Soundtracks and a guilty secret

Ennio Morricone, conductor, composer and trumpet-player, died yesterday. Amongst a long career of achievements he wrote the scores to over 400 films and TV productions. Westerns were a particularly successful genre for him. Many of his film scores are classics, (including those he wrote for Sergio Leone and Giuseppe Tornatore). They’ve been absorbed into our popular culture for over 60 years.

The husband is a man of endless resourcefulness, a combination of optimism and problem-solving ability. Recently, I have found myself in a virtual world of ebullient, noisy plumbers. Weekday lunches often have a soundtrack of YouTube tutorials, jolly chaps teaching all sorts of skills not normally on my radar.

We both had one very disturbed night over the weekend. He was fretting over some technical issue and had to get up to draw his way out of the glitch. He then stayed up, wide-awake, to watch a film. Probably involving guns and all things macho. Upstairs, I kept hearing a single plaintive ‘mew’, one note of anguished cat. It lacked Miss Baxter’s range, her ascending scale and volume. The sound occurred every ten minutes or so. I searched the house for an injured animal. Turns out it was a branch, scraping in the wind against a bedroom window, which made those feline-imitating calls of distress.

My current guilty pleasure is wandering through animal rescue websites. I had to stop myself from clicking ‘reserve me’ next to the image and description of a delinquent, anti-social goat. One bossy sheep, Gwilym, is quite enough.

I wrote a haiku or three yesterday…

Define spaniel?
Committed to living life
with limitless joy.

Your brother could have
had webbed feet. Instead, you ran
joyful – till you stopped.

Just an afterthought.
The cute pup chosen: how could
we leave you behind?

A hard act to follow? For now, I need to keep resisting the lure of unfriendly goats.

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.

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.

Too hot to trot, or the blackbirds bathe

I’ve put two eco pond-clean sachets in the trough in the conservatory wall. Sadly, all is still green, gloom and murk. Not in any way fish-ready. Hoping for a miracle I checked again earlier and disturbed Mr and Mrs Blackbird, who were cooling off and enjoying their private ablutions. I’m not sure who was more startled.

The husband is walking the boundaries with someone who may be renting three fields to graze her horses on. It’s been over six months since the last ones moved away.

He called to the old spaniel, who was dozing on the quarry tiled kitchen floor, to see if he too would like to inspect the hedges. Enthusiasm – zero. It reminded me of a poem I wrote in a May when we had both spaniels, and they were young and full of energy. But still capable, very occasionally, of being underwhelmed and lacking in enthusiasm. That poem, ‘Against the grain’ was read on Radio 4 in an Ulster accent – surprising to me, but effective. The only time I’ve had one of my poems chosen to be included on ‘Poetry Please’ and a great honour.

Update. We will soon have three new four-legged guests. Their owner pronounced their new residence to be ‘lovely fields’. But we knew that already.

Pelargoniums and a teddy named Baby

Turns out my son had rescued it. It was on one of the sites where he and his team are building a bike track. They rescued the bedraggled teddy and put it into a digger cab as a mascot. A scruffy mascot which had seen better days. When the site was closed (due to the virus), the bear came back here with all the heavy machinery. It moved from floor to pallet to wall to floor again, too dirty and threadbare to have a small human owner.

At some point in the last week, the elderly spaniel picked up the bear and claimed it, the first toy he’s been near in over ten years. ‘Baby’ now goes with him everywhere, sleeping, dozing, waking. Sometimes we have to take it away from his mouth in order to coax him to eat something. There is smelly comfort there and it’s touching to watch. But, with or without Baby, we are very conscious that the dog is not doing well.

Today was a mostly office-bound day, the furlough payroll again, then moving accommodation bookings made before the lockdown extension to later in the summer, this winter and next spring. These may be the final adjustments, or we may need to change bookings again. No one knows.

I expected to greet today with some clarity and with a plan for the next couple of months, but I didn’t. The feeling of wading through lumpy porridge persisted until late afternoon when we went out. The destination was a bench at the front of a bungalow up the lane. There a nimble 90-year-old is selling pink and white pelargoniums. I was given one of these by my daughter-in-law last week. I bought three more for the conservatory.

The wind has dropped now and it’s going to be a warm evening. Spaniel is fast asleep with his Baby.   

Spaniel and Baby
Spaniel and Baby

World is crazier and more of it

Last night, when I went outside to clap – in my case, pan lid percussion – it sounded like I was clapping into silence. If there was applause down in the village, it was swallowed up by the damp air before it reached here.

Captain Tom, now promoted to Colonel, was one hundred yesterday. Amongst all the greetings, honours, cards and gifts, there was a flypast his home – a spitfire and a hurricane I think. No birthdays here, but, late morning, a large grey metal bird flew low over the farmhouse, the vegetable garden, the fields. It must have been on a training exercise of some sort, and seemed oddly out of place .

May Day’s almost over. No maypole. No morris dancing. No bonfire. The lane’s been even quieter today, a winter Sunday afternoon kind of stillness. We walked through the woods and wet fields this afternoon with the arthritic spaniel, the first time in three days. He had seemed too uncomfortable to take out before so we’d just let him rest, chill out. Three days is a long growing time at the moment. Grass, brambles, wild flowers, everything has put on a huge spurt. The May is only just starting to blossom. Dandelions are becoming clocks, but daisies and bluebells are co-existing happily. In the garden we have cornflowers and Canterbury bells, and all the things we don’t want as well.

The news confuses and disturbs me. We all need our symbols, our emblems of hope, our Captain Toms. Perhaps tomorrow, when we eat pizza, it may feel like the beginning of Summer.

A day of separate parts

A haiku is a form of poem, originally from Japan. It has three lines, with seventeen syllables, in a 5-7-5 pattern, and is meant to be read in one breath. Traditionally, haiku poetry drew from the natural world, or abstract concepts, for its subject matter and the haiku poet focussed on a brief instant in time, or sudden observation. There were other rules too, but I think that’s the basic idea. A modern haiku does not necessarily keep to the form.

 I’ve been trying to write a haiku or two today.

Crazed bumblebee, he
hurls himself at glass, at last
the open window.

Deathwish bumblebee
flings himself at glass;
at last, a window.

You get my drift. Enough already about glass and windows.


One of my cousins was cremated in Scotland this morning. I’ve always felt, but rarely articulated it, that the end of life deserves a proper fanfare. A summing up and a sending off. These sorts of goodbye gatherings aren’t possible right now. I’ve been trying to write a haiku or four today.

9.30 today
a cremation; no mourners –
a life extinguished.

No funeral so
sixty seconds of silence;
respect for a life.

Just sixty seconds,
leave me these to sit silent
one minute, one life.

Socially distanced
mourning; one minute’s silence –
separate respects .


This afternoon the sky is darkening. Rain is promised and the air feels heavy. I’ve chatted to an old friend in Cardiff; we’ve done a little gardening, a little paperwork and now the arthritic spaniel is fast asleep in the office next to us. It’s a day of disjointed moments, conflicting emotions…but yes, the bumblebee did escape unscathed.

Bravery reveals itself variously

My dreams have been peopled with sideshow freaks, circus acts, feats of wild bravery, shrieks and gasps, but right now, the big top has gone and it’s a grey Saturday morning. There are new sounds – distant, homogenised creature noises, and small, purposeful rustlings beside me.

Something is being constructed out of an A4 sheet of paper. Is it a plane, boat, bird – duck or swan? Is it origami practice or a rehearsal for the world napkin-folding championships, (to be held, of course, online)? I can’t guess. Turns out it’s a template for a little piece of lead needed to complete a window repair. This morning’s project, up on scaffolding.

Sweet peas are potted on. The companionless spaniel is cajoled to walk the fields just with us, his brother gone. And another bold act unfolds, live on my phone, as a cousin’s wife in the West Country shaves her head – a glorious red bob – raising money for the NHS. Heroism everywhere.

Like a duck to water

You almost didn’t make it, just out of view
of the humans who sat, chatting, downing
cups of tea, amused by a clowning puddle of pups,
tussling and tumbling on new Spring grass.
You scrambled up a ramshackle pile of bricks,
stacked against a plastic butt, and somehow must
have toppled in.

Alarmed by sounds of splashing, we found you
doggie-paddling in blissful unschooled circles, ears
dipping, skimming then skirting the murky surface.
You learned fast – this first watery mishap
transformed into a story, your story –
the discovery of the aqueous element
you made your own.

Adventures in, on, across, through water
populate our memories of you. Your chest built
for swimming, ears spread wide, steady, bubbly breathing:
your pelt liquified. Sometimes we’d panic, light failing,
scanning the horizon or bank, and no dog visible.
Would you get washed away, tire and drown
or simply carry on,

forget to turn, your easy strokes pulling you
out into the Irish Sea,
the sunset,