Friday, 29 February 2008


Another bit of fun, this time from Gattina's blogsite:



Who was the last person you hugged?

My husband (I take it my horse doesn't count?!)


Share a beauty or grooming trick or tip with us.

Each spring I make a really good hand cream for chapped winter hands using Elderflowers and lard. One pack of lard, very gently melted, as many elderflower heads as you can immerse in the fat, kept warm on v.v. low heat for about 45 minutes. Then drain flowers off, add a few drops of your favourite essential oil - I use lavender - and pour into containers with wide necks (and a lid).


What does the color yellow make you think of?

Gorse blossom, daffodils, chicks, celendines.

Main Course

If you were to make your living as a photographer, what subject would your pictures revolve around?

Scenery and old buildings.


What was the longest book you ever read?

Probably Gone With the Wind (I think that's 1100 pages).


Carmarthen is synonymous with Merlin. Writing in 1188, Geraldus Cambrensis started the ball rolling by saying that Merlin was born in Carmarthen. Just outside of the town there is a dominant hill (Merlin's Hill) with an Iron Age hillfort on top of it, and at the base, there is a spring which also has connections with Merlin. Despite Mary Stewart writing about Merlin in The Crystal Cave, there was a fair amount of artistic licence in her descriptions! The farmers who own Merlin's Hill have now opened up a little visitor centre, but I haven't been up there.

In a field called Parc y maen Llwyd (field of the grey stone?) on the other side of the A40 from Merlin's Cave is Merlin's Stone. It is also called Cararg Myrddin or Carreh Fyrddin. Local legend has it that Merlin once predicted that one day a raven would drink a man's blood from that stone. In the 19th century, a young man was killed when he was digging under the stone in the hope of finding treasure, and the stone fell on him. It was subsequently re-erected.

There is also a small stone in Abergwili churchyard which I believe may be part of an original alignment (Merlin's stone included and others long lost in the mists of time) which led straight up the Towy Valley to Nantgaredig, where, behind modern housing, are a couple of stones which are all that remain of a Neolithic Henge monument. A few hundred yards North of this, at the side of the A40, and hidden by trees in a dell, is a Holy Well which was probably worshipped as a water deity when the Henge monument was in use.

The names King Arthur and Merlin are synonymous with one another. Whether and when they existed is largely conjecture. I feel that King Arthur was a composit of a number of minor princelings in Dark Age Britain. There are claims which link him to Scotland as much as to the West Country. The figure of Merlin (as Ambrosius or Emrys as he is also known) was embroidered upon as much as Arthur. He was said to be the bastard child of a Royal Princess of Dyfed who had taken the veil, so of course his father was a "magical" figure - an angel in fact. The Romans were very much a part of British life when Merlin was born. The old Roman road from Carmarthen (and it has been traced further Westward beyond the town towards Whitland) running East towards the Roman fort at Llandeilo and then on towards Llandovery, runs beside the A40 in stretches where it has been discovered and Roman troops marched right between Merlin's Hill and Merlin's stone.

After the Roman withdrawal from Britain, the Saxons arrived, swords in hands. Vortigern fled England, where he had been fighting the Saxons, to the rocky refuge of North Wales, where he tried to build a castle at Dinas Emrys, but the building constantly collapsed. Vortigern's advisors told him that only the sacrifice of a fatherless child would enable the castle to be built. Merlin was chosen to be the sacrifice. He used his visonary powers and saw that a red dragon (the Britons) and a white dragon (the Saxons) were fighting in a pool beneath the mountain. Ultimately, the red dragon succeeded in killing the white. Merlin predicted that Vortigern would be slain (which he was) and Ambrosius Aurelianus would accede to the throne, then his brother Uther, and ultimately Arthur. The rest, as they say, is history - or bunkum, depending on how much reading you have done and what you believe. I think there are threads of truth there, but much embroidery . . . Who knows, perhaps Arthur and his men DO still dwell beneath a hill somewhere - Alderley Edge in Cheshire is one of the places connected with this legend :

Interestingly, Merlin is connected with a "Lady of the Lake" and here in Carmarthenshire we have our very own "Lady of the Lake" - at Llyn-y-Fan-Fach. Watch this space . . .

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the subject of Merlin . . .

This local site has some amazing photographs of the beautiful Carmarthenshire countryside. Enjoy:

Show & Tell over at Kelli's

Show and Tell

Click on photos to enlarge.

Here is a plate I bought quite a few years back, as per usual from the Car Boot Sale. It hangs on my kitchen wall, over a doorway, and I must look at it a couple of dozen times a day. I love the design and the bird - which I think is a bit peacock-like. Blue is my favourite colour too.

Here is a little pillow I made for a Forum swop. The little heart-shaped buttons are mother-of-pearl effect (think they are made of shells too). I love the lilac print material - I've had it years and only wish I had bought yards of it when I found it. The benefit of hindsight . . .

This is the reverse of the pillow. The colourful print at the top is some left over from a waistcoat I have been making for my eldest daughter, who does "colourful" in a BIG way! I embroidered around the flowers in chain stitch, did a few lumpy French knots, and added a few beads. The little rosettes are from some ribbon I had in my stash and beaded in the centre. The top edge is still tacked, because I thought to take a photo before it was finished, intending to take a finished photo too, then had to post it in a hurry and forgot. I think there was about 20 + hours sewing went into this.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Apple Dappy

Just to prove that I actually DO something other than play around on the computer all day long, I would like to share my favourite pudding recipe with you. It is an old Devon recipe, and is a real rib-sticker - just the thing for a cold winter's day. I hope you will try it out and report back.


225gram/8 oz/2 cups Self-Raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

50g/2 oz margerine

150 ml / 1/4 pint / 5 fl ozs milk

450g/ 1 pound/ 2 very large cooking apples

1 tablespoon Demerara sugar

½ level teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg (or 1 teaspoon mixed spice)


1 lemon or a little lemon essence

1 tablespoon golden syrup

15g/ ½ oz margerine

100g/ 4 oz sugar

200 ml/ 7 fl oz water

Make the syrup first. Peel a fine strip of lemon rind and squeeze the juice from the lemon. Put rind, juice and all other syrup ingredients into a pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and leave in pan until needed.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Rub in margerine. Mix to a dough with the milk. Roll out on a floured board to a rectangle about 20 x 13cm (8 x 5 inches) and 7mm/ ¼ inch thick.

Peel, core and chop apples. Spread them on pastry. Mix sugar and spices together and sprinkle over apple. Roll up pastry and apple like a Swiss roll. Then cut into slices about 2.5 cm/ 1 inh thick.

Grease an ovenproof dish and lay slices flat in it. Remove lemon rind from syrup and pour over the apple slices. Bake in a moderately hot oven: :Gas 6, 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C, for about 30 minutes. Serve with cream or custard.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A Walk Around Carmarthen

Click on the photos to enlarge.

The start of the walk, down a footpath which led past the back of Jewson's - fortunately just out of sight!

Allotments now where there used to be a thriving Medieval community - up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Henry VIII's time. There is a famous 'Black Book of Carmarthen', which was written around 1250, and has associations with the Priory of St John the Evangelist which stood here. It housed the Augustinian monks (or Black Canons).

Carmarthen Council has put up information boards at suitable points around the town. If you would like to know some more unusual facts about Carmarthen, this is an excellent site:

A very comprehensive history link is here:

Looking at this road now, it is very difficult to imagine that to the left was once the boundary of the Roman town. Carmarthen is perhaps the oldest town in Wales, and the Roman "footprint" of the town is still in place - obvious from aerial photographs.

Just by here (the Old Oak roundabout) Merlin's Oak used to stand. I can recall it set in concrete so that it didn't "fall" and fulfill the prophecy: "When Merlin's Tree shall tumble down, Then shall fall (or drown!) Carmarthen Town". Back in the 70s it was taken down to widen the road, and part of it housed int the Civic Hall near Nott Square. Then the Council saw fit to flatten many old buildings in the centre of Carmarthen and so the prophecy DID come true . . . Sadly, not even Merlin's magical oak could survive THAT long, and I believe that this particular tree was planted by a Master at Carmarthen Grammar School, to celebrate the accession of Charles II to the throne.

On foot, you notice the little alleyways leading off the main thoroughfare. These lead to what were called "yards" in the 1881 census (and subsequently), usually where the poorer folk of those days lived.

Sometimes there are much bigger buildings, and old farm buildings, evening what is now in the middle of town. Not sure what this was - I suspect an old warehouse or connected with industry.
I will have to check my census!

Through this archway, a lovely house sits sheltered and well back from the road.

I pass these little Georgian cottages by St Peter's Church regularly as I walk to King Street. The little terracaotta coloured one looks such fun, jammed in between the other two houses. I'd love to see how it sorts itself out inside!

There's not a great deal left of Carmarthen Castle. This is the Gatehouse. Behind it now stands the Council Offices, but previously they built the town Gaol there, flattening all but one curtain wall, a tower and the gatehouse in the process.

Another lovely little house tucked away out of sight - this time built up against the curtain wall of the castle. The gatehouse is that bit jutting out on the left.

With the Angel Vaults on the left (which incidentally has a very fine Medieval window still in place), this little street off Nott Square was exactly the same in the Medieval period as I've seen it on an early map of the town. There's a little boulder strategically placed on the right, at the foot of the wall, to stop wheeled vehicles (of the horse drawn sort) knocking against the wall.

At the bottom of Guildhall Square this building apparently was once the Coffee House in the town, in the days when tea, coffee and chocolate were exotic commodities. This is my conjecture - please correct me if I am wrong!

This is a short cut I use from Blue Street to the Greyfriars shopping centre. I'm not quite sure how it was in Victorian times, but there is a fireplace in the wall further up, so I imagine it was once a warren of rooms, and then someone knocked a wall down and it became a short cut!

Another Medieval routeway. This is at the back of Wilkinsons - or rather, "Old Tesco's" (as it was until recently). This leads into a footpath between the Civil War Bulwarks, another period in Carmarthen's history.

These are part of the Civil War defences (Bulwarks), inside the grounds of Dyfed-Powys Police station grounds. Neatly manicured now. It is hard to imagine any pitched battles happening in such a peaceful spot.

Clootie Wells

These still occur in Celtic areas and at one time would have been a very familiar sight to our ancestors. These are associated with Holy Wells, but I shall write separately about these on another occasion. A Clootie wells or spring is always associated with healing. Almost without exception they have a tree growing beside them, frequently Whitethorn or Ash, upon which strips of clothing, or rags, have been tied to facilitate healing. In fact the name 'clootie' comes from the Scottish dialect, where a 'cloot' is a cloth or rag. In England we have the old saying "Cast not a clout till may is out", so a similar root for the same word.

Watery places were seen as liminal areas in our Celtic past - places where one might make a contact with the Otherworld and its pantheon of gods who seemed to exist in trees, rocks, springs, rivers and other natural features of the landscape. One might intercede with the gods in one of these liminal areas - caves, swallowholes, bogs, lakes, rivers - were all perceived thus and there are many archaeological records of votive deposition - anything from cauldrons, presumably once-whole chariots, swords and slave chains at Llyn Cerrig Bach
to the bog bodies of the Jutland peninsula such as Tolland Man and Graubelle Man, and similar found in Ireland and the famous Lindow Man from the Cheshire peat bogs.
Whether the bog bodies were killed as an offering to the gods, or placed there so their spirits would not return to haunt the living having been killed as a punishment for social infringements in life is not known, only conjectured.

But I digress - liminal areas, as you have seen, were very important. At the Clootie Well, practices varied. At some wells one might wash the area to be healed in a cloth dipped in the well, and then it would be tied to the tree and as it disintegrated, so would the healing be affected (I know of wart cures along these lines too - notably a rasher of bacon which was rubbed on the wart and then buried). In other areas of Scotland and Ireland it was deemed sufficient to merely dip the cloot into the water, with a suitable prayer of invocation to the local god - or after Christianity came, then the Saint associated with the well. Certain wells were associated with healing certain ailments - eye problems perhaps, madness, skin problems - even leprosy.

Other wells might be used as a means of divination - the ritual involved putting an article of the sick person's clothing on the surface of the well. If it floated, healing would take place; if it sank, death would ensue. If it floated to a particular part of the well, then a prognosis would be drawn from this. There are many associations of fish and eels with wells and being health-giving. For instance, fish at Ffynnon Wennog in Cardiganshire, where trout bearing what appeared to be a golden chain around their necks, dwelt. Sadly these fish were destroyed during the Civil War.

Sometimes the cloth was literally a rag, but it might also be a strip of the clothing of the person to be healed, or it might be a brightly-coloured strip of good cloth. Sometimes circling the well a particular number of times was called for, and an offering of a coil, pin or stone. Particularly in Ireland, religious votive offerings might be made - either tied to the Clootie tree or dropped in the well - rosaries, crosses and other symbols of faith. Craigie Well at Avoch on the Black Isle has offerings of coins and clooties.

I could write so much more . . . Go and find for yourself. Here are a few links you may care to explore: this is a fabulous site - check out holy wells and sacred springs if you can drag yourself away from the rest of the site!

Monday, 25 February 2008

. . . and a few more!

In case they are of interest to you, these are photos I took of the other ECMs at Llandewi Brefi. One of them - damned if I can recall which - has Ogham on the back edge on one side. Ogham is an ancient Irish form of writing, composing of strokes and obliques, often on the edge of a monument. See

The last bit from "Wild Wales" where George Borrow explains who Hu Gadarn actually was . . . well, according to George Borrow at any rate:
'Hu Gadarn in the Gwlad yr Haf or summer country, a certain region of the East, perhaps the Crimea, which seems to be a modification of Cumria, taught the Cumry the arts of civilized life, to build comfortable houses, to sow grain and reap, to tame the buffalo and the bison, and turn their mighty strength to profitable account, to construct boats with wicker and the skins of animals, to drain pools and morasses, to cut down forests, cultivate the vine and encourage bees, make wine and mead, frame lutes and fifes and play upon them, compose rhymes and verses, fuse minerals and form them into various instruments and weapons, and to move in masses against their enemies, and finally when the summer country became over-populated led an immense multitude of his countrymen across many lands to Britain, a country of forests, in which bears, wolves, and bisons wandered, and morasses and pools full of dreadful efync or crocodiles, a country inhabited only by a few savage Gauls, but which shortly after the arrival of Hu and his people became a smiling region, forests being thinned, bears and wolves hunted down, efync annihilated, bulls and bisons tamed, corn planted, and pleasant cottages erected. After his death he was worshipped as the God of agriculture and war by the Cumry and the Gauls. The Germans paid him divine honours under the name of Heus, from which name the province of Hesse, in which their was a mighty temple devoted to him, derived its appellation. The Scandinavians worshipped him under the name of Odin and Gautr, the latter word a modification of Cadarn or mighty. The wild Finns feared him as a wizard and honoured him as a musician under the name of Wainoemoinen, and it is very probable that he was the wondrous being whom the Greeks termed Odysses. Till a late period the word Hu amongst the Cumry was frequently used to express God - Gwir Hu, God knows, being a common saying. Many Welsh poets have called the Creator by the name of the creature, amongst others Iolo Goch in his ode to the ploughman:- "The mighty Hu, who lives for ever, Of mead and wine to men the giver, The emperor of land and sea, And of all things that living be Did hold a plough with his good hand, Soon as the deluge left the land, To show to men both strong and weak, The haughty-hearted and the meek, Of all the arts the heaven below The noblest is to guide the plough." So much for Hu Gadarn or Hu the Mighty, whose name puts one strangely in mind of the Al Kader Hu or the Almighty He of the Arabians.'

Hmmm - That paragraph began with the longest sentence I think I have ever typed . . . Borrow does go on to say he asked the sexton (having had him show him the ancient church cup dated 1574 and kissed it), whether he knew of anyone who had ever seen the great ox horns - those of Hu Gadarn's bull? He said that buried in the church was one very old man who just before he died said that he had seen one very old man who had seen just one little tip which had remained. The little old man first mentioned was Thomas Jones of Traws Llwyn who died in 1830 aged 92 . . . I wonder what this legend was really based upon . . . and also what the "Gauls" living in Britain did before Hu's arrival - sat and sucked their thumbs I think!

A few words more about Hu Gadarn . . .

Double click to enlarge the photographs:

In search of quite another line of research entirely, I came across the following extract from George Borrow's "Wild Wales", which was written after his travels through Wales in 1854. Born in Norfolk in 1803, he trained as a lawyer, but had a flair for languages, Welsh being one of those languages he had mastered and which was essential for his journey into the Welsh mountains, where English was never spoken.

He writes of a secluded valley not far from Tregaron in Ceredigion (or Cardiganshire in English.) This is the next county to the north and slightly west of Carmarthenshire. Llandewi Brefi was the centre of ecclesiastical discord from as early as the 5th Century. In 519, the Synod of Brefi was held here by Saint David (the patron Saint of Wales) and legend has it that the small hillock which Saint David stood upon to address the Synod against Pelagian heresy (and incidentally upon which the much later 12th C church now stands) was miraculously raised up so that he might be heard. "The ground rose under his feet elevating him above the crowd. His voice was as a trumpet and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came and stood on his shoulder." The site of the church was associated with Christian worship since the 7th century, though only fragments of that church remain and are incorporated into the later building. It is one of the oldest definite Christian sites in Britain. The photograph at the top of the page is one I took last summer, and is one of the pre-Norman burial markers, this one having the outline of a person on it. These ECMs (Early Christian Monuments) date somewhere between the 7th and 10th centuries.

Built into part of the wall is the 'Idnert' stone - which is what I specifically travelled there to see. describes it thus: "This dates back to the early 7th C, well within the lifetime of some of (Saint) David's students, and originally the inscription on it read, "Here lies Idnert, son of Jacobus, who was killed defending the church of the Holy David from despoliation." Of course, it was in Latin and we only know that it originally said that because it was recorded in 1693 by a historian called Edward Llwyd. When the church was repaired in the 1800s, the stone was broken up and reused in the new walls. Only this fragment remains, part of the Latin word "occisus", meaning "was killed" and we have the frustrating knowledge that the rest of the inscription, containing the earliest known reference to David, lies buries somewhere within the walls."

George Borrow: "If this secluded gorge or valley is connected with a remarkable historical event is is also associated with one of the wildest tales of mythology. Here, according to old tradition, died one of the humped oxen of the team of Hu Gadarn. Distracted at having lost its comrade, which perished from the dreadful efforts which it made along with the others in drawing the afanc hen or old crocodile from the lake of lakes, it fled away from its master, and wandered about, till coming to the glen now called that of Llan Ddewi Brefi, it fell down and perished after excessive bellowing, from which noise the place probably derived its name of Brefi, for Bref in Cumbric signifies a mighty bellowing or lowing. Horns of enormous size, said to have belonged to this humped ox or bison, were for many ages preserved in the church."

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Skimmity Riding

This was known across the West Country as "rough music", Skimmity Riding, Riding the Stang, The Skimmington and by various other names across Europe. It was even imported to North America with emigrants and was known there as 'Shivaree' (a mutation of the French word 'charivari'. It officially became an offence under the 1882 Highways Act. The victim of this humiliating practice was the cuckolded husband, or one who was beaten by his wife or was a wife-beater himself, or one who was perceived to have married too soon after losing a partner, or an old man taking a young girl as a wife, adultery, illigimacy, and louche behaviour generally. The name derives from the abusive wife's choice of weapon, a large skimming ladle known as a Skimmington. Yet in Cumberland, Westmorland and parts of Yorkshire, this custom was a New Year's tradition. The act of riding the Stang was apparently a chance for the working classes to manhandle their superiors.

The ceremony would take place after sunset, when the participants - out to display their displeasure at a man (or indeed woman) who had overstepped the boundaries of decency or propriety, would crowd outside the victim's house, making an unholy racket with whatever they could find - bells, horns, tin pans. Sometimes effigies of the offender(s) might be made and tied onto a donkey or on a pole (known as the Stang). If an adulterous couple, they might be tied face-to-face, as if kissing.

With many thanks to a modern Bridport blogsite:

"It appears that skimmity rides continued to hold ground throughout 19th-century Dorset. An account given in the Bridport News from November 1884 describes a ‘skimmerton-riding’ that had recently taken place in Whitchurch Canonicorum in West Dorset. It is described as follows:

‘On Wednesday, the 5th inst., this usually quiet parish was in a state of some excitement, owing to a demonstration of a peculiar character, not immediately connected with the day, which, however, was selected for the purpose by the superior judgment of the promoters. About six o’clock in the evening, just as darkness began to reign, a strange noise was heard as of the sounds of trays and kettles, and it was soon found that a “skimmerton-riding” was in progress, such a thing not having been known for years in this parish.

Three grotesquely attired figures were to be seen escorted by a procession consisting of persons dressed in various queer and eccentric costumes, and who paraded the parish, also visiting Morcombelake and Ryal. The figures alluded to appeared to the villagers to represent three personages who were very well known to them, there being a male and two females, whose past conduct had caused them to be made the subject of this queer exhibition.’

The account goes on to describe how two female characters were conveyed about on the backs of what are described as celebrated ‘Jerusalems’, which certainly seemed pretty well to enter into the joke, for one of them particularly ‘displayed his innate agility in a surprising manner’. One of the females was represented as having an extraordinary long tongue, which was tied back to the neck, whilst in one hand she held some note-paper, and in the other a pen and pen-holder. Those forming the procession were liberally ‘wetted’ at the various inns and, after their perambulations were concluded, they repaired to a certain field where a gallows was erected, and on which the effigies were hung and afterwards burnt, having previously been well saturated with some highly inflammable liquid.

The report concludes: ‘Nearly two hundred people assembled in the field, and a flaming light was maintained by torches. The extraordinary proceedings terminated with a fight, in which black eyes and bloody noses were not absent. However, the Riot Act was not read, the military was not called out, and the crowd dispersed about midnight, when the village resumed its wonted quietude.’ "

You may also care to pick up your copy of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, where a skimmity-riding also takes place in Chapter 36.

A Welsh fairy tale

According to legend, there was a time when the Cymry did not dwell in Wales. Hidden in the mists of time, they once lived in the Summer Country of Deffrobani, and it was then that they had a great leader - Hu Gadarn: Hu the Mighty. He invented the plough and taught his people to cultivate the land. Under his guidance, he created communities, gave them laws and lessened the fights between tribes. He persuaded them to leave the Summer Country, and they crossed the Mor Tawch in their coracles, coming to Britain and possessing it under God's protection. It was an empty land then, the home of the wild animals - bears, wolves and beavers, huge wild oxen, and eagles soared in the skies. They called it Honey Island, for they found quantities of wild honey there. Hu was a just and wise ruler, setting up a legal structure and religious sites. Those amongst them blessed with poetic genius were made teachers, and others learned from their history and songs, and so this truth was passed on through the generations before there writing had been created.

But sadly, their new home was much troubled by a monster called an afanc, wich dwelt in Llyn Llion, periodically breaking the banks of its home and flooding their new farmland. No weapon they possessed had any effect on it - its tough hide made it impregnable. Hu Gadarn thought long and hard. A young girl was persuaded to entice it from the deep waters of Llyn Llion, and she lulled it to sleep with its head on her knees. As it slept, long iron chains were attached to it, so it could not move. Alas for the girl, when the afanc awoke and realised it was bound fast, it ripped off its sweetheart's breast in anger. As the afanc fought the chains, it tried to return to the waters of the lake, but Hu Gadarn had fastened the chains to his team of bannog oxen, and they pulled it out of the lake and dragged it through the mountains until they came to Llyn y Ffynnnon Las - the Lake of the Green Well, in Snowdonia. The pass they created has ever been known as Bwlch Rhiw'r Ychen - the Pass of the Slope of the Oxen. One of the oxen lost an eye through labouring so hard, and where this happened is still called Pwll Llygad Ych - the Moor of the Ox's Eye - and a pool formed where the eye fell - Pwll Llygad Ych - the Pool of the Ox's Eye. This pool never dries up, though no springs fill it, and no water flows from it, just the Welsh rain fills it and it is always the same depth - just above the knee-joint.

According to legend, the afanc was contained within the banks of Llyn y Ffynnon Las and is there still. Any sheep who falls into the lake is seized and dragged to the bottom and even birds fear to fly across it . . .

Saturday, 23 February 2008

A Hardy poem for you - again

At Middle-field Gate in February

The bars are thick with drops that show
As they gather themselves from the fog
Like silver buttons ranged in a row,
And as evenly spaced as if measured, although
They fall at the feeblest job.

They load the leafless hedge hard by,
And the blades of last year's grass.
While the fallow ploughland turned up nigh
In raw rolls, clammy and clogging lie -
Too clogging for feet to pass.

How dry it was on a far-back day
When straws hung the hedge and around,
When amid the sheaves in amorous play
In curtained bonnets and light array
Bloomed a bevy now underground!

The early history of the Bed . . .

I thought I'd share this piece with you, from an excellent book I have called "Home is Where the Heart is". This extract by Thomas Wright:

'The bed itself seems usually to have consisted merely of a sack (saeccing) filled with straw and laid on a bench or board. hence words used commonly to signify the bed itself were baence (a bench) and streow (straw); and even in King Alfred's translation of Bede, the statement 'he ordered to prepare a bed for him' is expressed in Anglo-Saxon by he heht him streowne ge-gearvian (he ordered to prepare straw for him). All in fact, that had to be done when a bed was wanted, was to take the bedsack out of the cyst, or chest, fill it with fresh straw, and lay it on the bench. In ordinary houses, it is probable that the bench for the bed was placed in a recess at the side of the room; and hence the bed itself was called, among other names, cota, a cot; cryb, a crib or stall; and clif or clyf, a recess of closet. The modern word bedstead means, literally, no more than a place for a bed; and it is probable that what we call bedsteads were rare and only possessed by people of rank. Under the head were placed a bolstar and a pyle (pillow), which were also probably stuffed with straw. The clothes with which the sleeper was covered, and which appear in the pictures scanty enough, were scyte, a sheet, bed-felt, a coverlet, which was generally of some thicker material, and bed-reaf, bed clothes. We know, from a multitude of authorities, that it was the general custom of the middle ages to go into bed quite naked.

The bedroom, or chamber, and the sitting room were usually identical. Though built separate from the hall it was still easy of access, and in the middle ages the same idea or privacy was not connected with the sleeping-room as at the present day. Gaimar has preserved an anecdote of Anglo-Saxon times curiously illustrative of this point. King Edgar - a second David in this respect - married the widow of Ethelwold, whom he had murdered in order to clear his way to her bed. The king and queen were sleeping in their bed, which is described as surrounded by a rich curtain, when the Archbishop Dunstan, uninvited but unhindered, entered the chamber to expostulate with them on their wickedness, and came to the king's bedside, where he stood over them and entered into conversation.'

So you can see there are distinct links right back to Anglo-Saxon English with some of the wording. My parents had a bolster as the under-pillow on their bed - it stretched the width of the bed, and was in black and white striped ticking. A baby's bed is still a cot or a crib. I think we now know the derivation of the word "cottage" too . . . There is a village called Pyle near Bridgend in Wales . . .

Friday, 22 February 2008

Favourite childhood books

I was so completely "horse-mad" when I was young, but the only pony books I had were ones I could loan from the library. I can remember one book I read when I was about 8, and it was called "The Horse on Ben Awe." For some reason, I started getting nightmares, and my mum wouldn't let me go to the Library for months after that. It was the worse sort of punishment - she just didn't realize how much books and reading meant to me.

When I saved up enough pocket money, I would go along to the hardware shop down the road. One side sold tools, buckets, spades, door handles, and stank of paraffin, which was dispensed at the back of the shop. The other side sold knitting wool, handkerchiefs, haberdashery, and a few books - Collins children's classics. My criteria for a book was, did it have a horse in it? I think they stretched a point on some of the books they offered me. Children of the New Forest had horses in it of course. Lorna Doone had the highwayman Tom Fagus, who came courting Annie, with his handsome strawberry roan mare Winnie, who leapt back and forth over the gate with young Jan Ridd until his teeth fairly rattled. I read that book again and again. I only ever read one Enid Blyton book - a Secret 7 mystery and was very disappointed that there weren't ANY horses in it. Gulliver's Travels had the Houyhnhnms, so that passed muster. The Last of the Mohicans had horses in passing, and was a thrilling read, as was Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In this manner, I read my way through many of the children's classics, and I would like to thank Beauchop's stores for helping give me such a love of literature.

The Library was my Mecca, once I was allowed to return, and I spent many Saturday mornings browsing the bookshelves and seeing the sun shine through high windows, lighting the dustmotes. I discovered the Pullein-Thompson sisters and think I have read every one of their novels. My favourites were Riding With the Lyntons and Pony Club Camp - the latter being the first pony book I was ever given. I went on to instruct at Pony Club myself, so I think it was a formative book . . . I read all the Jill books, but they annoyed me - she was so silly and such a prig. Best of all were the Westling and Punchbowl novels of Monica Edwards. She wrote about real families, real ponies, and I read them over and over and over (and if I am feeling poorly and need cheering up, I get one out and read it again). I especially loved the Punchbowl series, as it was a real place. There really WAS a Punchbowl farmhouse, with beams and an inglenook and stables and an ancient yew tree where Lindsey used to play her recorder and in the Spirit of Punchbowl Farm, her music conjured up the past . . . Another sort of past was found in Black Hunting Whip, where Dion was set to carry the hunting whip to triumph in a local show, only its original owner appears to borrow it . . . I was forever taken with the idea of the blocked up doorway into what had been the old wing (long demolished) and coming down in the middle of the night, with a candle, to find a door there . . . I think Monica Dickens had read Alison Uttley's novel A Traveller in Time about the Babington Plot, to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots.

A neighbour's daughter I was friendly with loaned me a wonderful American book called The Magnificent Barb, saying I HAD to give it back. It was about a thoroughbred horse descended from the three founding stallions of the English Thoroughbred - the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Barb and the Byerley Turk. This horse, its poor owners believed, was the Godolphin Barb reincarnated. "'Tis the nap foot - the white foot" - from the rhyme "One white foot buy a horse; two white feet try a horse; three white feet look well about him; four white feet do without him" . . . Somehow it stayed with me, it was a magical book, and Marilyn, I have it still . . .

When the riding school we went to at Testwood organized a jumble sale, there were lots of horsey things for sale. I didn't have much money to spare but I spent a penny on a beautiful old cowrie shell which was in a trunk of "rubbish" at the back of the room, and spent something like 6d in "old money" on a book by E M Ducat, Ponies and Caravans. That was another "true story" about children taking ponies and driving an old gypsy-style caravan on a holiday, with a true brat in the form of a girl called Petronella, who might these days be described as having "issues" when truly she was just spoilt. It was illustrated with photographs - the girls rode in pretty frocks, not a hard hat in site, and Health & Safely would have 40 blue fits and more . . . I have to confess I kept all my pony books, every single one - oh, except for the annoying Jill books which I was happy to give away.

Is it any wonder that I ended up living in a rambling old Welsh farmhouse with beams in every room, not just one but TWO inglenook fireplaces and horses of my own . . . and a daughter to owes her choice of names to two Monica Edwards' heroines . . .

Show & Tell day at Kelli's

Show and Tell

This is a beautiful plate which I was able to recently add to my collection of Cottage china. I think I was programmed at an early age, as I am just an absolute sucker for the words "Cottage", "Farmhouse", "Country" . . . Show me a Helen Allingham picture and I go weak at the knees. When I was about 8 years old, I was given a lovely country cottage jigsaw puzzle. It showed an old thatched cottage, with a woman in a blue dress leaning out of an open window. An old man worked in the garden, and a little girl was on the cobbled path. There was a birch tree behind the cottage. I still have it, minus one or two pieces sadly. I think the Hollyhocks are the essential ingredient, and the thatched cottage . . . sometimes a lady in a crinoline too!

This piece I found - as usual - at a Car Boot Sale, and because it had a tiny chip on the bottom, it only cost £1. It stands at the back of the hall on the top of an old oak cupboard, next to the Uncle Tom Cobley set I showed you last week. On display upstairs, I have a little jug and a lovely vegetable dish in the same pattern, and I'm always on the look-out for more.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

A Day out in Dorchester and nearby . . .

But only in my mind. It's a few counties away - a whole different country in fact. Never mind, I know parts of Dorset so well from when we lived there, that I can take myself out on a magical day trip to the places I know and love.

Here are two different views of the ramparts of Maiden Castle, which is one of the biggest hillforts in Southern England. Imagine Sergeant Troy and Bathsheba Everdene here, as he dances around her with lightning strikes of his sword until he cuts a lock of her hair. Her initial dislike of him becomes infatutation . . . read 'Far from the Madding Crowd' for the rest of the plot!

William Barnes' statue still stands by St Peter's Church. The Dorset poet was born in 1801 and died in 1886. He was born near Sturminster Newton, in the North of the county, and graduated as a Bachelor of Divinity from Cambridge in 1848. He moved to Came Rectory, to the South of Dorchester, in 1862. He tutored the young Thomas Hardy, passing on his love of language. He always held that the form of dialect spoken in Wessex had a close relationship to that spoken in Anglo-Saxon England. The following link may be of interest :

I used to work just across the Park from this clocktower, and spent many sunny summer lunch-hours eating my sandwiches and reading a book here. I always saw it in my mind's eye, as it used to be in Thomas Hardy's "Mayor of Casterbridge".

The market was another happy hunting ground. I still have some lovely little bits of blue and white china I bought on a stall here, for about 50 pence each. Several of them are on display on my long shelf in the bathroom.

If you are ever in Dorchester, pop into the County Museum, which has the most amazing collections, and Hardy's Study has been faithfully reproduced:

Here's the Market Cross (top of South Street if my memory serves me well):

Below is a view of the Piddle Valley, where I lived for a while in my 30s. Good for walking. You can just imagine Tess walking through this cornfield . . .

Thomas Hardy's birthplace - the lovely cottage at Higher Bockhampton, on the edge of his Egdon Heath.

Hardy's heart was buried in a casket inside this imposing tomb in Stinsford churchyard, beside the burial places of his ancestors. Well - perhaps just the casket was, as there is a literary rumour that the heart in the opened box was placed on the table at his home, and the cat ate it! Believe what you will. The rest of him resides in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

This is Hangman's Cottage in Dorchester, tucked away at the back of the town by the River Frome. The town's Hangman really did live there too. Here Hardy peeped through the window and saw the hangman cheerfully eating his evening meal the night before a hanging. It was seeing such a public hanging of a woman (Elizabeth Martha Browne, who was the last woman to be hung in Dorchester), which lingered in Hardy's mind and he made that the ending for that most forsaken of all his heroines, Tess. He was 16, and he afterwards wrote: "what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half round and back".

Here is a link to some more photos of the cottage:

This is Thomas Hardy's statue at the top o'town. He would notice some changes now from his time . . .