Sunday, January 25, 2015

I am woman, hear me roar.

February is on the horizon and OK, a few comfortable days away yet. But we all know what February means don't we?  Yep, it's YFC entertainments competition time again.

'Please, please, please,'  I think,  'give it a miss this year guys.' But no. The call comes and we're foregathered in the village hall with 16 pages of script, an enthusiastic Dorothy and a cast who'll turn up when they can, lambing permitted.

They're having a stab at the Wizard of Oz. An abridged version I think - although as I have never seen the original this may be it. It's certainly enough for me. There is talk of further cuts but I think losing the Lion, Tin Man or Scarecrow is probably a cut too far.

The girls who have turned up demonstrate girly commitment, ooze fluency - and multitask. (The Witch of the South turns up late, knows most of her lines and can find, instantly, the ones she doesn't in a crumpled un-highlighted script. At the same time she does a bit of college course work while sitting cross legged on a village hall chair, files spread out in a muddle on the floor around her. I am impressed.) Meanwhile the lads have none of this sang froid. They stumble over words, punctuate mid phrase, re-phrase, whisper and waffle. They hide behind bravado and banter. Sigh. We, the directors, despair.

This afternoon I read for 'Lion' who has gone fishing somewhere. The script calls for some 'rrrrrrrraghs' and some 'grrrrrrrrhs', a throaty expectorating 'hack' and some camp whimpering from the cowardly critter. All of which I managed, surprising myself and the cast. I am that Lion. Thank goodness I'm way too old to be in the cast. I would not want this to be my stage debut.

Horrid feeling that somewhere in the room somebody had the iPhone on record.....this may be how I will be remembered. Grrrrrrrrh.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Telford. Be warned.

I wrote this earlier, parked up in Telford; a town which could never be described as the jewel in Shropshire's crown. I'd delivered the Glam Ass to the Wrekin Community Clinic for his second cataract op. (Full marks to the NHS here - left and right done in rapid succession with no time to blink so to speak.) It's sited quite sensibly on a business park in Telford but as most of Telford seems to be a business park, or leastways look like one, that's hardly surprising.

The Clinic is the kind of place which enjoys a good sign. There is sign overload - you know the sort of thing: 'Do this'. 'Do that.' 'Wait here.' 'Press button for automatic door.' 'Beware of automatic door.' And the explicit sign below.  They hope you will be sitting comfortably. You have been warned.

But oh dear. Telford. Who was I kidding when I thought that it all might be so much better than on my previous visit 2 months ago?  Christmas 'tat' had been replaced by regular 'tat', and 'Stuff'. Tawdry, ephemeral, unlovely Stuff in a building with all the charm of a public lavatory.

Built from the 1960s onwards the newly created Telford swallowed up a number of small towns and villages, ran a motorway through them, linked everything with roundabouts and built housing. Out with the old, in with the new! From memory there's a rather splendid Town Park too - with a Japanese-style garden with flowering cherries and pergolas - a nod to the Japanese companies who came and established themselves on the new business parks.

A spanking new shopping centre was built. Undercover and surrounded by car parking, all the fun of the high street without the blight of the weather. Perhaps in its day it really was worth a visit.

I managed about 40 minutes of window shopping before the pointlessness of it all sent me scurrying for the exit and back to the car - parked in the curiously named 'Ash Grey' car park. I negotiated the dual carriageways, roundabouts, roadworks and diversions, and back to the Clinic to sit huddled in the car there stabbing at the iPad's keyboard. But in my own space and not a Primark, Build-a-Bear Workshop, Superdrug, 99p Store! or Debenhams in sight. Hurrah for that.

Finally, another of those signs. Nobody likes a crabby toilet do they?



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Plus ça change

Here I am introducing the birds to my new wellies, a very timely Christmas gift.  I think we're all a little surprised at just how bright they are in the cruel light of day. Nothing that a few outings in some good Welsh mud won't cure...

And, no, I've not been standing here for 12 months entertaining poultry with a variety of wellingtons. Really I've not. Though goodness knows, it sometimes feels like it .


Yep, those birds and I are still up here on the hill and they're laying remarkably well considering they're entering their second year of producing nearly an egg a day - each.

So I still trudge up here two or three times a day; it's not really a chore although when hunkered down in front of the log burner, not a prospect to relish. But boots, scarf, hat, coat and gloves on - or 'rugged up' as they say round here - and one's ready for all weathers.

This was my view of the small mountain kingdom this morning - long shadows, a sky of cerulean blue and snow tinged, from goodness knows where, with rosy light. We kept the snow for most of the day too - it melted quickly in the valleys - but eventually the temperature rose slowly. Now we have rain and wind and mud underfoot again.

So this morning up on the field, I stand and stare, feed bucket in hand, as I do come rain or shine, at dawn, at dusk or under the stars. It's is no bad thing; a moment to breathe and take stock before going back to the world and the wicked ways of its people.

The wind is now roaring outside. There's a newsletter to write then I too shall go to roost. In a few short hours the day will start over. Same old, same old.




Monday, January 12, 2015

Plough Monday

...Not there's much evidence of the traditional Plough Monday traditions in these parts - and nor has there been in the past I suspect - although I would very much like to be proved wrong. The start of the agricultural year may be marked with frolics and mumming elsewhere but here we have the now traditional drumming of incessant and torrential rain on the roof and the squelch of wellies in mud.

What's a girl to do when faced with a drear grey day but turn to another January pursuit; the bringing of sunshine into the home in the form of marmalade. Sevilles are back in the shops again, fresh and fragrant, ripe for conversion but oh so bitter that a dab of juice makes one wince. (Think eating a wasp. )

Well, it seemed like a good idea but the reality was rather time consuming. Squeeze, remove pith and seeds. Shred. I glanced at the clock - that's 2 hours of my life I won't see again.  Add sugar and boil. Furiously.  Trial spoonfuls are placed on cool saucers to find if that elusive 'setting' point is reached. Suddenly and before I expect it my finger is pushing a wrinkle across a cooling spoonful. We're there. I've made it. I pot. Job done.


I'd bought 3 kilos which seemed a good idea at the time but actually is twice as much as the jam pan can handle at any one time. Tomorrow I will be stirring my cauldron again for batch no.2. Hopefully there will be another 9 jars, sufficient to see us through this year and maybe next.

Every surface has an annoying tacky coating despite my very best endeavours with a damp cloth. The sink is piled with sticky bits of kit but the air is sweet with oranges and sugar. Heavenly.

Now just add toast.





Thursday, February 06, 2014

The obligatory 'incessant rain' post

Sigh.

Wellies on. Coat on. Hat on. Squelch up the field. Trudge through the mud, each step squeezes out water beneath my boots. Even up here on the top of our low mountain the land is saturated. In theory every drop that has fallen is making its way down to our neighbouring valleys, where having nowhere else to go, it forms puddles, pools and lakes. I know I shouldn't complain - after all there are others actually under water and far worse off - not merely pee'd off by day after day of grey skies and rain.

But I am irked. Even the irritating 'Pollyanna-ish' side of me is failing to remain chipper.  Perhaps I should follow my hens' example.

The new hens, perhaps overjoyed at having avoided their fate in 'enriched cages' in a battery house, have taken to life on this blustery hillside with enthusiasm. They're not whingeing about rain and wind - no - they're out there clucking and scratting, having a lovely time; their mission to convert the grassy pen to a mud patch nearly complete. It's surprising how much damage 34 small feet can wreak.
Here they are enjoying their afternoon corn and below trying to peck the word 'Dunlop' off my boots. I know, bird brained or what?

I think I can confidently say they are happy hens. They are laying well - certainly more than the Glam Ass and I can eat so I shall have to start an egg marketing campaign. Fresh free range eggs any one?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

As we were - waiting for the cave to open.

This seems like a bit of innocent fun - I've cribbed the idea from Rachel, who in turn was inspired by Jane.

Absolutely no science whatsoever in deciding which photo to choose - grab an album and open at random.

Et voila! Here we are, my boys and I in France, somewhere near Cahor. When? I'm guessing about 25 years ago. Note that we are the personification of Cowards oft quoted lines 'Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun....' The temperature is stifling; we do not have the sense to find a shady spot but fry on this handy bench. Not only are we overheated we are also bored stiff.
We are waiting for the cave to open. Having fetched up in the heat of the day when the 'cave guide' has gone for his long French dejeuner there is nothing else to do but sit it out. And sit, and sit.

Eventually, his lunch consumed and in the nick of time, because those boys' boredom levels were approaching critical, our man returned. We paid our francs and he unlocked the grille which was the door which led down into the cave's hidden depths.

Ah, there is a welcome drop in temperature almost as soon as we enter. We follow our guide, grabbing crude handrails to prevent a fall on the sloping uneven path. The strong sunlight does not penetrate this far, soon we are in darkness. The guide's torch flickers and bobs and eventually flashes onto a wall to pick out the outline of beasts and the stenciled prints of mens' hands. We are privileged to be an arm's length from the art of pre-historic man in this place of magic and mystery. Was the shiver that went through my bones merely the drop in temperature or the wonder of these iconic images? For me, as ever, there are more questions than answers: why here? why in the depths of this rocky place? And the sheer practicalities of taking flame and pigments somewhere so inaccessible - if it's difficult now, what must it have been like then?

For me, utterly memorable. I'm not sure now if anything as undesirable as the public are allowed in such close proximity to such irreplaceable art works so treasure that visit. My boys? Now men they do remember sitting on the bench - though I do wonder if they have more recall of seeing the photograph than the experience.

We emerged from the cave - back out into the heat of a French afternoon, cicadas clicking and the scent of tinder dry scrub. Back into the 20th century and for the lads a splash around in the swimming pool and probably a barbecue supper. Just one of many French holidays - but the only one with pre-historic bison.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

The quilt is coming along nicely, thank you

Lord knows, I should surely know by now, I am not cut out for this; this Doing Things Properly.

I like the ideas - the BIG ideas - great schemes - the broad sweep. Somebody else can take care of the process and the fine detail. I like spontaneity, the notion of doing and the end product. Just don't bore me with the in between.

I know this. It's always been this way; even as a small child I would suggest making - oh, let's say some pretty cup cakes (except back in the day I expect they were called fairy cakes) - to my cooking-orientated mother. 'Very good' she'd say approvingly, no doubt hoping for a chip off the old block. (Fat chance.) 'Wash your hands, put on a pinny, get your nice Good Housekeeping cook book and turn to page 64 - we'll make Rock Cakes. Now what does the recipe say?' 

That's how to kill fun stone dead...and I'd slope off to watch Saturday afternoon wrestling or climb a tree. I'd wanted to get to the cooked bit where the icing was on, they were on a plate and ready to be admired and eaten. Forget the elbow grease and the science of why cakes rise - or in the case of Rock Cakes, don't.

What sparked this minor rant is the making of a quilt. By way of explanation: In October I  hitched a ride on the local Art Club's outing to the excellent Jen Jones' Welsh Quilt Centre  in Lampeter, which this year hosted an exhibition of quilts by Kaffe Fassett. Fassett's use of colour in his knitwear and textiles is well documented and this exhibition was a bold exemplar of the master's art. The centre occupies the old Town Hall in the middle of Lampeter - as big an open space as one could wish for - but what a prefect space to hang quilts. Fassett's bold coloured patterns were juxtaposed with old Welsh whole cloth quilts which encircled the room.  Compare and contrast as the old examination papers used to say. Both fabulous and utterly inspiring. Yep. That's me. Inspired. So -  I. Will. Make. A. Quilt.


It happens that, next door to the Quilt Centre, is Calico Kate - purveyor of Fabric, Haberdashery and Yarn and which drew me in like iron filings to a magnet.

In a rush of enthusiasm I bought fabric. Glorious fabric in jewel-like colours which brought sunshine into the very many gloomy days of late autumn. It will make a fantastic quilt - my mind's eye has it spread on a bed somewhere already.

Well, having got the fabric I'd better do something with it. (The temptation to just put it one side and stroke it occasionally is great.) A cutting mat and rotary cutter were ordered.  I then did a great deal of cutting out.  Hmm. Now I had the same amount of fabric but all cut into otherwise unusable little squares. To save the guilt trip getting any worse I really had to start sewing them together rather than letting them languish at the bottom of a box somewhere. The sewing process was a bit like a production line - just keep going, same old, same old, until all the bits - or most of the bits - were joined together. Can't say I really enjoyed it but the sight of all the blocks together was satisfying. The idea was kind of working.

Christmas got in the way and the stack of 24 blocks sat to one side saying - if blocks could actually say - 'Well, are you going to sew me up or not?' And really now there's no excuse not to.






















So I'm sitting here doing a bit more sewing together - joining blocks into bigger blocks. I'm trying my very best to Do It Properly because while I may rush at things like a bull at gate I do like craftsmanship and seams will be straight and neat and pressed. Wonky will not do.

I've now got six big squares - which I will link together with a dark 'sashing' (I think that's the word) before finally making the quilt sandwich with wadding and backing and actually quilting and binding.

See what I mean? what a time consuming business this Doing Things Properly is?

You know, in my head I've moved on and there are two or three other projects brewing already.

Friday, January 10, 2014

London. Time out

A night at the opera

We treat ourselves to seats at the Royal Opera House; good ones, in the balcony. We treat ourselves to a glass of chilled Sauvignon and a plate of smoked salmon sandwiches too, which we savour in the Floral Hall while watching the audience gather before taking their seats. It's a fairly smart crowd - everyone does seem to have Made an Effort - although a night at the opera is no longer the dressy occasion that it was once perhaps. But no matter - it does feel rather special to be here and were I slightly less weary I would be doing a discreet 'happy dance'.

Once in our seats, the orchestra tunes up, the lights dim - and there is applause as the conductor takes his place. Then comes the overture - and this being Carmen I am transported to the heat and light of Spain. This is Carmen on a grand scale - huge cast, huge set and internationally renowned voices.  I wish I were more knowledgeable regarding the technicalities  of singing and music. (I'm fairly undiscriminating - it has to be pretty bad for me not to enjoy it.) I've read mixed reviews but as some of the main roles here are shared by a number of singers on different nights it's a bit of pot luck who one actually ends up hearing given that tickets/travel/hotels/kennels/hen-sitters must align and be booked so far in advance. Our thoughts were that the singing was a little lack lustre in places (we later learn why) but the tumultuous applause at the end indicates that was not the case. Roberto Alagna (Don José), we learn, was singing with a chest cold and it was something of a miracle that he managed to sing to the end at all.

A great evening of utter bliss which flies by. However, it seems one can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl. There's a donkey - look there's a donkey! On stage. Little spindly legs and panniers. Bless. As good as gold. Then our torero Escamillo comes on, on horseback. Magnificent. And somewhere too, amongst the crowd who gather in the square, part of the whole but only a bit player is a woman with a basket of hens. She carries one under her arm too. I wonder how on earth said hens have been persuaded to stay put - are they tied in? stuck down? It appears not because one is having a fine time scrattling and pecking at the straw which lines the basket. I know for certain that my hens would have fled squawking to the 'Gods' even before the conductor lifted his baton. I'm thinking about this 4 days later and still don't know the answer.

Food. 

Food glorious food...and too much of it. But hey, we were on our holidays. A meal at Ottolengi's Nopi in Soho with the eyechild. Good food and good company. Good honest ingredients, layers of flavours. Things I would not have the time or temperament to try at home. The humble and often maligned rice pudding soared to new heights and even the Glam Ass (who must have been put off rice pud sometime before 1950) came back for more.

If you are able, book a table. (Doggerel, sorry)

A fairly humble lunch at La Fromagerie off Marylebone High Street was a pleasure. Simple foods; bread, cheese and meat and well made coffee. Then an tempting away of cheeses to buy...perhaps we can store them on the hotel's windowsill for a couple of days. Yes, we'll do that.

We explored Borough Market and sighed over the delights on offer there. Such choice - we sadly never see that like in Welshpool and even a trip to Ludlow fails to offer that variety. I picture tomatoes just because the colours were so good on a grey day....and did we have some grey days? Yep. Far too many.

Finally to Jamie's Italian at Canary Wharf where we met up with my brother and his wife. Great fun. Good scoff. We should do it more often. Interesting that in one of the world's biggest money districts and sitting in the shadow of Barclays tower, the chip and pin machine was down and to pay the bill we had to resort to old technology - a rickety machine which takes an impression of your card.

I always feel like I'm in a sci-fi novel when I'm in Canary Wharf - always on the q.v. for one of those little flying space age cars from the Jetsons. Didn't spot any. Shame. Perhaps next time.



An 'ord.

We visited the Museum of London for a look at the Cheapside Hoard - London's lost jewels from the 16th and 17th century, discovered under a cellar floor by workmen in 1912.

Apparently this was an age when, were you wealthy enough, you wore jewellery aplenty as portraits from the period testify. All rather dainty, chains and filigree work; many rubies, pearls and semi precious stones too. 

This image is from the Museum of London's website:


A wonderful thing to find in the course of a day's work - a gleam of gold and then treasure. The finders, workmen, took it the following day to a pawnbroker who notified the authorities and who was instructed to buy the men out. I wonder if, in the meantime one or two pieces weren't kept as momentoes. The temptation must have been great.

...and talking of treasure 

....or rather treasures. We stayed once again in a hotel at the side of the British Museum, home to things precious, large and small. The BM must be one of my very favourite places. Anywhere. Ever.

I lay in bed and thought that if I were a super-hero I could, with a small leap and a bound from my window be across the road and into room 65 and amongst artefacts from ancient Sudan, Egypt and Nubia. So tantalisingly near. It occurs that if I did actually have super-powers then my super-vision would probably let me spy out hoards and treasure anyway, anywhere.  There was only time for a short visit but how good to know it is there for next time, for free and open to all.

Then home by train, in the sunshine at last. How still it is here on the top of our low mountain, hardly a man-made sound. The new hens have started to lay in our absence - perhaps a sign that the days are gradually lengthening. I must just go up to their pen and do a few auditions. It may be that some of them would like a career in opera.

Friday, January 03, 2014

In which we mean business


 

After a brief détente hostilities have recommenced with the moles of Trelystan.

As Moriarty is to Holmes, or Tom to Jerry, so Mr Diggory Diggory Delvet is to the Glam Ass - a lawn excavating foe of the first water. War is declared.

Moles hills are appearing once again on our back lawn which has only just recovered from the last invasion.  It's a fairly neat little patch but hardly a bowling green - frankly it's probably not worth worrying about - but the GA must see it as some sort of challenge. I can't say he hasn't tried.






Brutal looking traps have been set by gloved hands in the correct runs. Lethal pellets have been carefully placed and watered to release their toxic gas. A buzzing battery powered gadget shudders periodically.  The hunting dog occasionally presents us with a well licked corpse. (We speculate these may well have been caught by next door's cat anyway.)

All this to no avail. Hills continue to rise.

It's time to bring on the big guns; the Michael Bublé greetings card.

Open the card and Michael wishes Mum a very Happy Christmas...potentially over and over again, ad infinitum. How irritating is that?

I'm hoping that when the little recorded gizmo is removed from the card and slipped into a mole run the moles will be as alarmed as I was and run for the hills as fast as their stumpy little legs can carry them.

Worth a try I think. Any better ideas gratefully received.



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At the year's turning

Hardly light; grey all around;  sky meets land, moistly. Another swathe of rain rolls in and the dark conifers of Badnage wood are obscured by mist again. How very weary this old year is looking.

I sit at my desk and think of new beginnings - it is New Year's Eve after all - a day for reflection before moving on. I don't experience synesthesia - seeing numbers and days as colours and shapes - except at this time of the year. These end days of December, Christmas baubles aside, are dank dark shapes, cobwebbed and drear, which, come the stroke of midnight become January, sparkling and luminescent. Today is a spent match but tomorrow a fresh white sheet. However, I can't console myself with the thought that in a few hours time the small mountain kingdom will be sun-washed, green and lush. No, we have a few more months of mud and slush to come yet methinks. Sigh.

It's not that that this has been a bad year by any means. Same old, same old, perhaps - and none the worse for that. It's been busy, and quiet in equal part. A few pictures follow - only one of which could really be described as a highlight.















Snow in April, unforgivably late but breathtakingly beautiful.

The landscape is reduced to simple grey shapes. This piece of hillside - unspectacular otherwise has graceful zen-like beauty under its blanket of snow.








But then things do come good - after an unpromising start the sun shone and shone - here on a bank of daisies outside our garden room.


Wilderness in miniature and certainly somewhere for the hunting dog Chester to consider elusive voles











Our garden was fruitful - we like to think this was the best crop of figs in Trelystan.



The sun shone and the grass grew - as did our thistles. Happiness is a man on a tractor. The Glam. Ass. spent a morning 'topping'.  The b*ggers grew back, but that's thistles for you.


October saw a wedding - or rather The Wedding. Our son Harry married Sam and we gained the loveliest daughter-in-law. We wish them every happiness.








My ageing flock of poultry was culled and my daily excuse to stand on the field and look around me open-mouthed at the wonder of it all was no more. I had just got my head round having 2 birds at the bottom of the garden (sooo easy!) when an offer too good to refuse was made. Would I like some more? Point of lay? You bet. Thus another 15 birds are installed in the hen-house on wheels up on the field.

My daily round begins again - I stand and watch the sky and listen to the sough of the wind through Badnage wood. I hear the roar of the stream in the dingle on its way down to the Rea Valley, to the Severn, and onwards to the sea. My water going to the waves. I speculate that this same water will return as rain, brewed by the ocean's currents. Such is the circle of life.

Those twinkly lights are home; warm and welcoming. Old year, new year, this is indeed a good place to be.

My very best wishes to any passing reader. May 2014 bring peace, health and happiness.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Yellow

This post is brought to you courtesy of the colour yellow.  We have plenty of yellow at present - daffodils in variety, marsh marigolds, tulips, primroses and early cowslips...... 


It's just as well. There's not much else - our landscape remains resolutely drab. Buds are loathe to burst and the grass won't grow (much to the chagrin of our farming friends who have cattle still in their winter quarters and diminishing reserves of feed). No blossom either; our fruit trees are bare. It's hard to remain upbeat in the face of this dreariness and I find myself repeating the mantra 'Spring will come. Spring will come' and at the same time regretting reading John Christopher's post-apocalyptic 'The World in Winter'.

So today I focused on the colour we have got - yellow in all its hot, cold, acid, lemon, golden or creamy glory. 

There are strident yellows - Caltha palustris has formed bright clumps around the edge of the pond. I notice there is plenty of frog spawn too.
Plenty of daffodils - these two are rather brash and not really what we had in mind for down the dingle.

Strange because we originally planted only natives - Narcissus obvalaris, pretty and delicate little things.  These 'garden' varieties appeared and now seem to be increasing. The result of mutation perhaps or hybridisation? The good news is that the little natives are increasing too and I hope they will hold their own against their thuggish relatives.

This little flower on the right isn't a primrose and neither is it a cowslip - a bit of a mongrel. It's very pretty and I wish there were more.

Primroses in abundance too - the Glam Ass's planting programme can be deemed a success. What's there not to like about these creamy little flowers? I think as children we used to suck the nectar from the flower heads...though they may have been cowslips. Tomorrow I will go and do a taste test....

A splash of colour's very welcome isn't it?

...and Swallows!

I think it is safe to say that our swallows have returned. I saw them first on Saturday 20th - I guess the ones that I spotted earlier in the week were just passing though, resting on the last leg of their long journey.

At least a pair are swooping in and out of the field shelter - checking if last year's nests are still OK perhaps.

Welcome home. How good it is to have them back.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Naivety. My own and more painterly stuff.

There's nothing I like better than exploring unknown territory - unless that is it's exploring unknown territory when someone else is driving.

So today was my lucky day - I hopped on Chirbury Art Club's bus to Compton Verney where the group were going to see, amongst other things, the exhibition '500 years of Italian Art'. The venue ticked a lot of boxes; attractive surroundings, non-scary Art in bite-sized pieces, coffee, cake and the company of friends.

I must admit that Compton Verney was not exactly unknown to me - having grown up nearby in mid-Warwickshire's bucolic landscape. However, I never visited as a child - it was not then a gallery or a destination and my parents were more than dismissive about the elegant but shabby stately home we passed occasionally en route to buy groceries or on one of those dreary Sunday afternoon drives which passed for entertainment in the early sixties.

My first thoughts as the little bus and its chattering cargo pulled into the car park, was regret that I hadn't appreciated previously that such a lovely place was on my doorstep. A finely-proportioned building of creamy Cotswold stone set in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown for heaven's sake! But then, would an 8 year old really have been bothered and later I suppose ... let's just say other stuff seemed more important. I feel vaguely foolish that as an adult in charge of my own life. I've never been this way before. Sigh. (One day I will make as list of things my parents said which would have been better left unheeded.)  Still, I'm here now and anticipating great delights....

The collections are fine, of high quality and not overwhelming - Neapolitan Art, Northern European paintings, British Portraiture, a Chinese collection and joy of joys - British Folk Art.

The visiting exhibition '500 years of Italian Art', on loan from Glasgow had us admiring a Boticelli, Titian and Belinni amongst other worthy pieces. At the end of our visit when D and I closed the door on the final gallery we'd succumbed to 'Art Fatigue'.

 'It's all a bit of a blur' admitted D 'I seem to have been looking at one fat baby after another....'

And yes, I know exactly what she meant - in the many religious works there were plenty of chubby children - not just the infant Christ but 'putti' too.

The Folk Art Collection came as quite a relief after rooms of more serious Art, having a guileless charm of its own. Here are depictions of everyday-life by self-taught painters; the prize ram or heifer, pugilists, street scenes, landscapes with carriage accidents and wild bulls; the largest or smallest; the drama of the day. The Fine Art of the chattering classes might be the art of galleries and high places but this is art by the people, for the people. This wonderful collection was amassed by the late art dealer Andras Kalman and exhibited here at Compton Verney courtesy of the Peter Moores Foundation.


Perspective and scale are frequently awry, anatomy suspect and distorted. It doesn't matter - these are confident pieces and great social statements.








It seemed that having a dog in your picture was almost a prerequisite. Once a couple had caught my eye I couldn't help spotting more. So instead of a plethora of putti, I give you plenty of pups:
































......and for cat lovers this gorgeous tortoiseshell:













Isn't she just the loveliest thing?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The cruelest month.

April. Cruel? Damned right it is. 












 Long Mountain. Friday 12th April.
 

This year at least, Eliot's opening lines to 'The Waste Land' seem hugely optimistic:
'April is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering 
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 
A little life with dried tubers.'
Lilacs stirring? No way. Nothing. Dream on. True, a few of those 'dried tubers' have come to life, daffodils and crocii, somehow forcing themselves through frost and snow. How powerful those shoots must be to break through the iron-hard soil and into the light. Such is the urge to grow.

There are very few other signs of spring up here on the top of our low mountain.  I estimate we are perhaps a month behind previous years, even taking into account that more than once in previous years a late fall of snow or frost has shaken us out of our complacency and literally 'nipped things in the bud.'  Robert Frost observed April's ways in 'Two Tramps in Mud Time:
'The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March'
If I look carefully - very carefully - I do believe I can see buds on the big trees in the dingle. There's a new denseness about their branches, a fullness that I swear was not there a couple of days ago.  Then I swivel my head and see drifts of snow, lying in the hedge-bottoms, if not in the garden then near enough to remind me that we've a way to go yet. Sigh.

It would be too easy to sink into gloom and pessimism on seeing winter's dull days stretch into a long-awaited spring so I'll snatch any small joys while I can.



















































Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Blog on a G String

Come February and our thoughts turn the YFC Drama Competition at Whitchurch.

It's always a stressful time, especially the build-up to the performance when the cast's lack of urgency,  inability to learn their lines or turn up in any numbers to rehearsals leads to much wailing and many sleepless nights on behalf of the directors. The likelihood of the performance being a disaster is more than a possibility - it's a probablity.

However, miraculously it never is. The Club pulls out all the stops and while 'triumph' would be an exaggeration, once again, they do well. We breathe again.

Come March it's time to put the show on at home in the Village Hall - except this year due to the way that Easter has fallen we're a little late and they will be on stage this Saturday. By now of course, any urgency the cast mustered for the County Competition has evaporated and lines have been forgotten and there isn't even the spur of The Dance Afterwards as encouragement. We feel the stress levels begin to rise once again....

Chirbury and Marton entered the One+ Competiton - rather than produce a full-blown drama they have a 6 minute spot on stage in which no more than 10 of them can perform anything of their choosing. They chose to do a take on the popular 'Mrs Brown's Boys'. What else could they call it but 'Farmer Brown's Boys'?

Well, a cast of 10 with a witty one-liner each made for about 5 minutes of script. Blink and you've missed it. For Whitchurch that met the criteria but on home ground we needed to put more to it - which is where we, the 'Advisory', got together, sharpened our pencils and got creative.

Where to start? Well 'knickers' always gets a laugh. Or a smirk. Or a snigger. So 'knickers it was. Our production could start with Mrs Farmer Brown going through the laundry.

And so it came to pass that props were needed. 

Big Knickers were no problem and three pairs in most fetching pink, lilac and cream (size 6OS) were bought from Tuffin's Pound Store. Bargain. But the thong - the G String - was another matter. Thongs are seemingly unavailable in rural south Shropshire. I was beginning to think that I'd have to get the sewing machine and a few scraps of ribbon out when as a last resort I tried an outfitters in Bishop's Castle.

I call it an outfitters because it's a store stacked with items of clothing and footwear of every description for every sort of person and purpose - and if you don't fancy ready made there is wool so you can knit-your-own. There's a veritable mountain of shoes and boots and a cobbler's workshop - complete with hoary old cobbler - at the back.

I made a bee-line for the underwear department. It was fairly comprehensive, again most tastes apart from the truly outrageous were catered for - but sadly there were no thongs or G Strings on view. I'd have to ask. At this point I rather hoped that there was someone else apart from the old cobbler working there.

Indeed there was. "Do you have any thongs...G strings?" I asked.

She looked at me blankly.

"Erm, those uncomfortable knickers that erm...you know, erm, string up the back."  I continued, hoping to avoid the words 'crack of bum'  "They're not for me - they're for the Young Farmers Drama."

The penny dropped. "Cheese-cutters!" she exclaimed and led me to the last 3 pairs in Shropshire, adding that somewhere in the store there were more. Plenty in fact because they weren't a good seller. (Well, no I can see that they wouldn't go well in this temple of comfort-based clothing.) 1 pair was sufficient. I could have them for a £1. Bargain...though obviously not as much a bargain as the 3 giant size pairs bought previously.

Cheese-cutters then. Ah! The importance of language. If only I'd known the local terminology I could have saved myself a lot of searching.

P.S. If you're passing they'll be on stage in Marton Village Hall on Saturday evening around 8.30pm.
There will also be cheese, wine and puddings. While I can't promise a slick and polished performance (although there are still 3 days to go and I live in hope) I feel fairly certain that it will be, as ever, a good night out. All welcome.