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.

Art, artists and a competition

The headlines have been proclaiming it’s back to school in Wales. This is an over-statement. The eldest small went back to school yesterday morning for three hours. Six children took up the invitation to return. They have two more Monday mornings in this very different school setting and then, it’s the end of term.

In Orla’s absence, her younger sister watched the husband working through a small box of things-to-be-fixed. Mostly bits of jewellery. I’ve always loved jewellery, generally vintage or handmade by a craftsperson. Often with little financial value. But, to my eyes, pretty. Some things were not repairable or had missing hooks or clasps. My talented sister silversmiths. I know that’s a tongue-twister but am not sure if it’s a verb. Amazingly, a little package arrived from Buckinghamshire this morning with some spare parts. Thank you, sis!

Jewellery components from my sister

 Years ago, a local painter was running workshops in our Old Dairy. Presumably she had more than enough fish at home as she started populating our little tank-cum-trough, (aka pond 1) with fish. She did this gradually and by stealth. When we had five new aquatic residents, I mentioned this strange occurrence to her. Her face gave her away. Five became four a while back. We’ve noticed that one of the survivors doesn’t seem to be thriving. While we became custodians of goldfish by accident, not design, I don’t like to see any creature ail on my watch.

An entry just popped into the letterbox. We’ve been running an art competition for children here to draw or paint something from the last three months of lockdown. The idea is to use elements from their pictures to create a mural. This would then decorate a rather ugly wall in the farmyard.

The dull, the drab and the dreary has seemed dominant for the last few days. Any bright flower emerging is cause for celebration!

The hole is plugged. Glass now exists where it was formerly absent. It’s less draughty. However, when asked if the job was finished, his response was slightly shifty. ‘More or less,’ he said, ‘but don’t open the window yet.’

While sweeping up shavings and splinters of wood and other evidence of the recent activity, I came across clouds of soft fine dark hair. This was from Sunday afternoon, a socially distanced visit by a chocolate lab called Millie. Her humans came too.

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!

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.

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

An infection

My sister seems to have the bug. Two cousins are also showing signs. If I were to get in touch with my sister-in-law right now, I’m pretty sure she too would be afflicted by it.

It’s the family history bug, and my sister has it bad. She has moved on from the well-trodden paths, the more illustrious connections, to the lesser known and more obscure. For the first time, our mother’s side of the family is being explored as well. My sister has joined family history societies and taken out subscriptions to genealogy websites. The work of delving, sifting, note-taking and cross-referencing has begun in earnest.

It’s easy now to get started. So much is available online. My sister is trawling through parish registers of marriages, baptisms and deaths, obituaries in local papers, contracts, leases, legal documents of all kinds. All handwritten of course. Yes, it’s easy to get started, but it requires tenacity and an eye for detail to make progress. Hundreds of clues are there to be found. Unlike a treasure hunt though, they lead not to one big horde, but to a myriad of little prizes.

In the last couple of weeks of detective work, nothing too gruesome has been uncovered. But there are unsolved mysteries. There are also so many personal tragedies: an abandoned child, children dying young, mothers dying young too, children being brought up not by parents but by other family members. Why did A leave Monmouthshire for Pembrokeshire? Why did B leave London for Leicester? We may never know. There are brief glimpses of lives abridged by disease, childbirth or war.

Red herrings pop up to confuse the unwary – duplicate names in one family branch, a mistake with a second Christian name or confusion over spellings. Maybe it’s simply an acceptance of multiple versions of the same name. Sometimes a trail, once hot, peters out into a decline in circumstances…poverty, illiteracy and just not somehow mattering enough to leave much of a written mark.

My interest is in the human stories – the past of our ancestors, recorded at a few key moments. While our present is constrained and our future is uncertain, trying to discover some of our past feels meaningful and achievable. So I too am infected with this enthusiasm.