Elderflowers – one day at a time

In the afternoon, my daughter popped in to borrow scissors and to check we were ok with her collecting elderflower heads for cordial. There are still plenty left for berries, but higher up, less accessible. We’d saved Welsh apple juice bottles from the bar – months and months ago when the bar was open. I had thoughts of making elderflower liqueur when I woke up yesterday – but listlessness took over.

It was the second morning of waking up in a spaniel-free, dog-free house. Inconsiderate of our need for sleep at night, the cat had brought in one after another mouse to consume at her leisure under the bed. First thing, I’d had to slither underneath to scoop up five piles of small rodent innards. As soon as we’d vacated, post tea and muesli, she fell asleep, replete, on our bed.

For the second consecutive day, Miss Baxter absented herself from the conservatory – on Saturday, probably to avoid a noisy invasion of small people, while two of their parents were making pizzas. Then, on Sunday, her absence was doubtless due to the previous night’s strenuous antics and maybe also she was avoiding an embarrassing display of human sentiment. We were looking at spaniel photos and videos on the PC. We hadn’t realized there were so many. Lovely memories. But Miss Baxter does not like fuss.

Late afternoon, I tried to pull myself out of the low mood to collect some elderflower heads for my own use. A small bored person appeared, looking for distraction. She helped to strip the flowers from their tiny stalks. Somewhere between two and four weeks from now, we will see how drinkable this liqueur is!

The small person stayed to feed the sheep and help get the stable donkey-ready. She’d tired of the other project on offer in the yard– painting a new house for the growing brood of chicks.

In the evening I felt too exhausted for anything other than submitting to i-player. Our kitchen/living-room felt curiously empty. But it felt good to have done something.

Flight and the jynx bird

Finding somewhere which feels like home has a lot to do with luck. This little farm has been our home for thirteen years now, the longest we’ve lived anywhere. Finding it was a rather odd process, and the ‘it’ we found wasn’t necessarily the ‘it’ we thought we’d find, or were looking for. But there were good omens on the day we found it – a hare, and then later, in early evening, dolphins.

In a way I envied the two of you,
the box lid farmyard prettiness, it all
unmarred by serial improvements
ripping it apart.

I saw the pristine canvas, past lives shed.
You arrived, cabin-bags-only, freshly
severed from your partners, your stories
scattered from the Bridge.

You were sold the dream of the new start, bought
your farm, while we turned up trailing baggage,
failing parents, ailing child, itching scabs,
partly mended souls.

We stumbled over tyre mountains, decades
of buried rubble, brambles which burgeoned,
a wealth of unconnected gutters,
mud, flood, persistent rain.

Last five years and you’ll stay forever!  Like
it was an ordeal or trial. That’s what
he said, the deal struck, some hay bought, lobbed
in the back of his truck –

as if weightless. City folk. I prickled.
He shrugged and left. Like we were strange, foolish,
like it was hard. That seen-it-all-before look
in our ramshackle yard.

As if he knew about winter, and the fact
of all we’d had before at the turn of tap,
the flick of switch. We learned to live with

Yet the Jynx bird picked you, curdled the milk,
turned the hens off laying, drained the well to dust.
In that husk of a home the cracks widened:
you started to hope

for a new chance, another flight. But here,
us, despite all soothsayers, we put down
roots. This place, of all places, has hooked
us in to stay.

Grief and a lesson

We’ve been living here since 2007. The animals we’ve shared this space with have been, and still are, only pets. We’ve lost two cats, rescued siblings we brought with us – first Cooper and then Chaplin. Both are buried under the little walnut tree which is not thriving. We’ve lost two sheep – English Dave, saved from the pot in Buckinghamshire, and the young lamb, Gwilym 1, who died at the hands of a cocky locum vet. A sad waste.

And now both the spaniels. Our two English Springer Spaniels were brothers, bought from the next little farm up the lane in late May 2006. This was the year before we moved here permanently. The surviving one, Dylan, died on Friday, ten weeks and a day after we lost his brother. If he’d had a death certificate I believe ‘died of a broken heart’ would have been a contributory factor.

In the human world many worse things have happened over the last five or six months. Thousands and thousands have been bereaved and have suffered hugely. Globally it has been a grim year and there is no quick fix to the situation the UK is now in. I get all that, and obviously it is affecting us too.

But this morning we are still in the early stages of processing the loss of our furry companions, the legendary duo, who, for the last fourteen years, played such a key part in the experience of all who lived here or visited.

The lesson I’ve learnt? Do not acquire two pups from the same litter. The chances are that their lives will come to an end at around the same time.  And that is heart-breaking.

The boys

Being in a heightened state of readiness, or not

The in-box is full of directions, instructions, imperatives. What happened to ‘please’ or ‘have you considered?’ They’re all at it – websites, forums, agencies, the bigboy channel managers, the free and not-so-free consultants. Stand out. Get ahead. Catch your competitors napping. Hit the ground running. Make sure you’re Covid-ready.

The problem is that it’s difficult to prepare for the unknown. More of it. Here, in Wales especially, we don’t know what we’re going to be allowed to do, how much of it, with what provisos and restrictions, and when. In tourism and the hospitality industry, the future is still very fuzzy. So it’s becoming beyond frustrating to be harangued continually. What actions are we taking? What announcements are we going to make on our websites and social media? What reassurances can we give our future guests and customers that we are primed and ready to go?

Apart from anything else, these exhortations to us, as business owners, suggest that there’s a huge team of cleaning and maintenance staff here in hazmat suits, raring for the end-of-lockdown whistle to blow. And there isn’t. Our little team has been furloughed. We won’t be calling anyone in until we have the relevant information from the government, and we can look at it, understand the implications and make a plan. Until then, we’re not making guesses or empty promises.

Perhaps I’m not alone in feeling bullied. I’ve always had rather a glass-half-full role in every situation I’ve found myself in – a kind of blend of Heidi and Pippi Longstocking. Today, I’ve let tiredness and grief overwhelm me. But I will be more than ready when it’s time.

Full moons, strawberries and a man with a passion

The full moon was last Friday, 5th June. It’s known as Rose Moon, Hot Moon or, more commonly, Strawberry Moon. It roughly coincides with the start of the strawberry picking season. Ours, growing inside a polytunnel, are just beginning. I checked on them earlier and only snaffled one. Which was pretty restrained I thought.

July’s full moon will be as a Thunder Moon, or Full Buck Moon. But let’s not wish the month away. It’s furlough payroll time again. Another fortnight has passed. There is a little more freedom, but not much. Wales is closed to visitors. We don’t know when business can resume, and in what form. So much we’re waiting to find out.

Recently I was sent some information about a distant cousin, whose existence I was totally unaware of. Theodore Ballantyne Blathwayt was born in England but worked in Cape Town and died in Johannesburg in 1934. It was his splendid name which drew me in to read and find out more.

He was the discoverer of three comets – c/1926 B1, C/1927 A1 and a third whose name I haven’t been able to establish yet. For each new discovery he was awarded a Donohoe Comet Medal and he was elected as a member of the British Astronomical Society in 1929. I came across articles he’d written where his enthusiasm and individuality was palpable.

He spent many nights ‘sweeping’ for comets. He writes that he made his finds using a four inch refractor and an eight inch reflecting telescope. I have no idea whether or not this would still be the kit of choice for a modern comet hunter.

Earth, whisky and water

A month ago, just as we were all remembering VE Day, I was sent a wartime photo by Lisa, a cousin, of her grandfather. Derek was a fabulous man – a people person, fond of children and easy in his manner with everyone. This poem was loosely inspired by him…

At three a.m. wakefulness can seem a judgement.
In darkness, with owlhoots and wild, nameless
animal cries for company; am back at my uncle’s funeral
and before – whisky poured, he turned to ask his wife
of forty-four years what’s your poison,

turned back, dropped crumpled to the floor.
The paramedic, a family friend, blubbed plump tears,
said it’s a good death, a good way to go,
that he’d be much missed, a glass-half-full bloke,

whose face swims before me, misty, detail
coarsened, then falls back. So on, treading water,
to where I’ve buried scraps from his funeral. I peel
back the feeling, words said, readings, voices,

Jim Reeves somehow fitting. How they closed
the rainwashed pewter roads in that little town,
chapel filled, they filled the porch, trampled sodden grass
outside to hear his sending off broadcast, crackling out.

They’d come to pay or show respect, the size
of the hole he’d leave, its shape and depth
measurable in that place he’d never left,
would never leave. Had never seen the need.

Sourdough and sad tales

It was a quiet weekend, cool, grey and yes, we had rain. The real wet stuff. Which makes the lowering of water level in the new pond all the more surprising. The pond-clean sachets have finally worked. The water has cleared from the grime and slime of a week or two ago. There’s no leak, so this level drop has to be caused by evaporation. This evening we’ll hose in water, otherwise the fish will soon be paddling. Not swimming.

Yesterday afternoon, while the spaniel was dozing across the husband’s lap, our neighbour knocked on the door. To warn us about foxes. On Saturday afternoon he’d lost eight laying hens and four ducks. He thinks there must have been two predators, working together.

Many years and a house ago, we had two young rescue cats, siblings, who did this. They picked on the weakest baby bunnies in the field adjoining our garden. Sometimes they’d drag a victim in through the kitchen cat-flap – one pulling, one pushing. Clever, efficient and appalling.

The rabbits weren’t always dead, or even injured. I vividly remember watching some TV drama one evening, when a young rabbit darted out from behind the screen. Hale and hearty but startled. And hell to catch.

The spaniel was needy at the weekend. No walks, little food, much falling over. He’s still drinking and he wags his tail. Much cuddling seems to be necessary. We know that what we’re dealing with is a slow goodbye.

Lunch today majored on homemade sourdough baked by my son-in-law. I almost certainly ate too much and am now feeling it. It’s warm in the conservatory. The dog whimpered so I lifted him onto the sofa beside me. A fortnight ago I wasn’t able to do this alone.

Gather ye roses

Alfreda Claire Mansell (nee Whitlock)

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. She died in unusual and tragic circumstances – quite suddenly and far too early. It doesn’t really get easier with time. I feel sad every June 5th about the years she missed and the time I’ve spent not knowing her.

There are no photos of my mother at my wedding and there are no photos of her holding a grandchild. She left us as my sister and I were on the cusp of adulthood.

It’s a sharp reminder, (as if any of us needed one), of mortality.

Poem about my mum’s singing!

A June day sampler

A fourth horse has moved in. We went to visit them this morning and all seem happy with their new quarters. The foal is as delightful as all baby animals are.

Waiting for the shearer yesterday, organizing the sheep and then getting them back to the right field – it seemed to take up most of the afternoon. One of the donkeys, Honey, put her head over the fence and seemed amused by ovine antics. Especially those of the big boy, Gwilym, who was less than 100% engaged with the process. I’m hoping we find a use for three fleeces. It’s such a waste otherwise.

There’s slow, steady progress on the loo block in the first shipping container. This is turning out to be a huge undertaking, far more so than anticipated. Only the husband, and the one guy who lives on the farm with us, are working on it. Everyone else is furloughed or, in one case, abroad.

Next year, (how hard it is to imagine 2021 operations), guests using the Pole Barn won’t have to use portaloos or wander down the yard to use those at the Dairy. This project follows the usual pattern. We repurpose or upcycle as much as possible. We buy what materials we can locally, and then the rest arrives via Parcelforce, or Hermes, or any of the national carriers. Deliveries are slower than before.

The weather’s changed over the last few days. It’s cooler, cloudier and windier. Petals and blossom have been shed in the breeze, so the whole effect is wayward and unruly now. Not that anything was manicured before – far from it.

I’ve heard news that my niece’s zoom interview went well this morning, and that she has a second one next week – good news from over the border!

But here a single magpie almost flew into the office. I’ve inherited the superstitions of my female forebears, so I’ll need to find a second magpie soon…

What sort of urinals should we have

The temperature’s dropped. We’ve had some trifling, inconsequential rain – nothing that seems like it means business. The atmosphere’s still and heavy. Typically, for Saturday afternoon and evening, when my son-in-law will again be cooking wood-fired pizzas, more serious rain, and wind, is promised. The canopy will need to be repaired by then.

There’s been talk of how to set up the shearing tomorrow. What happens re social distancing? What if it rains?

The four fish have survived their house move, and, since nature abhors a vacuum, the kids have conjured up a toad. As a new resident for the former pond. I’m not yet sure if this is a real amphibian or a product of their imaginations.

I couldn’t sleep last night. My brain was racing. So many conflicting views of what’s actually the right way forward now; so much information but who to trust? So much feeling of impotence about the current US situation. And there, in the middle of the night, the quiet awareness that our spaniel is slowly fading. I drank a glass of water – (yes, it works!) – sat in the kitchen with the dog and let it all wash over me.

Earlier yesterday evening, after checking emails and posting my blog, I returned to the farmhouse kitchen. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘You’re back. What sort of urinals should we get?’

This is not my area of expertise, so that line of conversation was not going anywhere. But I listened, and I did learn a little. He’s made his choice, but along the route to a decision, it struck me what a balancing act design and construction is, with different costs, financial and environmental, for each option. A minefield, or a reed bed, of possibilities.

And so the project moves on.

Sunstroke and water

Around 200 hectares of damaged grassland and forest. The last time I checked the local news online, the fire was still burning. A hectare is just under two and a half acres, so this is insignificant set against Australia or Indonesia. But’s still horrible and it will have caused, and be causing, enormous harm to our wildlife.

Nellie has sunstroke and has to be kept in to recuperate. Her owner popped down the lane for a couple of bales of hay for her this morning. She and her mother, Bonnie, are Welsh cob x Shire horses. For the last few years, they’ve pulled our cart for the wedding couples who’ve opted for this mode of transport.

Investigation of the on-and-off water situation was ongoing today. The current thought is that the level is low but not critical. A pipe leak was found and repaired. So far so good.

The sheep have barely stirred today, except of course for their evening nuts. They’ve been immobile, hugging the shady edges of their paddock. Two days to shearing. I want to tell them – not long to wait – but they wouldn’t understand. I’ve had to cancel the spaniel’s coiffure appointment for later in June. Trisha, the lovely mobile dog groomer, has been allowed to resume her work, but with very strict guidelines. I’ve decided this new regime would be too traumatic for our old spaniel, so he’s going to stay unkempt.

On the phone to my sister this afternoon, we riffed on the endlessly entertaining topic of the state of our roots, and what we may or may not be doing about them anytime soon. Despite being more unlocked there, over the bridge, than we are here…there is still no salon excursion on the cards for her. Neither of us will be going purple.

Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ was written in 1961 when she was only 29. Its purple referred to clothes, not hair. In 1996, There was a BBC poll for the most popular post-war poem and ‘Warning’ won, beating Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. Jenny Joseph’s poem, (however dated some of the references seem today), has been a notable ode to nonconformity, especially female nonconformity, for almost sixty years.

We had a few wedding enquiries today, one from a woman who should have got married in Barcelona two days ago…so many personal disappointments and thwarted plans over the last ten weeks or so. I’ve been recalling the only two non-UK weddings I’ve been to – one in Northern Spain and one in Croatia. Both sunny and warm as you’d expect, but there was a fierce thunderstorm during the Croatian reception.

Rain, rain, rain. We’ve been promised a drop in temperature and light showers tomorrow. Fauna and flora – everything needs it.

Flaming June

The first day of Summer, though it feels so familiar. And there have been flames, a grassland and forest fire a couple of miles away, which started late yesterday. Driving to buy some garden plants this afternoon, from a small local nursery with an honesty box, we saw plumes of smoke. And a flash, as sunlight caught the moment a helicopter tipped its cache of water on the blaze. It’s just so dry. We came past scorched lawns and banks – very unlike West Wales.

It would have been my mother-in-law’s birthday today, an indomitable little Yorkshire woman. Tough exterior but a soft centre. I still miss her. In a rare moment of abandon, she slipped off her chair at my sister’s wedding. She blamed the upholstery rather than the bubbly.

Today is also my sister’s wedding anniversary, her 29th. She’s messaged me a picture of the table set before the celebration tea-party. Fizz, flutes, cakes, china and a tablecloth – very English country garden. The wedding was like that too – a small affair for about forty or so people. A Victorian church, top hats and tails for the key males. The bridesmaid wore Laura Ashley. There was much sunshine and it was all quite lovely. More charming and more understated than the traditional weddings of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ three years later.

It’s been a day or two of projects. My son has hung cargo netting – donated by a friend – between trees in the veggie garden, for the older ones to play on. It’s in an area of dappled light, not the full glare. Just what these fair-skinned girls need.

The husband has been making taps – copper ones – out of odds and ends, leftovers and gifted pieces. They’ve been drying outside in the sun post their anti-rust coat of oil. My one-and-only washing up bowl was deployed in the cooling process after soldering yesterday. I’d only just retrieved it, after it had been borrowed on Saturday as a temporary home for goldfish. They’ve been moved now from small pond to bigger pond. The eco pond clean solution has still not worked, so it was hard to find them this morning. But we did. All four.

This evening the new equine guests are moving onto our fields. I’ll visit them tomorrow.

Lady Lindy and why does he call you Eeyore

Previously, I mentioned Charles Lindbergh. No-one tried to repeat his solo transatlantic crossing for five years. And then, the someone who did attempt it in 1932, was a woman – Amelia Earhart. Just as Lindbergh had done, she set off on May 20th. In bad weather she was blown off-course but she did make it to Ireland. Not to Paris, but still across the Atlantic.

What I didn’t realise is that she was selected for the role. There were other potential female candidates, but she had the right look, the right image. She even resembled Charles Lindbergh, and the media often referred to her as ‘Lady Lindy’.

There are two monuments in South Carmarthenshire to Earhart. These mark her crossing in 1928 as a passenger, (and keeper of the flight log), in a seaplane called ‘Friendship’. The records in 1928 were for the first female crossing of the Atlantic, not solo and not as pilot. There’s some controversy about the landing place. When this is over, I’m going to visit both Pwll and Burry Port, the two contenders.

The wearing of two hats, or more, is common in this part of the UK. It’s necessary for survival, for making a living, to be versatile and multi-facetted. We have many strings to our proverbial bows. To an extent, this place attracts diversity and eclecticism.

The lady who works at most of our weddings as our bar manager, is a very talented ceramic artist. Her friend is a sculptor and a teller of jokes.

I know how they work, with the pay-off and punchline. Some can remember and deliver jokes with aplomb. I can’t. Or I’ve never really tried. Pretty sure it wouldn’t be my forte anyway.

Apple decided it knew better when I tried to send the husband a text the other morning. I was in still in bed, answering emails and messages, and writing a haiku. It was about 8.30 and he was already in the barn, doing something usefully DIYish. I was trying to ask ‘have you fed the Eeyores?’ but predictive text insisted I was enquiring ‘have you fed the retirees?’ You know – the ones we keep locked in the barn…

Later, after I had explained this example of smartphone interference, my listener started on one of those man-and-mate-went-into-pub stories. The landlord – to clip short a rather unruly shaggy dog – asked, ‘why does he call you Eeyore?’

Man at the bar replied, ‘ I dunno…’ee yoreways calls me that.’

It’s how you tell them really. You needed to be there.

But isn’t it strange how alien a man-going-into-pub anecdote sounds after all this time?

Stardom, Elvis and a dream

Another May wedding which still stands out for me was in 2012. We’ve not had many with themes, but this was a rock ’n roll wedding. The evening’s entertainment was a pocket Elvis, from Malta, via Coventry.

E. P., an encounter.

Darkness over these ripe Welsh meadows,
las vegas, fretted
by strings of fairy lights, solar, blue,
along May hedges, elder-greening,

by cigarette glow, (a rogue few),
by crackle and hiss of logs from the firepit –
where folks huddle warmed by blankets,
chat, whisky.

Well met by moonlight, proud incarnation,
thrusting the King’s torch, rocking ‘n rolling,
owning that suit, spritelike guest
at this night’s nuptuals, starblest,
incandescent, lighting up
the loin-lost gaze of his admirers,

who have seen a vision, divine
and otherworldly, (in fact from Malta),
shimmying gifts – lyric, liquidity
of hip, of lip, filling full his
luminous leathers.

Now, far from home, awaiting his team,
he shivers in built-up shoes –

Elvis takes his leave, cash, applause,
his black truck back,
not loving us tender yet still shaking
some chill, silvery spell,
as tail-lights reveal
sequins shed on bluebell, cow parsley
and nettle at the field gate,
our lane pitted with stardust.

This was earlier in a May that was sunny and warm, but not record-breaking. The bluebells have almost gone now, and the tall nettles are to be avoided. Rather than being new and just there as a reminder of my rather haphazard foraging. Cow parsley miraculously renews itself every night, (after being consumed voraciously the day before). Jasmine still intoxicates, but clematis has been replaced by dog and climbing roses. Hot reds and foxgloves are popping up, and lavender is a few days away.

In dreams last night I was saying goodbye to a friend who was off on a space voyage a few days later…as a tourist. Not as a solo passenger, but I think there were to be just six of them. My adventurous friend and I were drinking tea and eating cheesecake outside. Wherever we were, the spectre of C-19 still lurked behind the arras. There was talk of ‘social distancing’.

I think I’ll set myself the task of making a list of all the words and phrases I didn’t know, or need, or use, pre-lockdown. I’d like, if it’s possible,  to ban them from my post C-19 vocabulary.

Much to applaud

It was the last scheduled clap last night. There’s been little audible round here, but it’s hard to hear above the birdsong and we don’t have immediate neighbours beyond the tribe. Eight is also a little late for the smalls.

Still, they have painted a sheet with a cheery rainbow message, and it’s suspended from trees facing onto the lane. And there is more to appreciation than applause.

Today began with a call about a donkey escape. One of the cross-rails of their stable enclosure had broken, they’d limboed under it and were off. Happily alternating between chomping on grass quietly, and then, kicking up their heels in joyous come-and-get-me-if-you-can friskiness. They weren’t free-range for long. The lure of two buckets of donkey nuts proved too great, and the bar has been fixed.

Another successful fix is WATER. Late morning the water pressure dropped. We were all planting in the meadow above the polytunnels. We’d sown seed and grown a vast number of wildflower plants. It was time, past time really, to transplant them to the field. But the ground was hard and bone dry. Kids and adults alike were wilting in the heat.

And then the water stopped. The three year old diagnosed the problem as a ‘kink’ (his favourite word this morning) in the hose. Alas, this proved not to be so.

We aborted today’s attempt at meadow prettifying. Miraculously, around 4.30 this afternoon, the water was back on. The explanation? A pump 64 metres down in our bore hole had tripped.

Apparently, it’s the sunniest spring since records began in 1928. And although we’ve still got two days left, it could well be the driest May for 124 years. There are murmurings and warnings about drought…

Red kites and Blue Peter

I’ve been watching a red kite circling this afternoon. I can’t see it now but it’s not far away. There’s that distinctive cry. Back in 2012, when my sister was bottle-rearing the twin lambs, if she saw kites, she would, just to be safe, put Dave and Mildred into the guinea pig run.

We should be getting ready now for our dog show and family fun day. Last year was the first year and it was a huge success. A good turnout, great weather and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It felt very much like the summer fetes of my childhood. But with no rain.

Today is the third anniversary of the death of John Noakes. Watching Blue Peter, and receiving the latest Blue Peter annual as a gift every year, are clear childhood memories. 

Not getting my autograph book signed by John Noakes

I never had a Blue Peter badge,
not one. I wasn’t a joiner,
a taker- part. And as for Brownies,
though the plan was always to get
a raft of badges to buck up
the drab, ditch-water brown dress,
I didn’t. The pony-trekking trip
was also , it must be said, a flop.

Instead I sang, recited, read,
my head full of dreams and stories.

There was a fete once, some wet Berkshire
village green, Bradfield, Burghfield
or wherever, and he was there
with his dog. Was it Patch? What a thrill.

He was there as judge of pets,
art, fancy dress, cakes or carrots.
Or all of them. You know the drill.
And it poured. Relentless.

We sheltered, he and I, under
damp canvas, watching the drips
at the scout tent door, drinking
sweet weak tea, just willing it all
to end. Did I get the autograph?
No. But I stroked the dog instead.

Surely time for shearing

The sheep need a haircut. We’ve got three. They’re pets. The eldest, Blackberry, is a bit scraggy and scruffy now, quite frail with regular foot problems. She still likes being petted, enjoys eating, shouting and she is  indisputably the boss.

The highlight of their day is sheep nut time, early evening. Sheep nuts must be absolutely delicious, but, sadly, slugs like them too. Some huge slithery specimens have made it into the dustbin where the nuts are stored and have gorged themselves. We’ve swapped bins today for a newer one with a snug fitting lid. It might keep them out for a while but I’m not holding my breath. What we really need is hedgehogs!

Our first sheep was Dave. My sister, (who lives in Buckinghamshire), was given two orphan lambs to bottle feed. Mildred didn’t survive, however her brother thrived and became friendly and inquisitive. He soon outgrew my sister’s garden. When the farmer next door offered to take him back so that he could fulfil his ovine destiny, my sister and family baulked at the thought of Dave as lamb chops.

So, he came to us. Or rather, the husband collected him. A round trip of 416.4 miles.  208.2 miles of it were spent with Dave bleating on the back seat of the old Landrover, and in the driver’s left ear. Dave, not Dai or Dewi or Dafydd, was a noisy and nosy individual, who charmed both us and our visitors. Although, we hadn’t planned to have a pet sheep, when he died there was a woolly hole on our little farm which had to be plugged quickly.

We’re waiting to hear back from the shearer, hoping he can fit them in soon. It must be unbearable under all that wool.

The old lady herself, Blackberry

Friendship, flowers and heroism

It was the birthday of a very good friend of mine last week. We have decades of shared history and shared memories, children, dogs, holidays and celebrations. We have favourite books in common, and lines from books we both treasure – characters and quotes acting as shorthand for our friendship. Ordinary stuff and special stuff.

In many ways we’re very different – my friend is a practical soul, skilled at her craft, a DIYer, a knowledgeable gardener. She’s visited the Chelsea flower show many times as it falls around her birthday. Not this year though.

In terms of the non-earthly elements – water and air – she is also far braver than I am. She, and her characteristic common sense and helpfulness, featured in a few of my earlier poems.

May 21st, my friend’s birthday, was also the anniversary of the first solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 by plane by Charles Lindbergh. New York City to Paris. Non-stop. His flight was in response to a challenge set by a French-born New York hotel owner, Raymond Orteig. He offered 25,000 US dollars  to the first successful aviator. Lindbergh followed six aviators who had died in their attempt to make the crossing. His flight in ‘The Spirit of St Louis’ from Roosevelt Airfield, Long Island to Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris took 33 hours and 29 minutes. Lindbergh was twenty-five. He became a national hero and an international celebrity.

Agatha Christie based her story 1934 story ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ on the mysterious kidnap and murder of baby Charles Lindbergh, Jr two years before. In Christie’s tale, the sex of the unfortunate toddler is changed. Her name in the book is Daisy Armstrong.

Burgh Island in South Devon was a favourite bolthole and writing retreat for Christie. It is also the setting for two of her novels – ‘And then there were none’ and ‘Evil under the sun’. The main building on the island is a fantastic Art Deco hotel which we visited (the husband and I) the day after a Devon wedding in 2011. A trip to the Burgh Island Hotel was a long-held ambition, and the visit and lunch there did not disappoint.

In its blurb the hotel states that it’s been ‘welcoming famous and infamous guests since 1929’. Having been there once for a few hours, and soaked up a little of the very stylish, period ambience, the new ambition, for this neither famous nor infamous woman, is to stay there. Just once. Unlikely, but who knows?

From the delights of Art Deco, back down to earth with a bump. This is what’s happening regularly now with the spaniel. He’s falling. He can’t manage the steps between conservatory and kitchen. We’ve put up a ramp. It’s not helping.

the unsuccessful ramp

Devious cunning or a rare rant

Sometimes I am appalled by cats. So much carnage. Such cruelty.

It must have been a 3-kill morning. There are neat piles of indeterminate innards across the conservatory floor. Now of course, she, the culprit, is stretched out on a sofa, not a whisker out of place, catching the late best of the sun’s rays. Cats have no conscience or moral compass, but equally no subterfuge, no-self-justification, no bending of the rules, as she has none. She is what she is – a killing machine, but she’s our killing machine.

Dreams of trips to Durham and conspiracy theories. I spent a lot of time online yesterday, reading articles and signing a petition or two. The man has to go. I hope he will.

The first thought in my head this morning was that DC’s name, as well as that of Emily Maitlis, (and mine too), all have five syllables. Each one could form either the first or last line of a haiku.

Well done, Emily!
He’s made those who struggled to
keep the rules, feel fools.

Emily triumphs.
‘Deep national disquiet’
speaks for all of us.

Emily Maitlis
says it as it is. He takes
the country for fools.

Savage brilliance
from Emily. ‘Idiots’ –
that’s what the man thinks.

And an attempt at a tanka – why is a five line poem so much harder to write than one with three or six lines?

Gaslighting, I’m told,
is what politicians do,
changing black to white,
making false true, tales of pride,
a long car ride…no-one’s fooled.

Aunt Jane

My cousin Paul died of C-19 a month ago. His mother, Ruby Valerie Jane, my father’s older sister, was a favourite of mine. She was intelligent, rebellious, accomplished, a successful businesswoman and more than a little bit mysterious. Later in life, she painted, researched her mother’s family tree and was, apparently, a champion Scrabble player.

In her youth she was beautiful, an exotic-looking flower blooming in West Wales. There are conflicting family stories about her private life. I wrote this a few years ago about her and found it again recently. Some of it may be true. Or very nearly.

Aunt Jane

Guests at a wedding on a chilly March day, he stands behind her, leaning ever so slightly over her, head and shoulders and half a chest taller – a long, dark, solemn man with a lean-jawed face gazing at the photographer in the distance. No smile on his face but a hand, broad and bony, is resting on her shoulder, the spread of his fingers claiming  all and more of the space between the edge of the velvet collar and the seam at the top of her sleeve. Mine, he says, and aren’t I the lucky one?

The coat is fitted neatly to an obviously neat waist, fastened by a single oversized button. Dark shoes with rounded toes, their platform heels just visible. Gloved hands clutching the handle of a small bag: a hat set at a jaunty angle, perched on formal and elaborate curls. And her eyes are looking at nothing. Even from the distance of over half a century, they’re shiny, dark and unfathomable.

I know now that she married him soon after, that they emigrated to Australia  with her three almond-eyed children. Back home, he, her second husband, was seldom mentioned. She moved to Auckland, then back to Western Australia, was mentioned – the grown-ups whispered – in some scandal or other, and moved on again, this time shedding each one of my cousins in a different establishment – boarding school, art college, university – in different countries across the southern hemisphere.

When she returned, briefly, to the country of her birth, she had miraculously acquired money and respectability, along with an ampler girth and a lavender-coloured chignon. This was when I came to know and love her. Aunt Jane’s conversation oozed humour, a certain worldly, pragmatic wisdom, and common-sense. She was a small, powerful woman who was not to be trifled with!