A lot of water, and another birthday

home-baked dinosaur biscuits

The smallest small turns four. It’s been a dinosaury kind of day – dino cake, dino-themed cards and presents. Yesterday he and his sister helped my daughter make both the cake and dinosaur-shaped biscuits in readiness for today’s birthday tea.

The weather has been truly dreadful. It seems like everywhere is either damp, waterlogged or leaking, but at least we’re not afflicted by flooding here at the farm. There are many folk in other parts of the UK, and not so far away either, who are badly affected. My son had a complicated trip home from work in Pembrokeshire today due to roads being blocked by water. Storm Christoph is to blame.

But back to birthday boy. I wrote a little poem this morning, inspired by his fascination with those terrible lizards.

The pull of the lizards

Seen on cartoons, in books, as toys – he knows them all.
Herbivore,
carnivore,
omnivore;
voracious in their appetites; he can say their names,
their terrain of choice, their habits, likes. Their world
fills his games.

This little boy, like many more, he knows them all.
Real creatures stalk his world. They populate
his days, his nights. He likes them mean
and likes them nice. He likes them huge
with an enormous roar. It doesn’t matter
that they’re extinct, that they’re not here now.
He knows they lived and thrived before.

He likes them good but the bad, somehow,
are better, more exciting. He knows their names.
The terrible lizards’ pull survives; they fill
the minds of most small boys.

In the games he plays on the kitchen floor, he likes
them huge with a very loud roar. It’s safer now
they’re not here anymore; those terrible lizards –
who lived and thrived and were fierce once before.
He knows their names-
all the dinosaurs.

Insomnia, a delinquent cat and a bear named Pooh

A disgraced cat

And in that warm cocoon, I am up against the faceless man once more. I’ve had my second guess at today’s five words and not guessed right. So back I go to the locked room until tomorrow, frustrated with failure and at the unfairness of it all. It should be a place of sanctuary but I’m restless, sleeping fitfully and dreaming endless, unsettling dreams.

Over the last month or two I’ve been flexing the writing muscles with a weekly five word challenge – five words, once a week, from which I must create a poem. The last of these challenges starts today. It’s something I thought I was enjoying but, at night, the mind behaves oddly!  

Yesterday was Blue Monday – supposedly the bleakest, darkest day. Something to do with lack of sunlight, the dip after Yule and Hogmanay festivities, (not a huge number of these this year), feeling disheartened at the breaking of New Year’s resolutions and so on. The weather performed accordingly. Not cold but wet and grey, grey, grey with promises of worse to come – Storm Christoph.

Miss Baxter, our adopted stray ginger moggy, has reverted to her formal feral manners. She’s inviting in, or not shooing out, the neighbouring neutered tom. The conservatory reeks of unpleasant feline aromas this morning. Miss B is also having a few ‘accidents’…maybe because the outside is less appealing at this time of year. Not expending her considerable energy in the great outdoors means she has a surplus when inside. Midnight craziness is what happens when she’s in our room. And when she’s not, because we’ve closed the door, loud vocal objections and destruction of the landing carpet edges are our reward.

Yesterday was also A.A. Milne’s birthday. He was born in 1882. As a child I first loved both E.H. Shepard’s illustrations and the poems. I still more-or-less know a few by heart, including ‘The King’s Breakfast’, ‘Says Alice’ and ‘Disobedience’. But it’s the characters Milne created, Pooh, his friend Piglet and all other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, who still resonate with children, of all ages, including me. Expunge Disney from your memory. Open Winnie the Pooh at random and something small, simply expressed and perfect will jump off the page and grip your heart tightly.

Unless of course you’re obsessed with the spelling of Tuesday, or, like Rabbit, you are clever and have Brain…

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that’s why he never understands anything.”

Healing, holiness and history

remaking the wooden fence

Healing, holiness and history

Lichfield Cathedral is the first UK cathedral to be used as a Coronavirus vaccination centre. And why not? It’s a huge undercover space, and, quite probably, it’s underutilised. It seems fitting for cathedrals to be places of healing once more, and for the community to benefit from their existence.

The second daff is flowering. Days slowly lengthen. I started walking at 4.20 yesterday and was still back, after a fairly brisk circuit of the fields with Jennydog, before darkness fell. She’s been unwell for the last couple of days – probably to do with eating something disgusting – so I’ve taken her off her normal food and put her on bland stuff (including boiled rice). She’s much improved.

Despite being closed to visitors, this little farm still needs to be looked after and maintained. Things wear out. Things break. Yesterday the chaps, ( the husband plus one other), were remaking and repairing a short run of wooden fencing. They just finished before the light went.

They’re at it again – my sister and my cousin – on the family tree/history trail. Regular updates are popping in by text, message and email. My sister’s tracing the Mansells back, (the direct line from our father), to South rather than West Wales. It’s quite a task as more ordinary folk tend to leave less of a written trail.

My cousin sends more random nuggets of information, often about the Blathwayts (from my father’s mother’s line). Friday’s snippet was that we share a seventh cousin – Benedict Blathwayt, a children’s writer.  Without visual aids, I’m afraid a seventh cousin is a connection too far for me to grasp.

The smalls next door in the cottage were drawing and painting yesterday – a competition entry for Santes Dwynwen’s Day on 25th January. Though nowhere near as widespread as Valentine’s Day celebrations, poor Dwynwen, (unhappy in love according to the tales), is widely commemorated in Wales now as the patron saint of lovers. She’s also known as the patron saint of sick animals.

A laidback mouse, and soulfood

Empty bottle of cordial

“An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special.”  I came across this quote today.

Last Christmas my daughter bought several of her presents through ‘Not on Amazon’. We were all trying to buck the ubiquitousness of the big A. One gift was a bottle of Gangplank Cordials’ ginger and lime variety, (made in small batches by foraging folk who live on a narrowboat). Delicious, but all gone.

I caught a few minutes of Radio 4’s ‘Open Book’ this afternoon, (between stocking up with donkey and cat food and walking Jenny). The talk was about a children’s book – ‘Frederick‘ by Leo Lionni – about a non-teamplayer field mouse. Frederick refuses to join the other small rodents in stockpiling wheat, corn, nuts and straw for the winter. He spends his summer daydreaming, idling about, apparently not contributing to the greater good of the mouse community.

Frederick defends his apparent inactivity – saying that he, instead, is garnering the suns’ rays, the colours of flowers and plants… and words. His rationale? What he’s gathering will sustain the mice through the cold, drab and long winter days. And of course, that’s what happens.

On my return I downloaded the book – a deceptively simple apologia for non-material values, and for the importance of spiritual and cultural nourishment. Eric Carle, (yes the caterpillar chap), wrote that Frederick ‘is a poet from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail’ demonstrating ‘that a seemingly purposeless life is far from that.’

A friend told me that she needs a project now – painting or sewing or knitting. She needs to be creating something. The lockdown poetry anthology I have a poem in will be published this Spring. Writing poetry has ebbed and flowed in recent years, more ebbing than flowing if I’m honest. But a switch has been turned. Writing is once more an absolute necessity for me.

The first daffodil

The first daffodil

The first daffodils. One is flowering and one is almost. It seems extraordinary, as the snow has only gone in the last couple of days. Green bulb shoots are evident everywhere, popping up through mulched brown leaves and grass, but not a suggestion yet of a crocus or a snowdrop appearing.

And I posted a card – to the parents of a New Year’s Day new baby boy. My daughter-in-law has just come round to borrow my fairy cake tin for a home schooling maths lesson. My nephew has challenged the husband to Zoom chess at the weekend.

It’s getting dark and Jenny’s now curled up in her basket by the radiator. We all got muddy on our walk this afternoon and, once again I proved to myself, as I squelched and slid through mud and leaves, that I’m no mountain goat. Unlike the Capricornian husband.

Post  festive season viewing is very lean. We watched ‘Traces’ – ok but nothing special, gave up on ‘The Great’, about Catherine the Great, after two episodes – (disappointingly daft), and whiled away an hour or two with Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’. Somehow I missed that one the first time round. Mildly diverting but forgettable were the biopic ‘I am Woman’ about the life of Helen Reddy, about whom I knew absolutely zilch, and a silly 2010 crime caper with a good cast, including Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt – ‘Wild Target’.

What was more interesting than the two latter films was the google and Wikipedia fun afterwards, finding out more about Helen Reddy, and trawling through all the famous, and infamous, Blunts. Twenty years ago, a couple would have watched a film and all the ‘I wonders’ and ‘wasn’t that the guy who was in…’ would have remained just that. A few minutes of curiosity and random speculation with no probable satisfactory solution.

It’s the time of day when what-do-you-want-to-eat discussions happen and when I dread the turning on of TV or radio to hear the evening news – with the three constants – the pandemic/vaccine rollout/latest horrendous statistics, the next chapter in the unbelievable presidency election and election aftermath and the post-Brexit delays, glitches and hiccoughs. I  dread it all but find it compulsive.

A birthday. The temporary trimming of wings.

Five degrees today. The frost and ice have gone. As have blue skies. It’s been grey and damp, a light mizzle in the air. And now stillness has been replaced by wind moaning as it circles the farmhouse.

It’s my nephew’s birthday. Twenty four today. Because of the lockdown he’s not out celebrating with friends in Bristol. He’s not doing the real-time activities he loves. He’s at home with his parents in rural Buckinghamshire. We’ve just sung ‘Happy Birthday’, waved sparklers and watched him eat chocolate cake – virtually.

It was a snowy January night when I drove to my sister’s house to babysit his sister, so that his parents could go to the local hospital for his birth. There is a poem, (of course), about that drive and that night, but that’s for another day! For now, here’s another piece, a short poem inspired by the focus and determination of my nephew – Huw (for himself), William (for his grandfather).

Boy, playing.

At lunchtime, sausages untouched,
neither sitting nor standing, but
quivering on jack-knifed leg; front teeth,
quite new, clamped tight over lower lip,
(frowning like his granddad, his uncle,
before a penalty is taken),
faint humming stirs a straight light fringe.

And that small device, which beeps, has lights,
cannot be prised from nimble fingers
for a wash, for food or drink, for aught
except a clap of exultation,
brief table drumming of his success –

as with those skittering, deft digits,
he scales the heights, his best score yet.

Huw was always going places. Of course no-one is going anywhere this January. But horizons will extend, and freedom, fun and frolics will return one day soon.

Thaw and a theft

our new dog enjoying winter weather

Thaw and a theft.

It’s sllghtly warmer today, but there are still treacherous icy patches. Water to all the outside taps is  frozen. It’s just after five and feels like hunkering down time! Were it not for dry January, some homemade sloe gin would have my name on it right now. The outside animals – donkeys and our remaining two sheep – have been checked on; we’ve done the afternoon dog walk. It’s dark and I’ve just shut out the outside world by drawing curtains.

I’ve been nursing the woodburner into life but she’s currently unco-operative. Today, she’s a luxury, a nice-to-have evening extra. We had two days – two very cold days – with no woodchip, so no central heating or hot water. My son has now part-filled the hopper by tractor so the biomass boiler is fuelled and running once more.

The frost had thawed enough by lunchtime today for us to take the donkeys over to their usual field for a kick about. Since the New Year they’ve had a couple of days in just mooching and eating hay, and a couple of days of us popping them into the old sheep paddock for a couple of hours in the afternoons. Weather has certainly altered their routine over the last week. Except for the farrier, who made it to us mid-week for the seven-weekly pedicure. A rare but essential visitor.

Yesterday I baked – banana bread and an orange cake. I forget how far the new dog can reach when standing on hind legs. I forget how observant, how bright she is. In a five minute absence from the kitchen she hooked a slender front paw onto and through the cooling tray and helped herself to a third of the orange cake. No adverse effects this morning though.

We’ve had her for four months. Her outright terror has diminished but she still barks at people, is wary generally of humans. Dogs she loves. Walks she loves. When we’re out with her she’s less nervous if she sees a stranger with a dog. Whatever happened to her before we brought her home from the rescue centre has scarred her.

To us she’s affectionate and responsive…but we still have a long, long way to go and the outcome, (as are all outcomes now), is unknown and unknowable.

A scintilla of hope; a whisper of sadness

snowyJanuary20211

Another year. It’s January 7th . It’s been nearly four months since I last posted. Hope, expectation, disappointment, worry, frustration. Repeat. Repeat again. It seems we can cope with confinement, with a barrage of financial, personal and professional body-blows, with travelling blindfolded through a long, dismal tunnel, but coping strategies have now worn very thin. We do need to feed our capacity for optimism.

And we’re not all singing from the same hymn sheet any more. We’re negotiating the same choppy, troubled waters but in different ways and in different crafts. With less tolerance than before. Like many others, I’m pinning my fragile new 2021 shoots of hope on the vaccine rollout.

Now that the festive season has been and gone, (more ‘no’ than ‘ho’ this year), new novels and the jigsaw puzzle have given way to screen dependence again. Generally underwhelming, with no binge-worthy offerings based around chess or the monarchy. However, I did expect good things from the second series of ‘Staged’, (with Michael Sheen and David Tennant). None of those good things was forthcoming. And who would have thought that the word ‘f***’ would pop up quite so many times in one 15 minute episode – I stopped counting at 30 – or that the word ‘scintilla’ would be uttered twice (in the same episode)?

2020 ended with rare snowfall. Only a couple of centimetres, but it’s been icy, frosty and bitterly cold for a week. Today, the last remnants of polar frosty stuff gather in corners and cling to rooves. The donkeys stayed in as their paddock was crisp and white.

And the vet visited this afternoon. Blackberry, our eldest pet sheep, had reached the end. We’d been waiting for her to slip away since before Christmas. She clung on – arthritic, wavering on her pins, getting thinner, falling over and needing to be set upright again. Every morning she still greeted us, the tamest and most vocal sheep of my acquaintance. ‘Just a sheep’? Tonight, there’s a feeling of relief and inevitability with a little whisper of sadness.