Birds, Hill Farming, lifestyle, Wales

Aerial Dog Fights

We are not in a war zone but over the undulating landscape of Mid-Wales fighter aircraft of the Royal Air Force rent the sky and intertwine their parabolas as they pass behind the hills to emerge and cross, one with the other with micro-second clearance — they travel in pairs, weaving like mating dragonflies on amphetamine, never quite making contact, thankfully — so far.

Photo: Cpl Paul Oldfield RAF/MOD [OGL (]

2 Hawk TMk2 Aircraft courtesy of Cpl Paul Oldfield RAF/MOD (OGL v1.0)

They use this area for low level training (I don’t think it’s a secret) and use our house as a landmark or perhaps we are located exactly on the intersection of the invisible lines of the virtual grid that is projected onto the land by a NASA satellite  (the eyes in the sky).  When we were slating our new roof the eyes in the sky were obviously interested, sending fighters to make pass after pass over our house, lower and lower in the sky, trying to topple the large khaki penguin, wrapped up against the elements (it was winter — we do everything late).  Were we part of a secret military exercise — a pretend enemy missile installation under construction — subject to constant aerial monitoring and due for annihilation when we fixed the last ridge tile?  Or was the intelligence officer just keen on DIY, trying to see how we feathered and leaded the valley of our new roof?

Anyway we enjoyed the attention.

We’re not paranoid, not even when a massive Hercules transport plane hoves over the horizon which, in these hills, can be just yards ahead.  Motorists on the mountain road swerve to avoid the huge alien craft that rears up as they approach the crest of a hill!

The remains of a fuel tank from such a plane was in our barn for years, jettisoned by a pilot who misjudged the height of our hill, and quickly squirreled away by conspirators to fill the oil lamps of this valley for a generation — or so they say!

The aerial activity recently has been more pastoral.  The crows that roost and build their nests in the wood do not like the buzzards, nor are they very keen on the red kites —


— that swoop down from great altitude to pick up the remains of pheasant carcasses left on the hillside for them by this lazy farmer’s wife who is fed up with making soup.


The buzzards are ever present,


mewing to each other and circling above the trees and crossing the valley.  The crows are intelligent and social creatures and resent this invasion of their airspace so have formed an air force of their own.  They  climb up high in ones and twos and swoop down on the buzzard from above and behind and the buzzard will twist and roll to face the enemy with his talons outstretched and they will engage and drop and spin in the most aeronautically alarming way — a real dog-fight.

They recover and the buzzard continues to beat his Herculean way across the field of combat as the crows re-form to attack again.

It’s hard not to sympathize with the plucky crows especially after the chicken incident — imagine our delight when a great bird of prey alights just under our bedroom window to consume its prey — we are honoured and watch and wait, enthralled, to photograph its every move and later rush out to examine the spot — only to discover the remains of our last bantam hen!

173Best Buzzard



Photo of Hawk aircraft by Cpl Paul Oldfield RAF/MOD [OGL (, via Wikimedia Commons

Hill Farming, lifestyle, Welsh language

Why Welsh is an up-hill business.

Getting around this time of the year is not always easy.

Winter near Staylittle.

Winter near Staylittle.

My problem is that when I venture out alone it is usually dark so I can’t see the little icons on the second, magic gear knob — the one that engages the four-wheel-drive. So after I’ve had a little slide I have to stop and look for the light switch and maybe also my bifocals.  But the problem is, for the occasional night driver, when you get your head in just the right position to see the hieroglyphics on the knob, your own shadow falls exactly on that very same knob — spooky?.  You can drive one hundred miles at night in Wales and only see five other cars but when you are stopped on the back road to Staylittle, rummaging for your reading glasses, another car will blind you with its headlights and, finding you stationary on a mountain pass in the middle of the night, the driver will get out, or at least wind down his window, to ask you if you are alright and discern with his knife sharp perception that you are definitely not alright, but then, probably you never were.

084I go to Delife to have my Welsh lesson.  It is beyond Staylittle which used to be called Stay-a-little, a much better English name for such a friendly place, albeit a tad exposed and chilly in winter, on the west side of our hill where the weather comes in from the Atlantic, whistling up the Celtic Sea, carefully avoiding Ireland, to dump its full ferocity on the Cambrian Mountains where we live.

You wouldn’t think that language had anything to do with altitude but it has!  In the sheltered valleys of Mid-Wales only the road signs are still bilingual; the indigenous population was long ago polluted by generations of English speaking in-comers, who passed by on their way to Ireland but dallied, drawn by the beauty of the place and the passion of the people and the strangeness…  Nothing is more sexually enticing than strangeness (good old genetics, it just loves difference) so they stayed and fell in love and intermarried and, with the collusion of the government, bought up their children to speak English.

Farmers don’t marry for love; they marry for land, nothing is more alluring to a farmer than three hundred acres of prime pasture and so the farming families who are rooted in the land have not intermarried to the same extent.  They live on the hills and they still, by and large, speak Welsh.

The frontier between these two foreign lands, with their amazingly different languages, runs around the edges of the hills at about 200M and that is why I go to Delife for my Welsh lessons.  Although the Government pays lip-service to the promotion of the Welsh language, with the recent round of cuts, my previous class folded.  But, up in the hills where neighbours still chat in Welsh and the sort of folk who settle there want to join in, a kindly lady minister is running a class in a pub, without training (I assume), or vetting, or funding, or overheads, or fees, or forms, or appraisals, or even cake — it is the only class that I have ever come across that is not struggling for numbers.

Dyna beth od — Tybed pam

That’s odd — I wonder why!

030 (3)

lifestyle, Psychology

Gender Bender — the trailblazers!

Despite the explosion in categories of gender and sexuality, it makes me sad when I read of the difficulties that young people can still have when they fail to fit their particularly allotted stereotype.

I don’t have many gender issues – I’m sure I’m not the only woman who feels that she is in drag when she dresses up to go to a wedding but I’m fairly happy in my skin, albeit a bit baggy, and I’ve never really been convinced that being born female has held me back —  I’m still a tomboy but more often than not I’ve had more pressing problems than the trappings of gender. I’m just relieved to have been born in my time and place and to have had the privilege of a career and a house full of children.

In the early days I rather enjoyed being a novelty – for that is all I was — an ostensibly normal woman (looking quite young) practising a traditionally male profession reasonably competently – not some sort of child prodigy or weird intersex.

I think I’m saying that not fitting a stereotype should be a pleasure and not an unavoidable burden, laced with self-doubt and loathing, but the pressure to conform may be getting greater with  all the gender crap (this is a medical term) that bombards us daily.

My understanding of sexual attraction is that it is mainly related to features associated with fitness to breed but women’s magazines project anorexic models as the norm — women who surely never ovulate naturally. I used to think that fashion photographers must all be gay (perhaps they are) and were promoting an android and defeminised image of women to gratify their own sensibilities — you really do wonder who their target audience is. The adolescent boyish look has given way to pale childlike look so that you wonder about the demographic of the person who finds it attractive — the paedophile or the necrophile? What is going on here – is the heroin-addict look really so attractive in a woman?

Image is all.  The normal woman promoted in the media is still seriously under weight but now almost universally has large, firm and strangely inappropriate bosoms–

Thanks to Barbie Fantasies (CC BY 2.0)

Thanks to Barbie Fantasies (CC BY 4.0)

— it was a novelty on Strictly Come Dancing to spot a single pair of small, normally jiggling breasts, ones that might, sometime in the future, actually lactate!  The owner would be mortified.

Fourteen year old boys display their abs on Facebook and will soon be complaining about their short stature due to premature fusion of their long-bone ends and acne caused by their anabolic food supplements.

Thanks to Peter Taylor's Memorabilia Birmingham (CC DY NC 4.0)

Thanks to Peter Taylor’s Memorabilia Birmingham (CC DY NC 4.0)

Buying clothes for teenage girls was never easy – the wrangle over school shoes, and it’s no comfort, when years later they proudly display their bunions, to say ‘I told you so!’

I worry about the sexualised wardrobe of many very young girls –Boob-tubes and Cuban heels for six-year olds, not to mention lewd and provocative statements emblazoned across their chests.  I worry about what this says about these innocents to men of more traditional cultures. Fourteen year old girls may run rings around boys of their own age and culture but they are still innocents in the real world.

A woman in her twenties with a normal Body Mass Index ( not media-skinny or food-industry-obese) who chooses not to wear sexualised clothes is not weird or threatening. She is normal by her own parameters and probably a lot more healthy and sexually attractive ( fit to breed!) than the Barbie doll look-alikes that our image-makers and advertisers foist upon us.

This Christmas I had great difficulty selecting a gift from a local supermarket for a two year old – to my surprise, the shop had two sections for this age group – one, camouflaged, for little boys with rockets and guns and action men and construction sets with pictures of little boys building bridges with their Dads ( so they must have been taken on a Wednesday or an alternate week-end). In the fluorescent pink, girl’s department, there were tea sets and pots and pans, little plastic microwaves that pinged, ovens and kitchens, severed plastic heads to make-up, Barbies and little princesses with tiara’s.  I felt ill.

I know I really just needed to find a better, independent toy-shop.  Time was short and the only safe gift for any child, it seemed, was  a cuddly creature, a zoo or a farm – but even the dinosaurs had been castrated!  What gender confusion will that create in our two-year-old’s psyche?


Thanks to David for  his image of Joan of Arc from Meridan Hill (Malcolm X) Park (CC DY 4.0)



Filling the Spiritual Void — the anxious atheist

When we introduce children to scientific thinking and our reasoning becomes increasingly evidence based, our world becomes more secular and religious concepts begin to seem weird – that is when we humans may be missing a trick.

The French are ahead of us in this: for more than half a century their state education system has been secular so that, for many, religious faith is alien and impossible to fathom, it does not fit into our way of thinking anymore.

This may deprive us of several useful psychological tools.

The concept of an over-arching God, a power greater than ourselves, particularly a beneficent power was very useful. It may have been delusional but it allowed us to relinquish overall responsibility, taking us out of ultimate control. Being in charge is very stressful – all those decisions – having to understand everything and be assertive. It was much easier to have faith in the overall management and just pray – now we are self reliant but full of self doubt.

It is a sort of growing up, a loss of innocence, a loss of humility and a growing sense of our own importance, grinding self-reliance and sneaking insecurity that can be so destructive – it takes us to the Accident and Emergency Department in the middle of the night when by morning we are feeling better.

Other things have contributed – we are empowered and less restrained by gender and class, we are more free-standing, not so much a part of a family or a close supportive community.

We could however acknowledge one overarching power that is not God, but is greater than ourselves – that is the accumulation of human development, knowledge and co-operation. It is the billions of years of natural selection and adaption and one man’s knowledge and understanding, built on that of other men (and women), built on that of all men and women, since the beginning of time – that great pyramid of our achievements. But it’s not a pyramid, is it? It’s an infinite pyramidal mesh – immortal, invisible.  It is wisdom – sounds religious to me! It does sound like something worthy of faith and that is, I think, what we are missing — faith, or rather confidence, in ourselves — in our wider self which is immense.

And we miss the idea of an afterlife which is the ultimate in delayed gratification, of investing ones efforts in long term projects!  The converse which is a finite life without judgement, without a final moral reckoning lays us open to short-termism — live while you can and die happy (only we don’t).  Does this have a negative effect on future generations?  We are not, after all, going to be looking down from Heaven and seeing the consequences of our actions — nor burning in the fires of hell and damnation for the things we did that we knew all along were wrong.


Pious role model from Limerick Cathedral

We have to think of our descendants as our afterlife — that’s not too difficult and, believe me, they will judge us!

The Commandments were set in stone — that was the point.  You knew where you are with commandments set in stone, you had a moral compass that avoided constant moral negotiation with oneself — my Mum knew exactly what was right and what was wrong and there was no room for negotiation — no shades of grey.

The irony is that today everyone has protocols for everything except the really important moral dilemmas where a protocol would be really useful.

We wanted to have it our way with our wonderful free will and just like that day where it all started in the Garden of Eden we can’t un-eat the apple.

Ecology, Wales

Common things being common

The grasshoppers that jumped out and away wherever you trod in our field last summer were green and there were lots of them.  That might make you think that they were Common Green Field Grasshoppers but with talk of global warming, climate change and species in all the wrong places (A Dartmoor Blog  I have been inspired to have another look at my photos and to try to be more precise in my identification.


First impressions may well have been correct and this confirms me in the belief that things should be named for what they are, although in this case I had such difficulty in photographing him that Brown Kneed Elusive might be a better name.

?Common Green Grasshopper

If you recognise this creature please leave details otherwise he will remain Omocestus viridulus, the common green field grasshopper.

Doggy, Humour, Pedro's glog, Sheep

Pedro’s New Year Glog

I wasn’t born to be a sheep dog — more of an urban animal really — bit of a Jack-the-lad, I suppose.  Not a yobbo — urbane, they say — I’ve been to the theatre twice — outdoor, don’t you know — I’ve seen Hamlet!

Sheep Dog or what?

Sheep Dog or what?

I’m a Generic Hound, sometimes called an Original Dog, with nothing added and nothing taken away — they haven’t nibbled away at my genome (that’s what I’m told by my friend, the geneticist), I came with all my natural potentiality then just had to find a niche — that’s where I live now — in my niche.

Supervising Shearing at the Niche

Supervising Shearing at the Niche, thanks to Peter Jenkins for the picture (all rights reserved).

It suits me, I like the out-door life and the rain and if you have a good brain and understand their lingo (human’s that is, despite their undoubted intelligence, sheep have little conversation) it’s not difficult.  One starts by just ‘helping out’ a bit and before you know it you’re on ‘One Man and His Dog’, except that she’s One Woman and, quite honestly, there is very little chance of us attaining celebrity because of her, what shall I say, declining powers.  I can understand  her perfectly but she doesn’t always think situations through or, indeed, even close the right gates, but we muddle along.  It’s not that she doesn’t understand me, one flick of the eyes and she knows exactly what I mean but she’s wilful — thinks she knows best and, to be honest, since the operation I really can’t be bothered to assert myself.

Ady -- my trusted lieutenant.

Aby — my trusted lieutenant.

Aby helps, she’s my ward, I raised her from  a new-born lamb when she was orphaned and had to live in the new wet-room, then the kitchen — she’s the only creature that I’ve ever allowed in my basket.  Not now — she’s got very big and clumsy but she still talks a lot, much more than the other sheep.  She’s had lots of lambs of her own now but none of them are quite like her.  We have a soft spot for each other, she and I, she lets me lick her new lambs which the others would never do — they stamp their petulant little feet and I wouldn’t mess with any of them.

Abby and others 2012 073

Aby with her 2012 lamb who is called Eighty-one and will be having her own lamb in April.

Proud Guardian!

Proud Guardian!

I do most of the remembering, I’m the time keeper, I know when things should be done, and I deal with security and pest control — I manage the cats and catch the adult rats (they really only cope with the young ones).

Protecting Boss from pesky cat (demonstrating sophisticated emotion) Jealous dog -- they do PhDs in that.

Protecting Boss from pesky cat (demonstrating sophisticated emotion). Jealous dog — they do PhDs in that.

It’s not all work, I have holidays, mainly beach retrieving holidays.

Here I am in Ireland.

Here I am in Ireland.

Wishing you all the best for 2015, Pedro