Tuesday, 30 December 2008

In the cusp of the old year

In the distance across the valley - the tower of Pantglas: all that remains of an Italianate gentry mansion.

It's a strange time, those nameless days between Christmas and Boxing Day and the New Year. A time of waiting, almost. I have decided I will end the old year as I mean to start the new one, so I have been braving the weather out in the garden, and busying myself indoors with jobs which have been on my mental list of "fings to do" for months if not years. I am not the most organized soul. This afternoon I have been painting the corner cupboards in our kitchen in a cream colour (one had had a first coat, about 18 months ago). We will need another can of this paint (Crown period colour, "Bonnet") to do a further coat and paint a couple of doors elsewhere in the house.

My husband and I had a good walk in the winter sunshine just before lunch. I was struggling on the hills as I've had the edge of a cold (my flu jab kept the worst at bay) and it hit my chest in the night. However, the views very pretty as there was a wintry mist and it made for atmospheric photographs. We found another place where a cottage had once been. All that remained was a bit cemented-up and brick lump of fireplace wall, and a pile of broken and rusting tinware and a broken cauldron. How sad that a cottage's history could be summed up in a few rusting objects, especially the broken cauldron with its memories of thousands of meals and the link to the heart of the house. I cannot help but think of the womens' souls tied to it . . . . I will see which cottage it might have been whilst I still have my monthly Ancestry membership.

An oak tree up toward's Old Isaac's cottage . . .

The view from the top - looking towards Horeb and Felingwm.

The lane ahead and Merlin's Hill in the distance.

We saw Lapwings - once a common sight where I grew up in the ploughlands of Hampshire , but now an unusual visitor.

The misty view towards Merlin's Hill.

It was the chunk of boulder and the rusting tin bath which first caught my attention.

A pile of rusting rubbish that is all that remains of the heart of a little roadside cottage. It looked like someone had taken a hammer to the cauldron and broken it in two . . .

Walking into the view - the lane home.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

A brisk walk

My husband, middle daughter and I have just returned from a brisk walk along by the river. There is a biting N-Easterly wind, so we all wrapped up warm, but I have to say I felt better for some fresh air and exercise. The light was too poor for good photos, but I took one or two I was happy with.

This photo pleased me as it captured the "arrow" of smooth glissading water as it was channelled between the boulders. If you enlarge it you should see the different colours in the water, including a slate blue between the boulders at the back.

I spent over 6 hours (all the morning in fact) making a warmer curtain for this room (my office). I had a hopelessly thin summer-weight ivory coloured tab-top curtain, but I dived into my stash of material and found a piece which was almost exactly the right size (with a slight extension in the hem department) so I spent a busy few hours doing invisible hemming down the sides and bottom. It is definitely warmer and the darker colours were just what the room needed.

I began knitting my middle daughter a scarf yesterday in some wool I bought on the Market in Carmarthen - it's a Kingfisher blue and so cheerful a colour to knit with. I am using a double moss stitch, which looks very pretty, so that is my evening "job" for the next few days until it's finished, and then she has asked if I will knit one for her friend . . . .

Another tea of "leftovers" - in this case some lamb I'd frozen from a big joint of hogget we had before Christmas. I'd best get started on the veg. I think.

Oh, and below are two of three Partridges we have visiting our garden at the moment - poor souls, they were sunbathing on the drive when we returned home from town yesterday, so they lost their spot and headed for the patio instead.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas Books

Just a brief update first, on the pollution of our beautiful river on Christmas Day. Our neighbour by the river spoke to the Environmental Agency inspector yesterday morning and they know the area upstream where this took place and their investigations are ongoing. She was told she will "read all about it on the front page of the Carmarthen Journal in due course". He intimated that the book would be thrown at the culprit as this was "the worst case of pollution he had seen in his 30 year career". I hope he has to sell up to pay the fine.

Meanwhile, I had some splendid books this Christmas, although one of them was a present from me, to me - intended for a present from my son, but he bought me something else. It is a looooooooong poem - "Dart" by Alice Oswald. I seem to remember hearing it on Radio 4 a year or so ago, and as we used to camp beside the West Dart many years ago on Dartmoor, and fell asleep to its gurgles and glugs and shifting pebbles, I just HAD to have this book. Interspersed with the poem are short bits of prose, and the history of events on the moor, and people of the moor, woven into it:

at Staverton Ford, John Edmunds being washed away, 1840:

. . . . . all day my voice is being washed away
out of a lapse in my throat
like after rain
little trails of soil-creep
loosen into streams

if I shout out
if I shout in,
I am only as wide
as a word's aperture

but listen! if you listen
I will move you a few known sounds
in a constant irregular pattern:
flocks of foxgloves spectating slightly bending . . .

o I wish I was slammicking home
in wet clothes, shrammed with cold and bivvering but

this is my voice
under the spickety leaves,
under the knee-knappered trees
rustling in its cubby-holes

and rolling me round, like a container
upturned and sounding through

and the silence pouring into what's left maybe eighty seconds

From Alice Oswald's epic poem, "Dart". . .

I love the dialect words - my dad (a Devon man) always used "shrammed" and I still do too. I love "slammicking home".
"Slammick/slummick/slommick" is untidy, sluggish. A very omnomatapaeic word . . .

Next is a wonderful New Forest local-produce recipe book which my friend Gay saw at the New Forest Show, and knew it was just "up my street" as we used to say. It has some lovely recipes in it. Think . . . Raspberry and Amoretti Ice Cream Torte, think . . . Carrot and Cumin Soup, think . . . Pumpkin Chutney. I think I am going to be returning to this again and again.

Lastly, this one came from the just-before-Christmas car boot sale. The moment I read the title, I knew it was one for me. Who would DREAM of calling a book "Delightsome Land" in this day and age - it sounds very much of its period (1945). It has charming illustrations (as seen below) and the most wonderful (Yorkshire) dialect speech - "All them brassened browls have been taught by their mallywallops of mothers to behave like that," said Hannah, seceptically. "Doant daddle. We can't stay here all neet. Put t'lile bowdykite doon and coom alang." (The bowdykite was apparently the little gypsy baby . . .) I guess you know why it came home with me now!


Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Day

A slightly hazy view of the slurry contamination of our beautiful river. What must the otters be thinking of mankind? How will they feed now all the fish have been poisoned?

A quiet family day here, more quiet than usual as eldest daughter is very poorly with a nasty cold and has only been able to stay up for a couple of hours - she ate a bread roll and drank water and watched the rest of us have roast beef with all the trimmings, poor lass. Hers is plated up for tomorrow and hopefully she will feel a bit brighter then. She's been ill for several days now.

My DH and I managed a short walk down by the river this afternoon, me with my new camera clutched in my hot little hands. Since it seems to do everything bar make the tea, I am going to take a while to get to grips with it. We were horrified to find that our beautiful river had been completely polluted by some farmer upstream deliberately dumping the contents of his slurry lagoon in it. I should imagine all the wildlife in the river has now been killed. It STANK of cow sh*t as we walked by it, and was covered in foam, and heaving brownly. I took photos, and we and our neighbours near the river reported it to the Rivers Authority, but it would seem they were already on the case as someone had reported it this morning and the chap was out of the office, and I hope to God there is going to be a conviction and a really heavy fine. I've never seen anything like it in my life . . . apart from when our neighbouring farmer polluted our water supply some years back and the water came out of the taps green and honking of cow sh*t.

I just cannot conceive of anyone being quite so stupid as to think they could get away with this, or indeed, to want to do it in the first place. Have they NO respect for nature?

The first intimation that all was not well with our lovely river. Foam, and stink and thick brown water . . .

The brown swirls show how polluted the river is - and there is one heck of a volume of water going downstream in any given minute. I never dreamed that the first photos I would be taking with my new camera would show such wonton destruction.

Here you can see some of the froth from the pollution, gathering along the river bank.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Oxen - Thomas Hardy

The Oxen by Thomas Hardy - a favourite Christmas poem of mine. He wrote it, I believe, on Christmas Eve 1916 . . .

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Monday, 22 December 2008


I did the wreath this afternoon. We go for the natural look, with bits and pieces we have garnered from the hedgerows. I cut pussy willow twigs to form the base, woven together. Then long strands of ivy woven around that, then some lovely old-gold coloured oak leaves from a sapling at the bottom of a hedgerow, and some sprigs of ivy in flower. Then I wound round a length of the rag swag I had left over from making the big one the other evening. The ivy flowers on the left didn't want to tuck in any further, so I balanced it with the oak leaves on the other side. We prefer our "wildwood" wreaths to the sort you get in the shops and markets.

The new Christmas cat is still hanging around. We have called him Jasper as he looks like a Jasper . . . but there is family dissent over this! He is a dark tabby with very broad and few stripes, white paws and a white throat and little splash one side of his nose. He isn't too nervous about us, but moves away if we open the door. I'm not sure if he will stay - he might just be here whilst the hunting is bad . . .

Yummy mince pies

We finally got the Christmas tree up yesterday. We have a teddy angel - the children (as teenagers) chose her one year and she is firmly established now.

My eldest daughter and I decorated the tree yesterday afternoon. It is looking so pretty this year and is a lovely tree even without the decorations on.

I couldn't sleep last night, so I went downstairs and made a batch of mince pies, trying out a new recipe.

I have adapted this recipe as it originally used a crumble topping (I'll add this bit too for you if you'd rather try it). The water was nothing like enough, so you will have to add more - I probably used 6 or 8 tblspns NOT just 2! It's from Good Food magazine five years back.

85g/3 oz butter, chilled and cut into cubes
175g/6 oz plain flour
1 tblspn light muscovado sugar (I used Demerara)
finely grated zest of 1 small orange (I used a large Satsuma)

For the Crumble Topping:

knob of cold butter (about 1 tblspn)
25f/ oz plain flour
1 tblspn light muscovado sugar
1 tblspn almonds, finelychopped

pastry cases: Blend flour and butter until resembling fine breadcrumbs and then add sugar and grated zest, and add 2 tblspns water, adding a few drops more water if it appears a little dry (think Sahara sands here! I used about 6 - 7 tblspns water). Preheat oven to 160 deg. Fan/180 deg. conventional/Gas 4.

Roll out pastry thinly and cut circles using a plain 6cm dia cutter. (I used a bigger one and didn't make them into mini cases as this suggested). I got a dozen bases and then cut star toppings from remaining pastry. Filling was my home-made mincemeat, and I poured a little orange juice over the mincemeat and glazed the stars with it too. Cook for 20 mins.

If you are using the crumble topping, mix fat and flour together until mixture like breadcrumbs then stir in sugar and almonds. Sprinkle as topping over mincemeat and bake for 20 mins.

Both: leave to cool in the tin before lifting out. Very yummy! If making a double batch, leave the excess pastry to cool in fridge in between batches.

If it goes very quiet on here, it's because I've come down with a bad fluey-cold or the flu, as our eldest daughter has it - raging temperature, aching all over - poor lass, she was weeping this morning. I'm hoping she will drop off to sleep now she's had an Ibroprofen - she's been awake most of the night too.

Merry Christmas to you all - though hopefully I will be able to say that on The Day.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly . . .

My eldest daughter and I had a lovely walk to deliver a Christmas Card to a neighbour yesterday and then collected some greenery on the way home to decorate the house and to make a wreath from. The weather was distinctly drizzly, but it was such a lovely walk and we came home and had a huge leg of hogget (yearling lamb) for our Yule meal, eaten by candlelight. It is lovely to have all my family around me again.

A huge branch was ripped off in a recent storm, and lies, gathering moss now.

It's such a pretty lane to walk along, winter or summer.

I love to see trees as "themselves", without their leaves, showing their true character. There were some stunning ones which I noticed on my drive up North last week.

This tiny cottage is a holiday let. Sometimes I have to do the changeover cleaning if my neighbour is away, but it's a doddle as it's just three rooms.

A fallen giant. This was the best picture I could manage, and I had to stand on the bank to get this one.

This field has less and less grazing every year and the bracken has spread so only a little island of grass remains in the middle.

Another angel for Nancy, and surprisingly found in our local chapel graveyard. Sorry about the rain on the lens Nancy - hope that you can sort it out.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The ante has been upped!

This close to Christmas, things are suddenly going into over drive. I must now use a little of today to deliver (on foot) the last couple of Christmas cards and little jar of preserves to neighbours, and there is the greenery and twiggery for the wreath to be gathered too - hopefully at the same time, with my eldest daughter to keep me company. The gathering of the greenery at Yule, and the making of the wreath is one of our Christmas traditions and we look for interesting little bits of nature magic to incorporate.

I have two pineapples and a punnet of kiwi fruit to turn into some jam, and I have blown the dust off the American Christmas cookie magazine I was fortunate enough to find at a car boot sale a year or two ago for a ridiculous 20 pence.

There is a huge leg of local hogget lamb for our Yuletide roast today, and we shall light candles and turn off the overhead lights and celebrate Yule as a nod to our pagan ancestors.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Christmas Swag

I spent yesterday evening assembling this and it looks GREAT. All you need are approximately 2 metres of assorted Christmas prints - red and green obviously, but I had a creamy pattern too. Press and cut into strips 4" long x 2" wide (sorry, I've not got a metric head!). Take a ball of green jute string (which doesn't show if you haven't tied the strips tight together). I left my loose end inside the ball and kept pulling until I'd used my strips. Then you just fold each strip in half and then tie it around the string, alternating colours and pushing the rags close together to hide the twine. Put a loop either end and hang on wall. MANY thanks to Mrs T in America for this - check out her Christmas blog for some great ideas and inspiration.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

When you're cross . . .

. . . gardening is a very good thing. I've just spent an hour cleaning windows , and then - suitably horrified by the amount of grass and weeds amongst a little strip of cobbling by the path to the patio, I set to with bare hands. As a stress-buster, it was very therapeutic. I got rid of 6 buckets of weeds and replaced with 6 buckets of gravel, to cover the gaps between the cobbling and indeed, most of the cobbles too. Looks tidier anyway. Front porch and path tidied, swept and washed. I still have NO TIME for the vet's receptionist, however . . .

If this Santa looks good enough to eat, it's because he is made from meringues (beard mainly), and marshmallow :)

We found this stone owl (on a wooden tree base) in the graveyard of Llandeilo Church. I'm not sure if he is meant to be a memorial for someone or what, but he certainly stands out amongst the headstones.

Here's a frosty scene from Llandeilo on Monday. I went looking for an angel on a gravestone for Nancy, and looking for a mare and foal in a bad way (and in need of help from Lluest) for my friend Nanny. I found the angel, but no sign of the mare and foal, though I searched where they were supposed to be. Nanny's husband will go and do a reccy tomorrow.

Now I'm back to my Christmas swag to hang over the fireplace . . . photos when it's finished. I've also been sorting out curtains and was able to fill the cist that had the big heavy plush pair with most of my bags and lengths of material up in my work-room. The curtains are hung in our re-decorated bedroom, and I have sewn brass curtain rings on the back of the Medieval-style pelmet which is going in the downstairs hall, over the big archway, with a matching yellow curtain beneath it.

These new curtains are SO warm and snug. The walls are actually a deeper raspberry colour and not so pink as they appear because of the camera flash. Below is the Medieval style pelmet which went with them when they were a shop window display (buying ex-display curtains is VERY good value - I got them half the price they would have been if I'd had them made to order). You can just see the lightweight golden lining material, which also backs the curtains above. Looking at them, they would be quite easy to make up - until you got the really heavyweight material (the gold with lettering) behind and I think I would have to hand sew that together as my machine would cough its last. Then the cord edging is hand-sewn too of course.

This is another ex-display curtain - and matches the design on the heavyweight material above quite well. It has four very deep French pleats with hooks so my husband is sorting out how to hang it up beneath the pelmet. I think I must have a thing about Latin writing, as I have it on my bathroom curtains too . . .

Tomorrow I am off up North to collect our eldest daughter, and hopefully will be blogging again on Saturday.