Hill Farming, Humour, lifestyle

Suddenly Summer!

‘We’ll do that in the Summer!’ we say, ‘In the long balmy days, free of water-proofs and wellies; when the sheep look after themselves and we can enjoy all the things that drew us to this place.’

Summer

Summer

‘We’ll do it after shearing, and after we’ve wormed the ewes and caught all the lambs and sprayed them against “fly strike” and after we’ve immunised them all (it’s too hot to tag their ears yet), and after we’ve sprayed the nettles and cut the thistles (and Alan’s mended the rough cutter — and by the way, the dish-washer’s broken), meanwhile we’ll spray ourselves with midge repellent and cut the thistles by hand — will you sharpen the sickle and the bill hook.

Digger rests, engulfed in Summer

Digger rests, engulfed by Summer

And while our rough cutter waits for Alan  and the digger with its poorly track awaits attention from the mechanic, all around us grass grows, you can almost hear it, and men work through the long days into the nights to cut silage and bale it all before the thunder storms come.  The mechanic rushes from farm to farm to keep the wheels turning.

The bracken, which should have been cut by now, stretches to the sky and spreads to shade the sheep, who far from being relieved by the removal from each of a couple of kilograms of organic insulation and carpet fibre, are now bothered by the sun.

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Seeking shade in summer pasture

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Sheep shadow

They use their bodies to mark out the exact outlines of trees on the hillsides — sheep shadows, and they pant and look at me accusingly as we might ask the Almighty why we have to suffer so at the hand of cruel destiny.

We sheared them on the day before the heat wave struck and as I walked into the first hot summer sun  where they had been lying the buzz was deafening so that we looked about for a cause (continuing the biblical) — a plague of flies had hatched that day and roared in anticipation.

That day we lead them through the woodland to our upper field where the orchids grow and where there is hardly a fly in this shady pasture — like us, they don’t know how fortunate they are.

Orchid in the Summer Pasture

Orchid in the Summer Pasture

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Ecology, Hill Farming, Humour, lifestyle

Hearts of Oak

‘The measure of a man’s importance is the size and number of his woodpiles’.

I was told this fact many years ago in rural France — it made a great impression — so contradictory was it to the progressive philosophies of my young French friends that I found it oddly reassuring — and still do!

We have woodpiles — burning wood when you have lots of trees is great but trees need cutting down and they don’t go quietly, they have a lot of stored energy and can lash out ferociously.  They need logging and drying and wood burns amazingly quickly so you need loads and plenty of room for storage.  We have an old barn, thirty feet by twenty feet already full of timber.

Last back end (as they say in Lancashire) we culled a Leylandii hedge, grown 40 feet high in a blink of Mother Nature’s eye. We cut off the branches and burned the brush-wood —

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— but when the exalting roar of the chain saw had stalled for the last time we were left with a daunting amount of timber — a mountain where our new workshop was waiting to be built.

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There it lay until last week when we were taken in hand!

Not by the Forestry Commission or the satellite snooperage of Rural Affairs, Wales (it was nothing to do with illicit romance in the hills) — it wasn’t even our very grown-up children who, though they never tidied their rooms, now worry about the state of their decrepit parents.   No, it was a  young neighbour (well relatively young) who knew that all we needed was a tiny push, a little encouragement.

‘I’ll come and help you on Tuesday — I’ve nothing much on this time of the year — I’ll be with you at midday.’

We refused, we protested, we were tempted, we said he’d have to have lunch (would there be meat? — Yes), he accepted, we capitulated, it was arranged and, in the intervening few days, we got on with what we should have been doing for months!

By the time Tuesday came we had started two new woodpiles and that day something strange happened — tree trunks scudded over the ground, whizzed through the air, crashed into trailers, flattened the saw trestle and just about spifflicated two pensioners temporarily under vigorous new management.

Chainsaws started willingly and logs marched to the music of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice jumping happily onto the new woodpiles.

By evening, by some miracle of effort and teamwork, well mainly one man’s effort (we helped as hard as we could and tried not to get in the way) we had uncovered the bare earth where our new workshop is to be sited.

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Temporarily repaired trestle on the almost cleared site — Digger just watched and didn’t help at all.

 

It’s a miracle.  Just another of the miracles of living here — Thank you David!

One of new woodpile waiting to be sheeted.

New Woodpile

 

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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 (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)]

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 —

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— 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,

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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 (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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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!

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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)

 

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lifestyle

Christmas Goes West

Turmoil comes in waves and these times of upheaval are our most creative — this is what I tell the children (it is no comfort to them).

It is Christmas and our five grown-up children (now that’s a strange concept) and their partners all seem to be facing new challenges.  Four now have various commitments in the West Country — work, homes, other family and friends, so to make it easier to all be together this year — Mum and Dad (and Pedro) go West.

Rhayader decorations

We entrust our pregnant ewes to a responsible friend — a rare thing!  Then we buy Tupperware and fill up the old camper van with plastic containers of Christmas, glance at the long term weather forecast and set off to The Gables — a rented house in Tywardreath, Cornwall.

But first, as Responsible Friend has noticed a hazard in the field in which we feed the aforementioned precious ewes, we have to fill in the seventy meter trench that we dug for the solar panel cable.  I use the word trench appropriately as torrential rain renders it a living memorial to life on the Somme in World War One.  The week before we leave for the West we slither and shiver, often up to our knees in mud.  Alan’s relationship with Digger is tested almost to destruction (not a bad thing, they were getting far too close) as her solenoid trouble makes her very temperamental and unreliable so that she often refuses to work at all and sits facing the prevailing storm with her windshield broken, getting her seat wet — but then we all have wet seats.

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Cornwall is dry and comfortable, camellias bloom in gardens and ragged robins in the hedgerows.  As shop assistants glower at befuddled shoppers and cars queue to enter and leave the supermarket car parks of the peninsula, sensible folk walk their wet dogs on nearby Par Sands where the China Clay factory breaths steam into the clear chilly air.

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Carols are sung at the Pub.

The Sun comes out on Christmas Morning.

 

Christmas Day

Christmas Day

The silvery sun makes it imperative to get out and make the most of the short days.

Festive meals are served for various permutations of family and friends.

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The wind changes, coming in from the North West, we pack up the left overs and drive home avoiding the Black Mountains, but not the traffic, to arrive home as the cold freezes the first dusting of snow into a crisp sugar coating over everything.

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Communication, lifestyle

‘I’ve never been to London —

–but I went to Birmingham once and I didn’t like it,’ warned Aled before I left, ‘Too many people!’

The Rotunda in the Bullring, Birmingham -- reflection on 1960's 'iconic'.

The Rotunda in the Bullring, Birmingham — reflection on 1960’s ‘iconic’.

Birmingham is quiet when I change trains — not quite what it seems.

I am bound to join the World War One remembrance pilgrims to the Tower of London on a suitably wet November day.

People in the rain

People in the rain

The trouble with cities is the constant state of flux where everything is changed each time you visit.

Today, at Euston, they have hidden all the bus ticket machines and amongst all the psychedelic signage the Mayor of London proclaims that contactless debit cards now operate the buses  (they may well do, but they haven’t reached Mid-Wales yet) — and Oyster cards — I have forgotten the one my daughter gave me.

‘Excuse me!’ I say to a passing commuter who spins round, wide eyed.  The young woman with strings falling from her ears has been dragged from a parallel universe into mine and is terrified.  She does not speak, she does not stop.

My daughters have warned me of the danger of my country ways — you have to walk in a bubble, Mum, it’s the only way to survive.  You mustn’t keep invading people’s personal space.

I’m not stupid, I do not ask the two policemen with machine guns and I resist the temptation to point my camera at them — sometimes it flashes automatically.

Okay, I think.  I can do careful.   I approach the next person from the front with my arms close to my body but in full view, I smile but do not show my teeth, ‘Excuse me!  Where can I buy an Oyster card?’

The nice young man directs me to the Underground and down the steps I go — like those on a harbour wall down into a sea of people, swirling about as flows from different directions meet in a turbulent confluence.  I join a current and am carried along.  I am a strong swimmer but I can feel the power and I know that I am not in a bubble.  Crossing the flow, ‘I’m sorry!’ ‘Excuse me!’ ‘So sorry!’ I join an eddy that buffets me back to the steps and up to safety.

Looks like I’ll have to walk — I’m quite good at that.

By the time I get to St Pancras reason has prevailed and it’s quieter.  There are only about two hundred people in the Underground ticket hall and the ways to the exits are clearly visible — I am not phobic — just a normal human being — with instinct.

Here, something strange happens — like an hallucination…   Fireman Sam helps me — really, in his high-vis suit, helmet and visor — he helps me with the machine, the queue behind was getting restive.  I thank him and climb back into the air brandishing my Oyster card and am able to share my local knowledge with several Geordie pensioners who are trying to get on a bus.  They are explaining to the bus driver that they have money — he cannot understand what they are saying and stares nervously from his glass cage.

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At the Tower, 800,000 ceramic poppies commemorate our fallen in WW1.  Everywhere I look, their descendants, their grand children, great grandchildren, great nieces and nephews, move slowly and politely, stopping to take photographs and waiting for someone to let them into a place by the railings to get their shot or their selfie — strange.  It’s raining and the poppies seem to miss their mark today but the snake of people, come to see them and be moved,  does not.

In London even the trees are grey, muted by urban substances and the Thames smells, as it did when I was a child, like no other river I know, but at dusk something strange happens.

At night there is magic in the city.

At night there is magic in the city.

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