much veg if he can get away from it and wouldn't touch any of these with a barge pole (apart from the occasional carrot which I manage to slip in).  Broccoli and peas and the occasional bit of cabbage and that's his lot.

Some of the floral stragglers from last year, which I never got around to sowing.  I am about to rectify that.

Whilst we're on the subject, why ARE seeds so dear?  Go to Lidl and you can buy excellent seeds for pennies . . .  OK, the selection is limited, but they all grow!

I've just popped across to Fleabay to see if I can get some green flat beans, only to find I could buy PURPLE strawberries, or BLUE ones . . . don't think so!  They don't look at all appetising and I should think as genetically modified as it's possible to be!

Anyway, I did find some flat beans for 99p a pack, so got two (one for eldest daughter T who now has an allotment!  Several friends are sharing, so they will find the digging easier . . .

Whilst I was in Wyevale, I spotted some half price Tomato seedlings - originally £1.99  or £2.29 for 4, just a couple of inches high, I didn't mind trying them half price.  They were bone dry and needed potting on and tlc, but they are now sorted and in the polytunnel (another Wyevale bargain from last year, just one of the green sort).

I declined to buy the "bargain" bucket of 50 fat balls for wild birds at "just" £6.99 a bucket, reduced from £12.99!!!  Since I have been buying these at Charlies or Wilko all winter at £5 a bucket, it didn't seem much of a bargain to me!

Oh, and I AM a bit more cheerful this morning now : )

Monday 16 March 2015

Putting the cornflakes in the fridge . . .

I have been down in the dumps the past few days.  A sort of dark grey dog (as opposed to Black) sitting on my shoulder, and as it is going on for days, rather than the one-day episodes I usually get, I am putting it down to after-effects of the recent bug, which went on for a fortnight and was only finally trounced by a/b's of the right persuasion.  Anyway, despite 10 hours in bed last night, sleeping well, I was still not with it this morning, and found myself opening the fridge door to put the cornflakes away.  I think I will need to be a bit more on-edge when I drive into town later!

Yesterday we had a cheer-me-up day out in Hay-on-Wye - last minute decision after going down the car boot sale.  Well, I knew everything in Brecon is pretty well shut on a Sunday, but it never occurred to me that we would find a similar situation in Hay, but it should have occurred to me as it is such a traditional town, with no chain shops, and people who trade there obviously like to have Sunday off.  So we needn't have paid for 4 hours' parking for starters!  It took us 1 1/4 hours to go round, and that included a sit-down for a cup of tea and a piece of carrot cake (latter for me, as OH doesn't do cake at all.  I am wasted on him!)  The tea was virtually undrinkable, not being Twining's Earl Grey but a cheaper mimic, which tasted not of bergamot at all, but more like patchouli had been added.  Yuk.  The cake was nice though . . .

There were enough bookshops open for me to indulge myself a little.  OH bought a book about Stalin's regime.  I got these:

Perfect for me, with lots of Ag. Labs. in my family tree.

Another A S Byatt to devour, once I have finished her "Possession".  This is two novellas - "Morpho Eugenia" and "The Conjugal Angel".

Two more poetry books for my collection.

This one I bought from Trecastle the previous Sunday.  A selection of poems chosen by Dymock poet John Drinkwater.  SO many of them are ones I remember from my childhood schooldays.

This lovely little book, with profuse photographs and lots of history, is one of the books I chose as a birthday present from my husband.  It arrived early, so I am enjoying it early : )  I can't wait to be living in Herefordshire and enjoying these walks.  My second book should hopefully arrive today and is Merrily's Border, based on the novels of Phil Rickman.

Right, into town first, to get my prescription, and drop a few things off at the Unit, and then back to painting the stairs . . .