But for those of you who are stuck in other places or don’t want to get out of your warm beds, here is a walk through the crunchy frost — watch out for the frozen mole hills covered by a dusting of last night’s hail and this morning’s crystal dew — they stub your toes and send you sprawling on the now unyielding turf.
See the lane in the middle distance — treated last night with grit and salt (during a rain storm that washed it all away) and now frozen and deterring visitors — Bill is looking for the postman –the computer says his parcel is on its way but I know differently. Just as we have decided not to venture out to shop — we will fall upon the mercy of our store cupboard (my armageddon stash) and I will secretly hope for much more snow so that we are confined by something different –something that makes us cut wood and bake bread! Something reassuringly traditional!
Meanwhile we inspect the sheep and marvel at the beauty of their surroundings.
By afternoon it is beginning to thaw but only until sunset and more is forecast.
What a difference a day makes — the clear blue sky has bought my fair weather friend out onto the banks of the Trannon to wonder at the thundering of the water and bemoan the absence of aerial activity.
No thermals yet for the buzzards and kites, not even the cronk of a raven… The kingfisher and the dipper have moved downstream. But what is this new roar above that of the rushing river. Right above our heads:
“All the way from Lakenheath,” said Bill “and probably in less time than it’s taken us to walk down the valley… ” He had a strange far away look on his face, “Jet noise — the sound of freedom!” he said, quoting the bumper stickers of the 80’s.
I only hope that my friends who remember protesting at Greenham Common with the same expression of nostalgia will have forgotten this by the time we meet again.
There were three F15Es (I need 3 — one to jump, 2 to adjust the camera and 3: bingo!) They made several passes over our valley and then were gone, doubtless marvelling all the way home at the strange water-world beneath them — all the way from Wales to East Anglia, in less time than it took us to walk home for our lunch. It will have been a spectacular journey today.
I read somewhere that time accelerates as you age. This is my impression and may be because as you get older you do fewer new, memorable things. Memorable things that you do for the first time populate the time-scape and as you look back, if there aren’t many it seems as if the time has flown by. I don’t suppose it matters much as it’s all just a trick of the memory but it’s good to have things to look back on and one of the reasons I blog.
There was a time I did something new almost every day but that’s not so easy now with all the restrictions. Last week I bought Saville oranges for the first time and yesterday I made marmalade for the first time and got my first sugar burn!
When we are next in Peterborough I am going to have a go on my daughter’s new adult scooter (she uses it to get to work at the hospital avoiding parking and public transport) — it’s manual like the ones we had as kids but bigger — I used to love my scooter! This will require the manufacture of padded knickers — the only proved way to avoid fractured femurs (I should have had them years ago) and I will certainly need them in Kettering when I try the new grown-up motorized scooters that whizz up and down the Headlands with some of the youngest 17 year olds (with driver’s licenses) that I’ve ever seen. Before I can do that I’ll have to get my first i-phone (that’s how you mobilize the scooter) and waylay a school-boy to help me (I’ve done that before).
A friend of mine (I won’t identify him any more specifically — you’ll see why) likes to go to work each day using a different mode of transport, it was easy to begin with, especially as they live on a waterway (that narrows identification down a bit). Car, bicycle, skate board, paddle board, kayak, walking, running along the beach… As time goes on finding new ways gets harder — swimming, sailing… Running over the dunes? (But that’s really just running). Running over the dunes naked! He could do them all again naked even if it does mean going early when it is quiet. So if you knew who it was and where to go you could see him at 5:30 am riding a child’s peddle-cycle, stark naked, along the sea-wall.
When you see me streaking down the Headlands in nothing but my padded knickers you will know that I too am running out of new things to do.
A cade lamb, orphaned at birth and bought up by a silly woman and a clever dog will not be like other sheep. Aby has had her portrait painted, has been photographed for magazines (not Hello! but she was the centerfold for Border Life). Basically she is a celebrity — the ovine equivalent (in my mind anyway) of Joan Collins and also looking very good for her age.
Yesterday I found what I thought was a calf halter in the shed and I used it to tie a great sheath of brushwood to the wheelbarrow so that I could overload it like a Greek donkey and wobble to our “30 meter heavy duty compost heap” — our special habitat in the woodland. This is a safe haven for dozing hedgehogs, nesting wrens and the innumerable wood moulds and fungi that live in our little piece of temperate rain forest. Aby came with me for the walk.
On they way back I wondered if Aby was too old to be halter trained — she does after all identify as a cross between a dog and a human (a category that EIDCymru refuse to recognize on their annual sheep and goat inventory). As usual she was walking to heel. We stopped and I picked up the halter from the barrow and threaded it into a noose configuration — simple. Aby looked interested — lifting her head up to look at the circle of rope that I held in front of her. Without thinking I just slipped it over her head! She was pleased with this new award and set off to show it to Tex, her new companion with me still attached to the other end. As she ploughed on through the mud I was left behind — I tugged on the rope to demonstrate the principle of the process. The noose (for that is what it was — not a halter) tightened, she pulled harder. Not wanting to hang her, I let go! She headed up the hill. Her deadly pendant dragging in the mud and looking for something to grab hold of so that it could strangle poor Aby.
I gave chase — I grabbed — I missed — I grabbed again (this is fun) — I caught it as it circled her neck — she accelerated and swerved — I lost my footing and described a wide arc landing on my back in the mud (I thought “fractured femur — hospital — covid” but I didn’t let go) I was not in pain. Aby was no longer pulling. She was lying on her back with her feet in the air. What a piece of luck — she was caste — immobilized by that primitive quirk of sheep neurology whereby the do not work when they are upside down. I had time to pull myself together and remove her rope noose.
Our relationship may take longer to sort out — she stomped off feeling humiliated and totally let down and has been firing withering looks at me ever since. Like the car that rolls and has a dent on every panel, I was wet and mudded on every surface.
We took a look at the older stuff and I accepted the proposition that it might just be asbestos, took some to the tip and had it checked and confirmed that it was asbestos. They thanked me for my offer but said they didn’t want it — at any price. At this point it could have stayed behind the shed for another 20 years but no, with the help of a friend with a digger we have sorted and stacked it and tomorrow an approved contractor is arriving, at immense expense, in PPE to double bag and remove same to a place of safety (actually controlled un-safety) after which I will get a certificate!
And look — space for a new barn!
Tomorrow the man will come to measure up for the steel frame of the new barn and we will order the wooden cladding, the painting of which will be another new diversion.
Have you ever wondered why robins have such iconic status at this time of year?
It’s because they raise our spirits on miserable days — coming close as we garden in the winter rain. This week we have been excavating the old farm dump — decontaminating! Guess whose been helping? Actually (Bill points out) they use us (turn over this clod for me, will you?) They seem to like our company but they want our help (can you move this log?) They make us feel useful and you’ll catch yourself chatting to them as they flit about picking up the creepy crawlies that your digging uncovers. They used to sit still when we sketched them or painted them and now they come in close when we want to photograph them. You don’t need a great long lens to snap this little chap. He may be a cliche but he is most obliging!
No one is allowed visitors. We aren’t allowed visitors except for Liz, Bill’s sister (she’s in our bubble) but today in aid of Granny’s mental health we went for a walk in Peterborough. Why would anyone want to go for a walk in Peterborough? Not even around the cathedral. Just a Sunday constitutional — an elderly couple walking 20 feet behind a young couple with a little boy — shouted greetings — shared townscapes — a visit to the duck-pond. These little things make all the difference! But, do you know, we are noticing other winter visitors!
Did you know that these gregarious, noisy birds (sounding like a pack of hounds) make long term monogamous bonds and the divorce rate is only 5-8%(I don’t know how we know) and 14-20% are in same sex relationships. Their sexual orientation is flexible — widower ganders may re-pair with females (who are smaller). Large homosexual couples often have dominant positions in the flock and may act as guardians. You don’t have to watch geese for very long to realize how cautious they are and how mindful of potential threats. As they move around the available grazing in the local park individuals are watching the humans and the dogs and leading the others in defensive phalanxes.
In the last couple of weeks we have noticed some other winter visitors, photographed by Bill Branford (BY-NC-ND 2.0), mainly on Pitsford reservoir.
Here is a beautiful smew from the end of last winter — seen at Rutland Water
In the Spring Bill and I were locked down in Wales which was bliss. The winter finds us in urban Northamptonshire — locked down and out of Wales. I miss the hills, the cool rain, the conviviality of all the socially distanced nods and waves and yelled greetings from passing quad bikes.
But there are compensations here — my bad back and gammy knee have improved. We have sorted out lots of things (had a new bathroom fitted), I have been writing a lot about my medical student days, ‘A Testicle on a plate,’ and the Christmas wine delivery has just arrived.
Once the school traffic has gone the streets are empty and the robins are in full throttle and the shrubs are full of berries.
Today I donned my new FFFP3 mask (by order of offspring) and walked in to the centre of this old shoe town to get my boots mended — it was very quiet and, apart from a few food shops, the cobbler was the only other place awake — in Northampton cobbling is essential (even the football team is called the ‘Cobblers’).
The new book is to be the first of a trilogy — the prequel to Iolo’s Revenge (published a couple of years ago) — I am tempted to entitle it ‘The Badass Trilogy’ as in ‘what turns a nice girl into the woman I have become (according to my daughter)?’ Of course the answer is ‘Life!’