Last autumn it was too dry to burn the brushwood from our extensive hedging operations.
Now, when most years we have snow, I’ve been farming in my shorts! We’ve had the hottest February days since records began (here anyway). There are wildfires on Saddleworth Moor but here the ground is still a bit soggy so Alan announces that the conditions are right for a bonfire!
As we had a spot of bother with our last big fire ( see Uncall the Fire Brigade) our friend David takes it upon himself to supervise us, bringing his grab on the big tractor — always exciting for us!
There was a shower over night so it is slow to start.
But, after a bit of encouragement:
We have a spark to work with — piling on the brushwood on an industrial scale!
Until we have a decent bonfire!
Satisfying to watch!
It burns all night and no hedgehogs are injured in the making of this fire!
By next day it is manageable by a retired lady with a pitchfork.
Now we are ready for the spring and, you guessed, it’s raining!
It’s been a difficult winter as several of our good friends have crested the distribution curve for life expectancy and done what we will all do eventually — because of this it hasn’t seemed right to talk about the passing of our dog.
However Pedro was such a special individual he deserves his canine eulogy
Much of his early life is documented in my book Iolo’s Revenge where he looks out from the fly leaf to engage the potential reader just as, in life, he engaged everyone he met –he had extraordinary social skills with eloquently persuasive non-verbal powers — and verbal understanding.
“Not in front of the dog!” my husband would say as we discussed the possibilities of an outing , ” We don’t want to disappoint him.”
It was probably his idea anyway.
He had a way of fixing you with his stare and then glancing at the object of his desire (whole systems of psychoanalysis have been based in this method of communication). His glance would lead you to the path to the woods; his ball on the shelf; my crook when he wanted to look at the lambs; Wellies when he wanted to go to the stream or the beach (he loved the beach) — he knew exactly how to introduce the thought that he wanted into my head: feed the sheep; collect the eggs; walk the dog and don’t forget we are taking next-door’s dog today; it’s six o’clock (I know it is, I’ll feed you in a minute!)
The thing about dogs is that they communicate on an emotional level, with irresistible sadness when they don’t get their own way and uncontainable joy when they do — and joy is catching. A walk in the woods or a romp in the snow with a happy dog can elevate the meanest mood!
Pedro was a family dog:
Good with sheep:
And lambs (he loved baby creatures — he’d bring them in and ask if he could keep them):
The first of February was the last day of the season for shooting pheasants in the United Kingdom and presumably the last day for taking pot-shots at innocent little ladies walking in the woods which is what my friend and I were doing that day.
Hoods up against the sharp wind, we leaned on our stout sticks and felt our way through the frozen puddles along the bridal track from Bwlch y Ffridd to Gregynog Hall — so muffled were we that we could have passed for the ghosts of Margaret and Gwendoline Davies, the great patrons of modern art, who will have passed this way a century ago.
“That’s where von Ribbentrop used to stay in the thirties,” said my friend pointing out a building on the far side of the wide valley. I pricked up my ears but before I could question her further we became aware of several large four-wheel-drive vehicles crunching through the snow in the valley below and stopping one after the other to disgorge men with guns who seemed to be scrambling to take up positions along the valley, parallel with our route along the track. “Are they hunting today? Is it a shoot?”
“Shootings over for this year… I think” said my friend.
Young men with dogs and sticks appeared above us in the wood lashing at the tree trunks and clapping.
“I think we had better turn back and quickly.”
“They are bloody shooting!” In a state of extreme arousal we slid and stumbled our way past the gunmen, along a fusillade that rained lead shot down through the trees like unearthly hail. They weren’t firing at us and probably were 30 feet away but it really was quite exciting!
I bet von Ribbentrop came here for the shooting or perhaps to meet Mrs Simpson (lovers evidently) as they both wooed the future king — it’s a small world.
At home I spend many a happy hour musing on possible sites to land a helicopter –specifically an air ambulance — basically there is nowhere within two miles that is flat or not festooned with power lines or patrolled by ferocious cattle. The only flat place on the farm is where Alan has built an enormous bonfire which was too dangerous to light all summer and is now too wet!
Anyway, as everyone knows, no one ever gets around to being sure that they are ill enough to call an ambulance in the morning. We have our lunch at 3pm and it’s dark by 4 — the Welsh Air Ambulance doesn’t fly after dark which is as well with all the mountains and the above hazards.
We’ve been in Lostwithiel in Cornwall — on the Fowey River. There was a colossal roar the other day — so tantalizingly loud that Pedro and I had to go and investigate!
50 yards from the house we found the source of the row — a Cornwall Air Ambulance –come to pick someone up from the adjacent medical centre.
Here they are being loaded:
See –it’s already dusk, but note how wonderfully flat it is.
Then it started to roar again and the rotor blades which were drooping started to rotate faster and faster and got flatter and flatter and louder and louder until one thought it couldn’t try any harder — but it did and, as Pedro sank to the ground and covered his ears, it lifted lightly up and turned to face us.
It flew directly at us (must have seen the camera) then rose up in an aerial pirouette —
When you meet someone for the first time, it seems to me, that you can nearly always find something that you have in common — places you have lived, people you have known, views, tastes, maybe you have the same sense of humour — we humans like to do this, to forge bonds with new people.
I have just met Madrun and she is a remarkable woman. She’s been dead 1500 years.
Whatever you call her, Madrun or Materiana, this woman must have learned a thing or two from the turbulent power struggles that raged around her in her early life. She was born a princess, eldest daughter of Gwerthefyr Fendigaid (Vortimer the Blessed), the 5th century warrior king of Gwent who opposed the Saxon invaders from Germany who were allied with his father. He temporarily overthrew his father and took power but eventually is said to have been poisoned by his Saxon stepmother (that’s a recurrent theme!) On his father’s death, his daughter, Madrun, succeeded from her grandfather and rulled with her husband Ynyr (descended from Roman emperor Magnus Maximus). (Thankyou, David Nash Ford for this information from Early British Kingdoms)
The details of her life are obscure but we know she was Christian and that, like many of her contemporaries she travelled to Ynes Enlli (Bardsey Island — at the tip of the Llyn peninsula in North Wales) as a pilgrim.
On the way she and her servant Annun stayed a night at Trawsfynydd. I have visited this area — infact I blogged about the visit and the spooky nature of the place.(Off the Straight and Narrow)
Madrun found it spooky too. She and Annun both dreamed a dream of founding a nunnery there, which they did –the church there still bears Madrun’s name.
Yesterday we were at Tintagel, Cornwall, in a magnificent gale, shouting greetings to fellow walkers with excited wind-tousled dogs. We watched the huge swell and the breakers hitting the offshore islands and sending spray 60 feet into the air.
As we drove away we caught sight of a small church on the cliff and we were drawn to look. Here it is — St Materiana’s (that’s the same Madrun — she ended her days in Cornwall)
Relatively modern –rebuilt in 12th century! But there’s been a church here since the 6th century — I bet you Madrun’s buried here — look at the view.
As I get older my back aches a bit and my trousers get tighter otherwise I feel much the same but I notice that the people around me seem to ail more and the things that fill my days are changing. A lot of the things that we do hardly merit a blog — I can’t promise you a riveting account of my breast screening appointment next week.
This week I have scratched the new car and got stuck in the car-wash but I have mostly been making chutney — apple chutney. Well, I’d cleaned the house after the cider episode (the floor no longer clings hysterically to my shoes as I walk, nor the door handles to my hands) so I thought, I’ll fill the kitchen with vinegar fumes, taint the washing on the dryer and torture myself with chilli fingers when I remove my contact lenses!
I can feel exceedingly green by recycling jam jars, soothing my hands in warm soapy water, marvel at the amazing adhesiveness of modern labels and turn a blind eye (still red from the chilli) on the amount of sugar that goes in — much less than in jam!
All because I read somewhere that the reason the days seem to fly past as we get older is because we don’t do enough different things– distinguishing things — that-was-the-day-I-made-the-chutney things!
We have a decrepit apple tree — the sheep barked it, a hedge has swamped it, it has die-back and more lichen than leaves and has produced about ten apples in as many years — until this year.
It still doesn’t look very healthy but, by God, this has been a good year for apples!
A fraction of the crop.
Trouble is everyone has had an exceptional year — Alan was bemoaning this fact at the pub and the fact that we no longer had a cider press (actually that was a huge relief — we are trying to cut down.)
Next day a friend arrived with, guess what!
State of the art cider apple masher and…
It takes a lot of apples and a lot of mashing and pressing to produce a gallon of cider. We’ve got through about 200 pounds of apples.
The kitchen is now full of demi-johns bubbling away — it smells like a real farmhouse kitchen and everything is sticky!
I don’t think I can face bottling it so we will have to rack it off (to remove the sediment) and insert bungs into the big jars — that will mean we have to drink it a gallon at a time — Happy days!