Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Saying goodbye to my mum

I think this is my 500th post, so it is only fitting that I write about something important to me, and very personal. This time when we came to the New Forest, I brought my mum's ashes with me. She died two years ago and was cremated. I wanted to find a special place where she could rest, and had originally determined upon Romsey, as that was where she was born and grew up, but I wanted absolute privacy and finally decided upon a favourite spot of ours in the New Forest. We used to go to the Forest most Sunday afternoons in the 1960s and had lots of favourite spots. I chose our "favouritest" today and Keith and I strolled through the heather, avoiding dog walkers in the distance, and were 'led' to a beautiful glade in a little stand of silver birches (my favourite tree). It was absolutely perfect, and although it was a grey day, threatening rain, there were birds twittering in the trees above us, and ponies nearby as I scattered her ashes. Mum would have loved that - she was always happier with animals than people because she was very deaf and had no confidence around people. I shed a few tears, mainly because of thinking of childhood days there and wishing I could turn the clock back for just a little while. But it is time to move on now.

We went to Salisbury Cathedral, and I said a little prayer and then we had a lovely afternoon walking round the Museum, which has an excellent Archaeology department and the biggest collection of prehistoric pots I've seen in many a long year - the Wessex chalk has protected them well.

Rainy days . . .

Morning all from a wet New Forest. I wish I could include some photos with this but that will have to wait. So will this blog, as when I return home, BT have announced that the line won't be fixed "until the end of August". I have news for them - the Daily Mail will be getting a letter this week and then perhaps we will have some action, or perhaps their apathy and total lack of customer care knows no bounds?

We have been enjoying the wildlife here, looking out through the French windows and watching the rabbits, many wild birds and every evening, a young fox trotting across the lawn. Last night foxy had a shock as there was another fox, presumably higher in the pecking order, as our fox then scooted off and was seen trotting across the paddock a few minutes later.

As today is supposed to be all day rain, we will be relaxing with books and knitting/sewing . . . well, perhaps Keith will pass on the knitting/sewing!

If you ever drive across the New Forest, please remember the speed limits. My friend here has the skull of a New Forest pony in her barn - a young mare that was killed by a speeding van or lorry which took her head off it was going so fast. They found the mare's body, but it was months and months before her head was discovered . . .

Monday, 27 July 2009

Holiday Time

Well, we had no internet at home last week again after we had torrential rain. I did some research before we lost it to find out about the BT complaints system, and found some very useful information (and 7 loooong pages of complaints). I phoned a "magic number" and actually spoke to someone who is now dealing efficiently with our case and not just talked us round in circles and passed us on to BT India . . . The long and the short of it is we are now a "priority case" and BT will keep working on our line until it is repaired, even on Sunday. Did the BT man turn up on Sunday . . . . well, no actually! My kids are on the case though! We have been told that the work sheduled to be done on 13th July was logged in as carried out, but of course, we know otherwise. . . heads are apparently going to roll.

Anyway, Keith and I are currently on holiday, house-sitting for friends in the New Forest. We are thoroughly relaxing and had planned to do nothing today, which is just as well as it is pouring with rain. Once we've been out to feed and check the horses we are going to tootle into Ringwood and have a wander round the shops and get the papers.

Yesterday we went to a Viking (well, multi-period really) re-enactment at Cranborne. It is a site which was originally established about 25 years ago and they have built a big Iron Age roundhouse, a Grubenhousen (sp?) or SFB as we called them at Uni - a Sunken Featured Building, a wonderful huge turf-covered roundhouse, and are working on a viking longhouse now. There were various people about the site giving demonstrations of various crafts - net-making, tablet weaving, drop spindle spinning, a couple of pole-lathes, and a group of people making chestnut shingles for the roof of the longhouse. Lots of battle re-enactments, authentic dress and cooking pots in use etc etc and an excellent day out, much-enjoyed. We know that our son would be very interested in this, but his nearest re-enactment group? Winchester. Ummm - a bit of a journey from Carmarthen!

On our way down to Hampshire, we went to visit GTM (here is a link to her excellent blog A Life Full of Blessings). We had a lovely time and had a guided tour of the "Doll's House" where she lives, and then were shown around the village and church. Some beautiful architecture and buildings, and my husband was led along by the twins, who grasped his hands and showed him round! It is so lovely to meet up properly with people you have known for a while through blogs and forums, made friends with, written to and spoken to on the phone. It's not like meeting them properly for the first time, but more like carrying on a conversation! I have also met Rowan several times this year as we can call when on our way to meet our eldest daughter up in Sheffield. I have met people on-line who share my interests and passions and whom I would probably never have known existed without the internet and I am truly grateful that I have met them. Where we are staying now is the house of an internet friend!

I have brought some of my waist-high pile of books-to-read with me, so I had better get stuck in once we have sorted the ponies out. Sorry there are no photos - they will have to wait until I get home next week.

Morning's Minion - now you know why you've not had updates from me!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

"Old" things in the kitchen

I have a lot of them. I've never been averse to second hand stuff - you have to cut your coat according to your cloth after all, though sadly, many young folk have never been taught this and think their credit card is the answer to everything.

I have a bit of a thing about big earthenware storage jars and use them to store things like dried fruit, lentils, home-made mincemeat, and the bigger ones hold oats, bread flour, plain flour and rice. When we lived in Dorset, we used to be able too get corks to fit the smaller sort, but now the big fat-bellied ones have wooden lids made for them by my husband out of bits of wood abandoned by others.

I store more of my flour for bread or baking in several old enamel flour or bread bins and always keep a good stock in. They live on the bottom of the old dairy table in the bay window. When you live a 20 mile round trip from the shops, you don't want to run out of things! I keep my Demerara sugar in an old glass sweetie jar but I am on the look-out for another big old earthenware jar for granulated sugar. The one below houses Basmati Rice. The terracotta crock will go when I find a likely replacement as my kids hate touching it! They say it puts their teeth on edge . . .

This glossy dark brown jar cost me £4 at the big Antiques Fair at Builth this year. It didn't have a lid, but Keith has since made me one. I use it to store plain baking flour in. (I think that's "all-purpose" flour in the States.)

I found this little enamel strainer in an the junky antique shop on the way to Brecon recently. It cost me £4 and I use it regularly. It "spoke" to me, somehow . . . I suppose I feel I am connecting with the past when I use these things, but they are also practical and have character. Other women buy handbags (I could never see the point of having more than one handbag - you only use one handbag at a time!) - I buy . . . old things . . . oh, and few books too!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

BT - I'm giving up the will to live . . .

I won't even go there. We lose Broadband every time it rains because BT have renagued on their closing the road/cutting back trees/replacing short telegraph poles and replacing the damaged length of circa 1955 cable promise. Apparently just bodging the line is more cost-effective . . . The story is just too depressing, especially if you mention you are having broadband problems as then it's an instant transfer to blardy India . . . You can see why they don't have a Complaints Department can't you?!

So we will have a wee "pome" instead:

In sleep of helpless infancy
Trees were the arms that cradled me;
On Tree my daily food is spread,
Tree is my chair and Tree my bed.
Fibre of Tree the books I con,
And Tree the shelves they stand upon.
Primeval Tree burns clear and bright
To warm me on a winter ight.
I hear, to wind in woods akin,
Tree-music of the violin;
And at the last, when I shall die,
My tired dust in Tree will lie.

Teresa Hooley (probably lieing in tree these many years as this was penned in a 1938 edition of The Countryman magazine . . .

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Rain stopped play

It has chucked it down nearly all day. I am bored so I thought I would do an extra blog post to make up for the lack of them in recent weeks (and in fear of losing broadband with such persistent rain).

Here are a couple of little pieces from my No. 1 Desert Island book Kilvert's Diary (though I would tough it out and demand the complete diaries of, including the ones his widow burned because they mentioned other women he had fallen in love with.) Here is as near as I can get to this date in his entries for 1871:

Tuesday 18th July: "I went to Wern Vawr. The sun burnt fiercely as I climbed the hills but a little breeze crept about the hill tops. Some barbarian - a dissenter no doubt - probably a Baptist, has cut down the beautiful silver birches on the little Mountain near Cefn y Fedwas."

I can sympathise. It has happened here in recent years. On the way to Ferryside, a hundred years almost exactly after Kilvert was writing, when I was holidaying with a penpal there, a chapel was pointed out to me, with a small enclosed burial ground beside it. Apparently this little plot once had beautiful trees surrounding it, but they were cut down under direction of the Elders as they made it look 'too pretty'. A bit like our local chapel which had half an acre of Aquilegias growing amongst the gravestones. Until last year that is, when they came in with a strimmer . . .

Saturday 22nd July 1871:

"Mrs Nott told me that Louie of the Cloggau was staying in Presteign with her aunt Miss Sylvester, the woman frog. This extraordinary being is partly a woman and partly a frog. Her head and face, her eyes and mouth are those of a frog, and she has a frog's legs and feet. She cannot walk but she hops. She wears very long dresses to cover and conceal her feet which are shod with something like a cow's hoof. She never goes out except to the Primitive Methodist Chapel. Mrs Nott said she had seen this person's frog feet and had seen her in Presteign hopping to and from the Chapel exactly like frog. She had never seen her hands. She is a very good person. The story about this unfortunate being is as follows. Shortly before she was born a woman came begging to her mother's door with two or three little children. Her mother was angry and ordered the woman away. 'Get away with your young frogs', she said. And the child she was expecting was born partly in the form of a frog, as a punishment and a curse upon her."

It just shows that even amongst educated people like Kilvert, they were very naive in their beliefs. Perhaps she had deformed or webbed feet, and that people resembling frogs do exist I can testify, as there used to be a man I knew in the West Country who looked remarkably like one.

OK, I'm well ahead of myself with this Autumnal post, but he wrote so beautifully I wuld like to share it:

Friday 13 October:

"After school about 12.20 I started to walk over the hills. The fern cutters were hard at work on the Vicar's Hill mowing the fern with a sharp ripping sound. The mountain and the great valley were blue with mist and the sun shone brilliantly upon the hill and the golden fern. I had put a flask of ginger wine in my pocket and a sandwich of bread and bacon which I ate by the Milw Bridge at the meeting of the three parishes and wished I had another for I was as hungry as a hunter.

Up the long Green Lane the heather bloom was long over and the heather was dark, speckled with the little round white bells. I looked for Abiasula along the green ride narrowing between the fern and heather, and looked for her again at the Fforest, but the great dark heather slopes were lonely, nothing was moving ,the cottage was silent and deerted, the dark beautiful face, the wild black hair and beautiful wild eyes of the mountain child were nowhere to be seen.

Round the great dark heather-clothed shoulder of the mountain swept the green ride descending steeply to the Fually frm and fold and the valley opened still more wide and fair. The beautiful Glasnant came leaping and rushing down its lovely dingle, a flood of molten silver and crystal fringed by groups of silver birches and alders, and here and there a solitary tree rising from the bright green sward along the banks of the brook and drooping over the stream which seemed to come out of a fairy land of blue valley depths and distances and tufted woods of green and gold and crimson and russet brown.

At last I found my way up a rich green orchard and through a gate into the fold sheltered by some noble sycamores. The farm house, long, low and yellow-washed, looked towards the N.E. The house is said to be the oldest inhabited building in these parts. It stands high above the Arrow on its green mount, embosomed and almost hidden by its sycamores and other trees. In a dark secluded recess of the wood near the river bank an ice-cold never-failing spring boils up out of the rock. Mrs Jones said it makes her arms ache to the shoulder to put her hand into the water from this spring in the hottest day of summer. In the hot summer days Louie and the other girls take the butter down the steep bank, across the Arrow and make up the butter in the wood by the icy spring. Then they bring the butter up and it remains as if it had been iced."

Sunday, Sunday . . .

Backtracking a bit to last Sunday, when K and I did a car boot sale attached to a Vintage Car Show on the showground down in the village. A couple of showers came along to annoy, but overall it was dry. My "notes" of the day:

Grey clouds glower over the show site, but an opening of blue offers hope. "Enough blue to patch a sailor's trousers" mum always used to say and me, ever the optimist, hung onto that thought.

Welsh flags flap in the breeze: the red, green and white of Y ddraig goch - the Welsh dragon; the yellow cross on black of Dewi Sant (St David), and gone but never forgotten, Glyndwr's Banner with its lions rampant in red and yellow. Welsh memories are long and ever loyal.

At one end of the ringside, static engines set up a two-stroke chatter above Paul Anka singing "Diana". They are tended by men in overalls and caps and admired by enthusiasts. A bevy of old tractors form orderly lines nearby. Old grey Fergies, Fordsons, early Massey Fergusons, John Deeres, and many others which once worked the land.

Orderly lines of vintage and classic cars are also on display. Several minis, several Morris Minors, an E-type Jag, a scarlet and white South African Buick with "Please Don't Touch" on it, a blue Ford Popular, a Humber, and an absolutely splendid old Bugatti which looks fit for the London to Brighton race.

As we stand and watch the scene, swallows swoop low across the sward, little puffs of smoke from the statics spiral into the air and are whipped away by a strong breeze, the smell of frying onions and burgers wafts by, and the strains of "This Old House" and "In the Mood" set the tempo - for this IS a vintage show, with music to match. Better than the Welsh "pop" music playing first thing which, I must confess, always sounds very much the same (and rather boring) to my English ear!

A crow catches sight of itself in a mirror we have propped against a chair. It steps back in surprise, and so does the crow in the mirror. It squares its shoulders and marches forward - and so does its opposite until, thoroughly rattled, it flies off.

My photographs are from the Smallholders' Show up at Builth in 2007, as my camera wasn't working at the weekend (I'd pressed a wrong button!). Flags courtesy of the (Flags of the World) highlighted link for Glyndwr's Banner.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Home-made blanket box

This is what my husband has been working on for several weeks now, and it has cost him virtually nothing apart from £10 to have the fretwork straps on the top cut out. The wood - it's made from solid oak - came from old bed ends which had been dumped at our local auction as they wouldn't sell. I think he's done a wonderful job on it and it looks just right on our top landing.

Fixing battens to hold the base of the chest.

Here it is being sanded at an earlier stage of creation. The design for the apron along the front was traced from a similar piece of furniture we have.

The pattern for these came from half of a very old and beautiful cast iron hinge he got from a junk place and he still has that hinge to use on another project.

One of my husband's old Windsor chairs keeps it company.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Warning: Proud Momma Alert!!!

Tam on a Dig at a possible Roman site in the Deer Park at Dinefwr Castle.

Our eldest daughter Tamzin has just found that she has will be graduating from a BA in Archaeology with a First. It was a close run thing as her essays were 1/2 a mark off a first, but then her dissertation clinched it. We are SO pleased for her as we know how hard she worked - she is a slow but thorough reader, can't speed-read to save her life, so she always had to allow plenty of time for research. The last 6 months before her dissertation was finished was like hell on wheels.

Now we are looking forward to Graduation Day next Monday. It will be SO good to see her again.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Thoughts about moving

I still have an internet connection - Amazing! I couldn't sleep the night before last and ended up house-hunting. It was to be this year that we downsized, but the state of the economy dictated otherwise. Now we are doing various jobs which needed doing so that when we come to market the house next year it is all tickety-boo. All except the grass growing in the top guttering that is. 3 1/2 floors up - no ladder will reach - and my efforts (though gung-ho!) with a trowel lashed to the end of a long piece of wood only worked on the bit of guttering directly below the Velux window in the roof which I was hanging out of. Hmmm. Suggestions on a postcard please.

When househunting, I have a mental list of what I want (as opposed to DH, who has slightly different requirements) WWD (When We Downsize). We want 3 or 4 bedrooms (rather than the 8 we have here!), a nice light house (this is very gloomy, even on a bright summer day), easy to heat, with a nice roomy kitchen as we have here but with lots of storage space and an Aga. A wood burning stove in the sitting room and a big inglenook again. Lots of character and preferably a few beams. A good-size garden which wanders rather than one which is just a square in front of the house as it is here. DH (darling husband) would settle for a small sun-trap yard with NO GRASS (and no room). I would like fruit trees, an established soft fruit garden and well-dug veg plot, a small polytunnel would be nice - or the room for one - and definitely a greenhouse. A conservatory wouldn't' go amiss either, oh and a workshop for my beloved. Not on a busy road - set away on a no through road preferably because of the cats - but not too far from a town which would provide job possibilities for our younger son and daughter who will be moving with us. Possibly with an annexe for holiday letting or for one of our offspring to set up home in later (or us "olds" to move into in our dotage. Not too far from a shop, so OH can have his daily paper (he's such a newshound), and preferably on the edge of Dartmoor or on the Devon coast. I can see us going on Escape to the Country - or should that be, Escape From the Country to the Country?

Devon does offer a good selection of the sort of house/cottage we are seeking, but gosh, what an eye-opener some of them are. One place - I only looked at it because it had a lovely view - was NOT our sort of house, and inside it looked like something out of Footballer's Wives - everything pale and insipid and "dressy" with a pure white sitting room. Everything in it, from the carpet to the mirror and even the tv I think, was pure white. I couldn't help thinking, "no pets, no kids and I bet she doesn't make jam either . . ." It was so unwelcoming and unhomely. You'd be frightened to sit down, and your shoes would definitely be off at the front door . . . Not like my mish-mash of "collectibles", millions of books and lots of clutter and untidiness. I will have to tidy so much away before we have people to view next year, but I am NOT going to do the "everything beige and no personal belongings (pictures, photos, china, CLUTTER) etc. NO WAY. If people haven't the imagination to see beyond our colour scheme (largely soft yellow in the hallways etc to bring in as much light as possible) and can't imagine a wall without a picture on it, they're not the sort of people for our house.

So whilst we can't move just yet, I have sent for a few house details, and am carefully doing my research on potential areas, and if my darling husband thinks we are moving to Hadrian's Wall he can think on!!!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Baking bread without an oven . . . the old Cornish way

Interior of a cottage (c. about 1810) at St Fagans. This is the first of a row of terraced cottages which are decorated internally spanning a 150 year period.

I found a wonderful little book recently in Hay-on-Wye, for just £4; “Cornish Homes and Customs” by A K Hamilton, it harks back to a much earlier time – sometimes up to more than a hundred years before this. It is a fascinating book to read and I learn more with every page I turn. How to bake bread though you don’t have an oven was one such lesson. I will include the preamble to this, as it offers a fascinating insight into cottage life generally:

“Notwithstanding the fact that from the early part of the 18th century onwards coal was being freely imported for the use of the mines, furze and turf long continued to serve the needs of the people for all domestic purposes. In 1799 the overseers of Mylor parish were paying but 9d. hundred for furze faggots for the use of the poor-house, a price with which coal, however cheap, must have found it hard to compete. Indeed, until almost the end of the last century many Cornish houses knew no other fuel than that which came to them from within a short distance of their doors. In one or two instances these turf fires are said to have been actually kept alight for a hundred years, faithfully serving the needs of the inhabitants from birth to death (N.B. the same was said of the fire in the Warren House Inn on Dartmoor). Each night, the embers were banked up before going to bed, and the kettle hooked on to the cross-bar in the chimney. On coming down the next morning the water was always boiling, whilst sufficient fire still remained to fry the bacon and mashed potatoes for breakfast. After the meal, the hearth was swept clean, fresh turf was put on, and so the old fire entered on anther day of service and companionship to the household. With the aid of such fires as these the Cornish housewife contrived to do all the cooking for the largest family, asking nothing more than a ‘kettle’ for baking and a ‘crock’ for boiling. The kettle, it should be explained, in no way resembled the ordinary utensil of that name (which was distinguished in Cornwall by being termed a 'tay (tea) kettle’, but was simply an iron bowl with three legs capable of being stood on the ground like a small crock. Whenever baking had to be done, the brandis or heavy iron trivet was first drawn forward into the centre of the hearth and on it was placed a round sheet of iron, known as the ‘baking ire’. With the aid of the ‘fire-hook’, which took the place on the open hearth of a poker in ordinary grates, the smouldering embers were raked around the brandis and under the baking iron, and were fanned into flame with the (bellows). As soon as the baking iron had been heated in this way to the proper temperature it was taken off the brandis, carefully wiped and greased, and replaced on the hearth. On to it the bread or other food was then laid and covered by the inverted kettle. Hot embers were raked around, and a fire of furze and 'bruss' (dried hedge gatherings etc) built up over the whole. Beneath this the bread, protected from all dirt and ash, was left to cook for about an hour and a half, at the end of which time the embers were removed, the kettle lifted off, and there was the loaf baked to perfection! All sorts of dishes – heavy-cakes, pasties, and pies – were prepared in the same way, the only variation being that in some instances a ‘baker’ was used instead of a kettle. The former resembled in shape a heavy iron frying-pan without a handle, and differed from a kettle chiefly in having no legs. For boiling and stewing the crock was used, either placed on the brandis or hung from a cross-bar in the chimney.Occasionally, when very large joints of meat had to be roasted, the crock itself would be inverted over the baking iron in place of a kettle."

Enjoy. I temporarily have an internet connection, so will post this and run. "They" (BT) are finally shutting the road, lopping trees, replacing poles and rotten cable next Monday . . . It had better blardy-well work PERFECTLY after that . . . I have been going stir crazy here after so many weeks without broadband, and have been writing letters in desperation - but no one has written back yet!!!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

St Fagan's - Museum of Rural life

The amazingly colourful cover of the font at St Teilo's church, now reconstructed at St Fagan's. The Star of David and the Tudor rose is incorporated in the design.

We had to pick up Middle Daughter (G) from Cardiff Airport this morning, so we made a detour and visited St Fagan's, as K and I wanted to see St Teilo's Church, which was taken down stone by stone from its old situation in Pontardulais, and re-erected in the grounds of this wonderful museum, amongst many other saved and re-erected buildings - from early Medieval houses to prefabs, and everything in between, including an excellent Iron Age Village. G had "breakfast" with us, then decided she had seen it too many times before (favourite destination of end-of-year school trips, and indeed, the place was packed with them today too!) so went back to snooze in the car.

Below, St Teilo's from the rear.

St Teilo's was built between 1100 and 1520, gradually being enlarged and altered. Around 1850 the church began to be used less frequently, probably due to its position on the edge of the marshes beyond Pontarddulais and the building of a modern church to cater for the increasing number of worshippers in Pontarddulais.

The wonderful wall-paintings which have been faithfully re-created from remains of the originals, date from the 16th century, but overall the murals began around 1350 and several layers and repaintings show they were improved or altered up until 1790.Pigments sourced from natural minerals and mixed with limewash, were used to create the colours. Black pigment was created from soot or charcoal. More expensive pigments included lapis lazuli which gave a rich blue, and a red from cinnabar. Gold and silver leaf were also employed. Egg yolk or linseed oil or buttermilk were used to bind the colour to the paint and the wall. Most churches were this colourful until the Civil War, after which the Puritans destroyed what they considered to be idolatorous and sinful and pagan imagery - in other words, the beautiful and colourful interiors of virtually every church in the land.

St Christopher, in his traditional position opposite the door.

The wonderful chequerboard patterning inside the archways.

The story of Teilo's life is shown here on the Rood Screen, but my arms were too short (and the camera too shaky at arm's length!) to take close-ups, so please go here for the story to unfold, with decent close-up pictures. Using Welsh oak, these carvings took a skilled carpenter over three months to design and carve.

This looks gloomy as the batteries were failing on my camera and sadly I couldn't use the flash, but you get the general idea.

For explanations of the carvings and symbols, visit here. We were hurrying and also talking to someone we met outside the church, so I missed several of them. Part of the church was roped off so we couldn't get near the altar, sadly. I even missed a Green Man on the ceiling!

St Fagan's first became interested in the church in 1982, although the procedures became stepped up in 1984 after the roof slates were stolen and the murals put at real risk from the weather. The church had very early origins - a carved stone inside its walls has been dated to around the 7th-9th century - but the first written mention of the church was in 1100. It's original name - "Llanteilo tal-y-bont" - means the church dedicated to St Teilo at the crossing place of the river (River Loughor). St Teilo was born in Pembrokeshire around 480 AD, and a contemporary of Dewi Sant (St David) and St Padarn.

Broadband . . .

I have a connection temporarily this morning, but it probably won't last. It's a week since the last connection. Please bear with me - it could be several weeks yet before the problem is fixed as the Council are now involved (to shut the road for tree lopping).

Missing you all and hope this connection holds.