seasons, Thoughtful, Wales

It’s all starting again!

Whatever is happening in your personal life the world goes on turning.

The clouds roll over the hills and sometimes they part and the sun comes out.



After a long winter it is all happening again — everything is moving!  Even the lazy oak trees are greening.  The cuckoo is calling, the cock pheasant strutting and glinting in the sunlight with a double squawk and a percussive thrill of wings.  The woodpecker answers with his own drumming from up on the hill.  There are bumble bees over head and the first orange tip butterfly flutters over the carpet of white flowering shamrocks on the shallow water of the unfinished pond.

There is a scuffle of illicit nesting beneath the soffits of our roof.  Two squirrels, normally too busy to play, are cavorting amorously in the lane as, all around them, life springs anew.



Small Holding, Spooky, Thoughtful


We live in a place that is forever asserting itself, whether via its climate or its wildlife, or by knocking over trees or blocking culverts.  The place has its own agenda, its own friends and relations (they often arrive unannounced for tea) and it is quite possessive.

Recently we were celebrating a sacrament (coffee and biscuits) with a friend on Sunday morning when there was a knock at the door.   Outside, in the drizzle was a young woman we had never seen before.  She was waving a long cardboard tube.

‘You don’t know me but I’ve come on an adventure!’

She wasn’t after out souls or even trying to sell us something.

She was just another one of the people that our cottage-holding had sent for (it’s happened before!)


Deborah is an artist, and buys strange things at auctions that inspire her — she cuts them up and stitches them.  She had bought the map of our place — 1901 Ordinance Survey, at a sale in Leek, Staffordshire.  She’d bought it years ago but could never quite bring herself to cut it up.  It was personal to the house, you see; it had all the field names pencilled in, in Welsh, and even had the new well marked (circa 1980).

She couldn’t use it, and was passing within ten miles, so had brought the map home.  She couldn’t explain it and felt it was rather an odd thing to want to do but we didn’t — we know our home.  It doesn’t like to let go of things or people.  So we will hang the map, once framed, next to the horse brasses, the dresser, the polished pump-nozzle, the wooden rake and the photographs of past residents and their New-World descendants, who have visited  — all things that this sentimental old homestead has collected or reassembled since its original scant contents were dispersed at a farm sale in 2005.


A Different Sort of Storm

It is the mating season…  For trampolines — a male bowls across the hillsides looking for a mate, tumbles down the bank and leaps over the hedge.  He bounds down the slope then soars on a powerful gust, trailing his long netted plumage as he hurls himself down the valley.

Storm warning in Wales!  150mm rainfall forecast over night!

Dog in wet

The wind moans high above our house– we are in the lee of the hill.  It was built where the sheep sheltered — in the 1840s they noticed those things.  I noticed the tall trees at the end of the house flailing about in the turbulence of the mounting storm but Alan wouldn’t sleep in the spare room at the other end of the house — out of the reach of falling branches.

In mitigation for my cowardice I’ll tell you that two branches of Douglas Fir did fall, crushing a steel hurdle but missing the rotting old chicken coop, home to our precious new domestic fowl.  The old coop has been gradually sinking into the mud in the last week as the rainfall has reached 109mm.   It’s been a dry summer and autumn — ever since I started measuring the rainfall — only 718mm since April (believe me — that’s not much) so we know we are in for a deluge — a couple of meters, at least!

Stream in flood

As we obsess about our perennial preoccupation another storm hits Europe…  A different sort of storm.

We watch our television and we catch sight of four people hunched over a coffee table at the edge of a crowded room full of milling men in smart suits and the occasional power-dressed woman.  We are looking anonymously down on a room at the G20 and upon President Obama and President Putin and two interpreters.  Did you see it?  Their body language says it all — in a bubble, in a crowded room, they are straining to concentrate, to hear and to really understand each other.  It is so contrary to their normal stance that it is shocking.

Here, back in our world, a man is startled by an unfamiliar shadow, he looks up into the great oak tree on the edge of his yard to see a skeleton hanging, draped in a black cape — it is the spent trampoline — like a giant dead crane fly.

Everything has changed.


Humour, Racism, Thoughtful

Thames Wash — The Boris Effect?

I am sitting on a slippery leather seat which is angled inappropriately for my personal posterior; it requires more weight and breadth for stability; it has been moulded by myriad larger arses than mine – smokers probably, sitting near the door, not for ease of escape in case of calamity (like me — one eye on the unrolling ribbon of tarmac ahead and one on the little red hammer to smash the escape windows when called upon by cruel fate to do so). No, the usual passenger in this warn National Express coach seat, though placed (like me) for ease of escape, nips out at each stop for a quick drag – a cigarette, one at Shrewsbury, one at Telford, one at Birmingham and a real gasper outside the Coach Station at Victoria.

I have now had a satisfactory and free, unisex wee, or perhaps it was a pee, with a bewildered old lady up from the country and a number of large foreign gentlemen, and now I wait in this sunny travel hubbub to be collected by my daughter, who worries about me getting lost in the metropolis. Secretly I know she thinks that, if left alone to wander the streets, I will provoke personal attack or arrest because of my uncontrollable urge to engage strangers in conversation and to make unwanted eye-contact.

She hugs me then takes me firmly by the arm and steers me into a newsagent’s to top up my oyster card – which I have remembered this time!

I wonder where the poor have gone – the street vendors, the alcoholics, the dog shit, the End-of-the-world-placard-man? London is eerily clean these days (what has Boris done with them all?)  I sniff the strangely pleasant air and we decide to walk by the river, through Battersea Park and to sit on pristine, plumped-up cushions on the steps of a modern pub. Frances goes in to get the drinks and a man in a well ironed shirt (and trousers) comes out to have a look at the front elevation of my pretty daughter’s obscured and un-categorised associate — me.  He realizes instantly that I must be her Mum, he says “Lovely weather,” and goes back in, and we sip local micro-brewery summer ale and watch the gulls, the cormorant, the geese and the helicopter flying up and down the Thames.  A lanky, middle aged man with a shaved head and yellow roller- boots wobbles past and a beautiful girl on a bicycle feeds treats to a little dog in her bicycle-basket.

Phoenix rising in Battersea

Phoenix rising in Battersea

That evening we, my two daughters and I, sit at a pavement table outside a restaurant in Clapham replete with Eritrean food and chat to the staff and I remember… I remember travelling this same road, let me see…

Forty years ago, I was in the back of a maroon Jaguar (the sort John Thaw drove in Morse), tired by two weeks on-duty and nauseated by the smell of leather and spent lighter fuel (everyone smoked everywhere then).  It was a dismal grey dusk with the traffic lights too bright and splintering into the dingy, sooty, half-light. Young black men were standing in groups on the pavement next to the junction when suddenly my, soon to be, father-in-law wound down his window and shouted racial abuse at what he believed to be the indolent unemployed. I cringe as I write this – as I did then; the lights changed and we sped off towards leafy Surrey. As I look back I catch the sad eye of a boy accustomed but still surprised by such unprovoked and vitriolic hatred.

Times have changed.

Thames Wash

Thames Wash

Humour, Lambing, Thoughtful

Is Gladstone just premature?

Not the man — the lamb.  Born 3 days ago and left for dead — a bag of bones, floppy and wobbly and unable to hold up her bossed head and with thin inturned lips, no teeth and tiny flimsy ears (scan down to my last blog for the full harrowing tale).


As Gladstone’s twin is normal, I’ve been reading about genetic abnormalities and virally induced deformities.  But a friend told me about a ewe who had twin lambs, two lambs by two different rams, of different varieties (a rougue ram had jumped over the fence).  She conceived at different times, the lambs were different maturities and different crosses — the difference in variety of their fathers made what had happened obvious and easy to prove.  So I think Gladstone could be premature even though her twin was not — we had two rams in sequence just in case the first one had missed any ewes.

The same friend has also produced some lambs from implanted foetuses (test tube babies!) although all were inserted on the same day there were 8 days between the birth of the first and the last — maybe little Gladstone’s implantation into the uterus was in some way delayed — eight days would do it — everything is accelerated in sheep.

Food for thought — what do you other sheepy people around the world think?

As I feed her four times a day I know I am looking for reasons why we can keep her but the most convincing evidence for her abnormalities being due to prematurity is the fact that she is improving so dramatically. Please excuse poor quality of the snaps.

Already her posture is better and she can hold her head up.  She wriggles when  feeding and is starting to have attitude — spits out the teat, then wants it back.  She still has teddy bear ears but is starting to look more like a proper lamb.

Humour, Lambing, Thoughtful

God v. Nature

In my philosophy God and Mother Nature are mostly the same thing — she who knows best in the long run.  But…  Meet Gladstone!


Born yesterday lunchtime and not quite right, the second and much smaller of twins — popped out as an after-thought and lay on the grass ignored (Nature knew).  Then ensued much running about, building of pens, pressing of the ewe (that knew too), and the spiflication of an elderly gentleman who held the ewe (who knew) while the elderly lady (who also knew) but tried to milk the ewe (who knew).  The lamb (who was not quite right) was held to the teat and made slurpy noises but nothing came and so they rummaged in cupboards and under beds and assembled the milk-bar.

Meanwhile the lamb got weaker and weaker and visiting farmers (who knew of course) shook their heads and advised euthanasia (only that wasn’t quite how they put it).  ‘Call her Gladstone’, said one amongst other helpful remarks.

‘I know she’s not quite right — she’s got underbite, and no cartilage in her ears and her back is twisted like the toy lamb Alison had when she was little, whose wire frame got bent by too much cuddling — do you think she’ll unbend with time — some babies have funny shaped heads but they come right, or get hair so no one notices…’

Gladstone took to the bottle like a professional and, God bless the ewe who knew — she is amenable, when the spiflicated gent stops holding her she stands and watches me feed the lamb then, bemused, she cleans up the smelly, milky mess I have made of her and takes her off with her other lamb for a rest.

Last night I slept badly wrestling with a moral dilemma of the lamb who will not do — my head rang with advice.  Farmers say ‘the first loss is the easiest’. An old boss of mine used to say ‘we must not strive officiously’, when he meant ‘it’s time for this poor little bugger to meet her maker’

I woke up decisive — no more feeding — it’s up to the Shepherd in the Sky.

The lamb didn’t seem to be breathing — it had been a cold night, I tiptoed to take her body from the pen without the ewe knowing, a little tufty ear twitched, a small black eye opened.  The crooked lamb jumped up and ran to meet me baaing for breakfast (still a bit wobbly).


I went indoors to think about it while I made her breakfast.

Death is always the same but who knows how life will turn out — that’s the trouble with euthanasia.


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.