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 And now stillness has been replaced by wind moaning as it circles the farmhouse.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.

Losing things and finding Jane again

Jane Austen is a regular preoccupation. Though not a complete Janiac, quotes and phrases from her novels do pop into my head quite regularly. And soothingly.

It is a truth probably universally acknowledged that a new sock and its mate will soon be parted. I recently received a thank you email from my brother-in-law for a pair of merino walking socks which we sent as a birthday offering. Unexciting, predictable but extremely postable. And he walks a lot, even more so since lockdown. My sister made the sock suggestion and we knew that merino wool would be appreciated. Unlike the husband, my brother-in-law’s also the kind of guy who doesn’t lose things.

With me, there’s a constant loss of pens, not socks. All guests arriving on the farm, whether to stay or to eat, have C-19 contact forms to fill in. Just before a Saturday pizza afternoon/evening,( the first at which guests were going to be able to eat their pizzas outside if they wanted to), the pen shortage had escalated into a mini-crisis. Orla lent me 10 of her store of writing implements, fully believing that she would be able to reclaim them. I’m afraid to say that only 7 remained at the end of the evening.

Early in lockdown I bought three or four packs of pens and stashed them in a top drawer in the farm office. I naively commented to my daughter – ‘that’ll keep us nicely stocked up for the summer’. All have gone without a trace.

A small delivery of wine arrived about two weeks ago (the first since February). With it came a rather smart pen bearing the logo of the local West Wales wine business. I claimed the pen as mine – not for sharing, not for folks to borrow. Of course it’s vanished too.

The last three weeks have been hard, exhausting in fact. Once the donks are in bed, the sheep are fed and we have eaten I have no energy left, especially mental energy. Talking to friends, blogging, reading – all are temporarily on hold. The pendulum has swung too far the other way, but it is as must be for now.

I return to Jane Austen…the other evening, I collapsed happily in front of the concoction that is ‘Becoming Jane’. I’d seen it before, probably twice. But it had a watchable cast and sufficient wit to sustain me until bedtime.

Boxes – cupcakes and pizzas

Saturday May 2nd. We should have been hosting a fortieth birthday party in the Barn today – one of the many recent casualties. In the afternoon the birthday boy delivered two boxes of assorted cupcakes, four in each, for us all to share. We spoke through the open conservatory windows about how he was spending his lockdown birthday, and how he’d planned to spend it. We were touched by his lovely gesture.

The cupcake boxes were made of lightweight smooth card with a kind of rainbow band around each. We’d just been folding pizza boxes – a brief contribution to the takeaway evening – the second such event since mid-March. Making up boxes is a soothing, repetitive activity, as was also the planting of potatoes later in the afternoon.

Each potato planting pot comprised two tyres filled with earth. We put them against the fence, beyond the end of the farmyard, between the donkey stable and the double decker bus. Orla, our helper, gave each potato a name as it was placed into its ready-made hole. This was a much overdue task and a lot of the potatoes had started to look like human heads with faces and hair. Some we called ‘mad scientists’. One in particular bore more than a passing resemblance to Groucho Marx.

A close friend’s daughter has encouraged her to learn to knit. My friend’s been following an online tutorial and can now do both plain and purl stitches. She’s finding it to be relaxing, almost meditative. And of course it helps to pass the time. The multi-coloured scarf she’s knitting could prove to be a record-breaker, as she’s not yet learned how to cast off.

Sweet serendipity, a kind of medicine

It was my daughter’s birthday on Thursday. Her daytime festivities comprised a walk and a picnic. In late afternoon we all came together to drink tea and squash and sing ‘Happy Birthday’. All eleven of us fellow inmates gathered on what we call the terrace, but which is actually a west-facing paved area between the former slurry pit, (aka the walled garden), and a converted farm building, (now biomass boiler shed number one).

As is customary at these events, lockdown or no, there was something sweet to put the candles in. But instead of cake, my daughter had chosen to celebrate with Bakewell tart. The two Bakewell tarts made for the occasion were indeed baked well. They were things of beauty and truly delicious. Those of you familiar with the above-mentioned English delicacy will know that there is an essential jammy layer.

One of Thursday’s tarts contained orange jam; the other – red jam. We naturally enquired what flavours they were. ‘Fridge jam’ was the reply. They had been made from surplus, from odds-and-ends of fruit, plus, naturally, sugar. And, because they were only designed for family consumption, there was no labelling – no list of allergens or ingredients. ‘Lucky dip’ jam was the name my mother used to give her equivalent creations. Small glass jars of serendipity, providing all of us with the perfect sticky excuse to try at least one slice from each tart.


In the previous post I mentioned a convalescence watching movies on TV with my father. Here is the poem based on my memory of those times – ‘Medicine bears’.