Rural Remembrances

Rural Remembrances

Today marks the day that I will write my last daily diary entry – there will no doubt be many more through the coming weeks but not one each day. I have promised at least one a week but realistically I will probably write rather more than the one. I have got into a routine and it will seem odd to not be writing each day, and besides in some ways I probably won’t be able to help myself and therefore if you are a regular reader you can look forward to several pieces in the future.

Today dawned bright and sunny but as the day has progressed the sky has become rather more overcast. There is a strong gusty wind at times that has kept the temperature down a little. My meeting this morning has now finished and I have returned home for a late lunch before starting this diary entry.

As I drove down the lane to the main road I was surprised to see how the various crops had grown. Of course I shouldn’t have been surprised because several months have passed since I last drove along this particular road. In one field there is what appears to be a fine crop of peas. The vines are dotted with lily white flowers like random polka dots on a sheet of jade green. It reminded me that my peas – the first row anyway – are coming to an end now and need to be picked clean before I remove the plants. The second row are coming up but are sporadic in their germination and are not promising anything like a reasonable crop. The roads were much more populated with cars and vans etc and appeared to be well on their way back to the traffic quantity that I remember from pre lockdown. I, of course, was contributing to this.

I have finished my book on darkness and the night sky and the others I have ordered have not yet arrived. In vain I have searched high and low for my copy of “A Month in the Country”, finding in my search that I have two copies of several books, not least “The Go-Between”. Eventually my eyes alighted on a copy of “Hodge and His Masters” by Richard Jefferies. A remember buying it some while ago and dipping into it but never actually reading it. Jefferies wrote this particular work in 1880 and he gives the reader a clear and detailed picture of the rural environment and its occupants at that time. I have read a little and it has taken me back to that time in a rural community – much like the one that my grandfathers and great grandfathers lived in. In one section Jefferies talks about the attitudes of the farming community to money and work, and the relationship between them. More especially he talks about the saving of small amounts of money and the husbanding of these people’s resources. Those who were careful and reasonably frugal and careful could amass a modicum of wealth that they could pass on to their heirs. It reminded me of a saying of my mother’s – she was discussing a particular family where the head of that family had died and her opinion of his heir was a little less than flattering. She maintained that in terms of generations and the acquiring or otherwise of wealth, it was always one generation who made it, the next that used it and the third that lost it. Bearing in mind that in our families, and in many others as well in that region of Sussex, the wealth acquired/earnt by one generation was traditionally divided among the children of the next generation rather than going to a single heir there is much sense in her saying. In the case of my paternal family I have copies of Wills that go back several generations to my three times great grandfather and his death 1847. In each successive Will the property and money is divided up among the surviving children- not necessarily, and in most cases, not in equal shares. Not surprisingly daughters did not have the same proportion as sons. There is, however a discernible ‘fairness’ about the distribution. Some of these heirs used their legacies wisely and created more wealth for their heirs, whilst others died in penury. In one case the wife of the legatee, when widowed, was described as a pauper who was living on the parish. Her brother in law, living in the same village, ran two public houses, a builder’s business and was a farmer. Likewise at least one of his sons was able to leave to his heirs a reasonable legacy and in his case he never differentiated between his sons and daughters. He was in a unique position, perhaps, because his wife was, by all accounts, a lovely woman but one who was far more liberal in her thinking than many of her generation. It was said that, although she was born in 1856 and therefore very much a Victorian, she would never countenance the spanking of a child under any circumstances. In photographs she looks a gentle, kindly soul, and this is borne out in the remembrances of her that were recounted by my father and his brother.

My picture today is of a favourite part of the marsh, just down the lane from my house.

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Darkness Covered the Land

Darkness Covered the Land

I would like to maintain that I was out in the garden first thing this morning – well it was first thing for me but certainly not for those who normally work the land. It was about nine o’clock. There had been a lovely expansive cornflower blue sky edged by fluffy, cotton wool clouds of the purest snow flake white. Potential for a beautiful summer day, but very much at variance with the weather forecast as I had read it in the newspaper. They had suggested that we were in for rain, thunder and several types of tempest by all accounts. No sign of that. I wanted to finish the weeding and plant out the tulip bulbs in the cleared area. Equipped with various tools and my trusty kneeler I managed to rid the border of the remaining weeds and plant the tulips. I love the look of tulips surrounded by forget-me-nots and therefore I sprinkled some seeds around in the hope that next spring that area will look a little like those perfect gardens one sees in magazines and on the TV. Job done I turned my attention to dead heading the roses and removing a few errant brambles that had tried in vain to disguise themselves as roses. The sun was hot on my back but gradually the brightness faded and a darkness began to creep imperceptibly across the fields. There was a feeling of dampness in the air but no actual spatters of rain. Dark menacing clouds the colour of old pewter had rolled across the hills and were, as I watched, gathering pace as they crossed the darkened fields of wheat. The colour that had shone in the sunlight – a golden and blue/green sheen as far as the eye could see – had now become a darker shade while the trees and hills in the distance were an intimidating deep forest gloominess that edged and enclosed the marsh land. It was going to rain. Tools were hastily put away, the telephone that I had left on the garden table was returned indoors, and the weeds and rubbish were cleared away. The clouds got darker, like an all encompassing oppressive quilt that was pressing down on the land. Then, just as I was convinced it would rain with a vengeance the clouds lightened and the sun shone. The darkness gradually dissipated and the blue sky returned. 

My gardening was finished for the time being. Yesterday I had picked another bunch of sweet peas, a few remaining raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants and tied up the tomato plants. The fruit, what little there is of it will be used to make a pudding for us both that has gone done very well with himself. I stew up the mixed fruit and then put it the bottom of ramekin and add a sponge topping, bake in the oven until golden. Tasty, and with mostly fruit and only a small amount of sponge, I like to think it is nutritious and good for us. I had a quick look at my Twitter this morning and was somewhat overwhelmed by the messages about the diary. Thank you. It is now raining and the sky is that really boring and bland overcast uniform grey. A nothing day. 

In speaking to my neighbour today I was reminded of my father’s accident proneness. Particularly in the summer – I expect he was tired more than anything – he often sustained injuries in the course of his daily work on the farm. There is no doubt that the potential for injury is ever present in a farming environment and back in the 1960s Health and Safety was not top of the agenda, more it was considered that accidents were a part of normal everyday life. Well they were in our house as far as Dad was concerned. There were a few fairly spectacular occurrences. One in which he cut his hand very badly on some implement. I had not long before passed my driving test and was at home (my mother was at work) when he shouted as he came into the kitchen. When I appeared he was clutching his wrist and his hand was dripping with blood. Heading for the sink he ran cold water over his hand, tipped neat Dettol on the cut, grabbed some torn up strips of clean sheet from the cupboard and told me to drive him to A&E – it was called Casualty then. When we reached there he was greeted as though he had a season ticket! They clearly had seen him more than once before. He needed stitches and they suggested that he should have a local anaesthetic – he rejected the suggestion, saying he would hold his wrist so that the hand did not shake and they should get on with stitching it. Once stitched and dressed we headed home and he headed back to work. My mother used to maintain that if she found blood in the kitchen sink she would follow any trail to see of my father was on the end of it. The torn up sheets were kept in a kitchen cupboard for just such an eventuality. His hands always bore the brunt of his injuries and in old age they were gnarled and scared, with broken nails that would never mend and arthritic knuckles, knobbly and lumpy, that must have been painful to move. 

While I was in the garden today I spent a while listening and watching the birds. A flock of sparrows flew in from the wheat field to alight in the holly tree, a robin hopped out from under the bushes close to the patio. He scurried about among the fallen rose petals and then as quickly as he appeared he hopped back into the undergrowth. The pigeons were cooing in the trees at the top of the garden and the resident seagulls were sat on the chimney screeching occasionally and casting their eyes across the landscape. The magpies have been conspicuous by their absence in recent days I am pleased to say. 

As I have mentioned before I am slightly obsessed by the statistics that appear on my WordPress site each day. Everyday the site records the number of ‘views’ I get that day. It was, and is, a mystery to me why on some days these numbers were quite high while on others they are considerable in number. I think I may have found he answer. It all depends on the title of the diary entry I think. 

This presents me with a dilemma – how do I dream up a title each day that will appeal to readers? I have no idea really. 

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The Boy and the Horse

The Boy and the Horse

Today is July 1st. I began this daily diary way back in March, a week before the official lockdown came into place. If my calculations are correct I have written one hundred and six entries, including today’s, and each of those has contained approximately 750 words. Occasionally I gave gone completely rogue and written twice as much. I am grateful for all my readers who stayed with me throughout this ‘marathon’. Each entry has referenced the weather and today will be no exception.
The day began for me when I looked out of my bedroom window on to the leafy trees at the bottom of the garden. The leaves were a sharp, acid, vivid green, contrasting with the cornflower sky. The start of a lovely summer day perhaps. Within a very short while the colour had leached from the foliage and the blue had turned to a mountain of dirty grey cloud, threatening summer showers. Only the tiniest slivers of faded denim blue peeped through the dense steel, as quickly as they appeared they were gone, and the blanket of dullness lay spread across the land. It hasn’t rained yet but is still threatening to do so. I am not sure if it is my imagination but the weather seems to have affected my mood rather more than usual throughout this pandemic. Perhaps, it is just a matter of having a heightened awareness because other matters are no longer of much consequence.

I often see very evocative photographs on Twitter, particularly ones that show the countryside, the weather or what might be described as historic pictures. Just such a couple of pictures appeared earlier this week. One shows a young man loading milk churns on a platform ready to be collected by the Milk Marketing Board lorry. I described a similar thing in a previous piece when I was writing about one of my grandfathers and I was hugely pleased to see this picture. It was taken quite a few years after the time when my grandfather would have been doing the same thing every day, but nevertheless what the young man is doing has changed not a jot. The second photograph shows a small boy holding the rein of a working horse as it is being shod by a blacksmith/farrier in what appears to be a village forge. The child is dwarfed by the surroundings and the horse. The picture was posted by the Museum of Rural Life and I thank them so much for it because it sparked a memory for me and because it is a charming image of a slower, quieter life that is long gone.

The memory that it caused me to recall was a remembrance of my father’s that he recounted to me one day apropos of nothing in particular. I presume it just popped into his mind, perhaps triggered by something I said or something he noticed. On the family farm there were working horses when he was a young boy in the very early 1930s. At the age of seven or eight he was tasked with walking two of these large animals to the next village to get them shod at the local smithy. I can remember the forge in that village – we lived about a couple of miles away from it when I was a child. The smith at that time was a Mr Farley I think. I can’t remember his first name although that what was he was invariably known by in normal, everyday conversation. When my father was a boy it might well have been this man’s father for such jobs and trades were often passed down from father to son. My father’s route, with the two majestic horses, took him past the hop garden, the oast of a neighbour, cottages that lined the lane and up the slight hill to the cross roads. Crossing to the main road that linked the two villages he walked on past the Rose and Crown, heading for the corner and the village church, that stood set back from the road, before ascending a slight hill to the forge at the bottom, on the edge of the village. The church had been our parish church when we lived in this village and it has always had a kind of forbidding feel for me. Not for any logical reason – it is no different in many ways from any other village church in Sussex. Surrounded by the churchyard it stands at the end of longish path that begins at a lychgate. My feeling of uneasiness comes from way back in my childhood. My mother felt that I should attend Sunday school – taken to the church I was sent along the path and handed over to the Sunday school teacher. I have no recall of this person or the events of my time at the church. All I can recall is an abject terror of the table top tombs that lined the path. I was convinced that as I walked past those incarcerated within would some how reach out and grab me and haul me in with them and I would never ever see my home and family again. So great was my terror that I was never sent to Sunday school again. My mother’s pronouncement on this and other manifestations of my imagination was invariably “half your trouble is that you have got too much imagination”. I never found out what the other half of my trouble was! She may well have been right about my imagination – I still suffer, some would say, from the same fault/condition. I still feel uneasy when walking past large table top tombs. Ridiculous I know.
Back to my father and the horses. He was given careful instructions by his father as to how he should lead the horses and what he should do if any traffic approached, as well as being told the correct procedure when he reached the forge. Once the horses were both shod he lead them back to the farm. This was not considered unusual or extraordinary – it was just what he was told to do. I pictured, and still do, a smallish child walking with these huge, very strong beasts, placid though they may have been, along the country lanes. The picture I saw yesterday is of a much smaller child but the effect is the same.
With thanks to The Museum of Rural Life I have taken the liberty of posting a copy here.

Darkness and Moonlight

Darkness and Moonlight

A rather unpleasant day outside today. Damp with showers of persistent drizzle, a cold sharp breeze and a uniform dull blanket of grey stretching from horizon to horizon. All in all a day for staying indoors. That is exactly what I shall be doing – the meeting I was due to attend, outside, has been rescheduled for Friday so the day is my own.

Last night I was reading “under the Stars” by Matt Gaw. While it is indeed about the wonder of the star lit sky in all its manifestations it is also about man’s relationship with the heavens and the darkness as well as the light. The section on his experience in darkness – a deep all encompassing darkness – and his discussion of his reactions to darkness and night time as a child reminded me of my childhood fears. I can vividly remember being very frightened of the darkness of the countryside night time when there was no moon light to illuminate my bedroom. I was convinced, as are so many children probably, that there were malevolent beings secreted under the bed or in the wardrobe. Such beings were invisible in the day time and could hide themselves in the darkness of night. My paranoia was such that my mother provided a night light. Not the sort we might have today – a low wattage bulb but a tiny candle in a glass holder. A real old fashioned nightlight. I still have the square glass containers that were used. The light was dull and flickered in the draught of an old farm house bedroom, but it provided enough light for me to be able to see my immediate surroundings and more especially my hand in front of my face. Nothing could approach closely but that I would see it. As a result of this early experience, perhaps, I now can see reasonably well in the dark and am quite happy to walk down a lane that is unlit except for the twinkle of house lights in the distance. My rationale is that in the main there is nothing in the countryside to harm me. The corollary of this is that I am most discomforted by street lit roads in urban areas. These, to me, hold a certain kind of unexplainable menace that requires me to be extra alert and be constantly looking behind me and listening intently for any alien or possibly threatening sounds. I am jumpy and nervous whereas in the unlit lanes I am relaxed and at ease. My especial pleasure, at night, is to see the moon. It has a certain magic that has been in no way dimmed by the fact that man has landed on the moon. None of the mystique has been erased by that event. If I could I would sleep each and every night, especially the moonlit ones, with the curtains drawn back so that the slivered moon light bathed the room, so that I could see the moon from my bed. Why don’t I? Because himself cannot sleep when the room is in any way light. I satisfy my longing to see the moon by spending a little time each night staring at it through the window or if it is warm leaning out of the bedroom window to wonder at it in all of its manifestations at different times of the year.

My ambition, not yet realised and perhaps it never will be, is to sleep in the conservatory, looking up through the glassy roof at the moon. Himself thinks this is little short of a weird madness, and one that is not to be indulged. The moon light, as it spreads its mantle across the marsh, renders the land a darkened green. Subtlety shaded, with the wheat moving in undulating waves of darkness and silvery sheen. The sound of a fox or owl as it goes about its nocturnal business along with the whispering of the reeds and the rustling of the leaves is all that breaks the silence.

My most abiding memory of a moonlit night is the night of my father’s death. He died at home and I was rung in the very early hours and I drove across the marsh in the most perfect full moon lit night. My journey was laid out before me as silver a 403A8F90-C1D2-428C-88EC-E7E0351C34DDbright track that led me across the flat lands, through the wide expanse of darkened fields and sleeping cottages. Past the ancient churches that stood hunkered down deep in the landscape, past the places where he had shorn sheep, past the fields where he had “lookered” as a young man, across the land where he had watched the Battle of Britain play out above his head. All moonlit and magical as he had left us.

Enough of this maudlin stuff. He would have had no time for it. As I have been writing there has been no brightening of the weather and it is destined to be a dull day I fear. I am rather grateful however that I am not sitting in a damp wind swept garden near the sea. Clearly not a gardening day. Investigation of shower trays, enclosures and showers calls I fear. Perhaps too a call to the kitchen people – maybe that needs putting back on track. Conservatories need researching – goodness knows where I should start there – so many providers and no idea who is good who is bad. What should it made of – wood or plastic? Wood needs painting and maintaining, but would plastic look right on an old house? Same design or something different? Same size or go the whole hog and make it bigger? It would be so much easier to just put up with the leaks! Then there is the question of furnishing it. Yes I do have furniture in it at the moment but do I want to change it? Who knows – I don’t! Is this the new normal? I think I liked the lockdown!

Time to Say a Sort of Goodbye

Time to say a sort of goodbye.

Today is a day of contrasts in some ways, weather wise. There is a stiff breeze but it is not cold, there is intermittent sunshine but there is also cloud cover that threatens a shower. Yesterday afternoon I spent some considerable time on the sweetpeas – they had begun to get out of hand and had plenty of flowers that needed picking, tendrils that needed removing and they dearly needed tying in to their supports. It is a fiddly task and fairly time consuming too. I was rewarded with a lovely bunch of flowers – some stems with four blooms to a stem. An achievement. The stems are long and straight – also things to be desired. The dahlias have started to bloom – I always buy cheap assorted tubers and it is then a surprise when they bloom. Those that have appeared to date are rather lovely and with quite large flowers. A rose that we were given as a gift has bloomed with a beautiful white flower that is highly scented. All of the plants look healthy and appear grateful for the rain that we have had recently – it has certainly aided growth and flowering. 

The lavender that grows beneath the front windows of the house is alive with bees, buzzing and busy as they move from flower to flower. So quick are they that it proved impossible for me to get any pictures of them. The Waitrose delivery that arrived last evening was uneventful in every way. 

I am mindful that now we are entering a period of what has been dubbed the “new” normal, all of our lives are heading for outside activities, and as we take up our former responsibilities and interests it is time for me to stop writing the daily diary. I intend to continue with the blog of course and for those of you who have become interested in my pieces I shall continue to post at least one piece a week – which at the moment I intend to be based around the garden and the countryside. In addition I shall write from time to time on my other interests and may embark on new projects. I will continue to use Twitter to alert my wider readership to any additions to the blog site. It may also be time for me to take up, again, the poetry writing that I have found so difficult during the lockdown isolation. I shall, also, post pictures from time to time and shall continue with the monthly photograph diary that I started a couple of months ago. The cessation of the daily diary will begin at the end of this week – I shall write daily entries up to, and including, Friday of this week. A very big thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read my diary throughout the lockdown period – I am very grateful for all of your support and encouragement whether it be Re Tweets and Likes on Twitter, or your comments to me via email or other means, or just the fact that you have read the pieces from time to time.  In what has been a very difficult time for all of us I have been encouraged, humbled, and so very grateful to know there are people, in many different places around the world, who have taken the time to sit and read my ramblings, to say nothing of a loyal readership who have chosen to have each day’s diary appear in their email Inbox. I am truly grateful to you all – you have made it a little easier for this rural writer to get through the days and weeks of isolation. Thank you.  

Enough of this. Tomorrow I am to attend a socially distanced meeting in garden. Will it remain dry? Will it be cold enough for a jacket or warm cardigan? Should I take a rain coat? All questions that are spinning around in my head. The question of what to wear looms  more persistently than the topics for discussion at the meeting. It has been many weeks and months since I have had to consider my appearance, particularly in terms of clothes to wear. I have shambled about in tee shirts, polo shirts, jeans and leggings – never once glancing at any garment that could be remotely construed as smart wear. Now I suppose I must. I can’t really be seen in a public domain wearing a polo shirt with a tear in it and a stain on the back can I? Jeans that are way past their best and leggings that aren’t even flattering where they touch are not suitable, nor is the wider world ready for such a sight I would guess. The smarter stuff will have to be exhumed from the depths of the wardrobe. I don’t really, if I am honest, look forward to the prospect. I don’t really look forward to going out again in to the wider world beyond the confines of the village either. Have I become some strange, witch like, recluse living in a remote location among the fields of the marsh? Maybe. I have no desire to return to going to the shops – internet shopping suits me fine. The odd meal or cup of coffee out still appeals depending upon the company involved, I am obliged to attend meetings etc for those organisations of which I am a member, and  I would love to meet up with friends and family for a really good chat and a convivial time, but beyond that I am quite happy to pursue a “new” normal that does not involve contact with random strangers. 

That being said we have had to address the question of the shower that will only deliver cold water. A builder has been contacted and will come and give an estimate for a replacement shower and whilst that is being done we have decided to go the whole hog and replace the shower tray and enclosure and probably the flooring. Yes I know that means the house will be invaded by workmen, but there is no other way forward. The kitchen upgrade was put on hold when lockdown occurred and that too is now to be revived – the man coming to do the bathroom estimate is also going to be asked to do one for the kitchen. The conservatory is fine in the summer, although rather too hot, but in the spring, autumn and winter it is just a matter of which bit of the roof will leak. Weirdly, even when it rains in the summer, we never get any leaks. It is well past its sell by date so to speak and a more modern structure that could be used all year round ,and more importantly, is leak free would be most welcome. Another project that will involve an invasion of builders! Added to all of these the garage up and over door is on its last legs – a replacement is very much over due. Therefore my time will be taken up with builders, I suspect, for the foreseeable future. With a certain amount of glibness I say that now, but come the invasion I shall, no doubt, become fed up with strangers all over the house and won’t be able to wait for them to go away. This lockdown may well prove to have been a very expensive time!

Please feel free to send me any comments via the blog site at any time and thank you again for reading my trivia. 

Remembrances of Things Past

Remembrances of Things Past.

Some days I find it quite difficult to think of what I should write about. On those days nothing has sparked my curiosity, nothing has arisen that has made me laugh or spurred me to action, or I have not read or seen something that has recalled a time long past. Today is not one of those days. Perhaps I should say, by way of apology really, that I have precious little time for those who ‘wang on’ about their ailments and petty worries. In the main my attitude is that they should “get over themselves” but this only applies, I hasten to add, to those who have very little if anything to complain about. For myself, and only myself, I count among this concerns about the aches and pains that have come with older age or as the result of my own persistent stupidity. I brought them on by my own belief that I could carry on doing things that manifestly I couldn’t. I am the only one to blame so why should anyone be burdened by my ‘going on about it’. That, however, is what I am about to do – not in a self indulgent way but because in trying to deal with my back ache this morning I, strangely, enjoyed what I did.

The day dawned for me at three forty five am – I woke with a most unpleasant pain in my back and in one of my knees. This in its self is not unusual – often when I rouse up and turn over in bed I get a bit of a twinge. Last night it was a bit different because it didn’t go off and persisted in keeping me awake. How do I know what time it was? I looked at the clock – I usually don’t. Looking towards the window, which is small and nestles under the roof in a structure that is called an ‘eyebrow’ I saw the first light of the dawn. The window was slightly open and the curtain that was drawn back fluttered in the breeze. It was silent and the sky was a pearlescent uniform grey, only broken up in its greyness by the green leaves of a couple of trees at the bottom of the garden. The leaves danced in a frenzy as the blustering wind caught them and then they drooped for a second before they were caught again by a current that whirled them around in a tempest of movement. I must have nodded off again after a while and the next time I awoke it was to see the brightness of real morning. Creaking and stiff as a board I left my bed, determined that as soon as I could I should do my exercises that I have been ignoring for some days now. I have a thick yoga mat set out on my conservatory floor with a block for my head. Lying prone on this usually helps no end with the back problem. Simple exercises ease the muscles etc and today was no exception. I am frequently struck by the sights and sounds that I notice when lying in this fashion looking up through the glass roof. Today the pewter grey clouds scudded across dropping their water in a cascade of drum beating drops that came and went in an instant. Hanging for a second each reflecting, diamond of water shone bright before running down the glass in a tiny rivulet; each and every one together producing a delicate waterfall of silvered streaks. As suddenly as the grey clouds had come they disappeared, blown away on the wind as fluffy, white, candy floss mountains of white replaced them scudding at speed trying to catch the grey and overwhelm it. Between the snow bright clean softness small patches of blue, as though peeping through a tiny tear in the fabric of cloud. These, in turn, were replaced by heavy blankets of gunmetal that menaced and threatened before they loosed their deluge to beat hard and loud on the glass roof above. Just as quickly they too were gone. The magpies that had been strutting and chattering on the lawn had taken flight by the time the rains came in earnest. The seagulls are back and they wheeled and swooped, riding the gusts, elegant as ever in the arcs they carved across the darkness or light above me. Wings out swept, stark chalk light, against the steel grey or sparklingly flashing against the sun lit fleeces. As I levered myself up from the mat on the floor the sky had changed to a sapphire blue, the clouds had blown away, and the sun was beginning to bring a summery warmth.

I am on Twitter to try and get my writing to a wider audience I suppose but also because I like connecting with people I don’t know but who often put really interesting things of there. I can indulge my love of certain artists, find out about others, follow crafts people and writers and others who are entertaining etc. Yesterday, or maybe the day before, I saw a tiny video on there of a man using a horse to “ted” his hay. It sparked a memory of the tractor shed on the farm when I was a child. It wasn’t a horse drawn “”Tedder” but one that attached to the Massey Ferguson that stood alongside it in the shed. I can remember that the “Tedder” was red and with a sort of yellow cream colour on the circular tined rakes that turned the hay as it was drying in the sun before being baled. Round and round the field the tractor would go raking the drying grass into rows, making sure that it was uniformly dry. The tractor and “Tedder” were so small and basically functional compared with today’s machinery – almost toy like in their simplicity. Nevertheless, hay making and harvest were important times. Times to enjoy too, when tea was taken to the fields and picnics were had with Dad and the others – sandwiches, cake, maybe some fruit, tea in a thermos and home made lemonade for the children. Tin mugs and plastic beakers, food in your hand taken straight from the basket. Sat on the grass or a bale of straw or hay. Sometimes a table cloth or rug laid out with the eaters sat around enjoying a respite from work. Little would be said, except discussion of how much longer it might take, should they cart the bales later or leave them for another day, would the weather hold until it was all done or should they work late into the night to get it finished. The remnants of the picnic would be gathered up as the men went back to work. My mother and us children would wander back home across the fields waving to Dad as he drove across the field. Would he be back before we went to bed – probably not.

I don’t have a photograph of hay making or harvest but rather like this picture although I have no idea who painted it or when but the picnic doesn’t look unlike the ones we had.

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“A Month in the Country”

“A Month in the Country”

It seemed to be quite a humid night and despite having the window open the room remained warm. This morning the curtain was blowing in and the window was covered in delicate shiny rain drops. As I looked out of the kitchen windows I noticed a pair of robins enjoying the dampness. One was hopping across the gravel and pecking at it and then flying up in amongst the Hop foliage, while the other flew up to the garage gutter and splashed around in the water. The sky is a uniform dull grey, like a slightly dirty blanket weighing down on a soggy landscape. There is a stiff enough breeze to make the trees and bushes rustle and whisper as their leaves move and brush against each other, much as though they are involved in constant conversation in hushed tones. There is a pleasing freshness in the air that has been missing in recent days as we sweltered in high temperatures. 

The latest Waitrose order has been completed and will be delivered tomorrow evening. I have a bet on with myself with regard to those items that will not be available. I have ordered a box of disposable gloves. I always have used them in the kitchen and more especially in the garden and I used my last pair a week or so before this pandemic struck. For obvious reasons I have not been able to replace them until now. I noticed that they are now available at Waitrose and I have placed one packet in my virtual trolley.  I imagine they might not be available when it comes time for my order to be despatched however. I have tried in vain to obtain a laundry product and some raspberry smoothie iced lollies that I have a particular liking for in the hot weather. They are just not available and this has caused a degree of frustration quite disproportionate to the need for same. I don’t need them – I want them – quite a different thing. 

My meeting yesterday – the first event I have attended since the lockdown in March, went well. We sat, socially isolated, two metres apart in a garden and discussed our various experiences of the present situation and dealt with the business of the day. I found the whole experience quite enjoyable. It was a real pleasure to interact with others as well as being a unique experience for me in these troubled times. I have finished the Mapp and Lucia book. It was an entertaining read. I have now moved on to another new book entitled “Under the Stars” in which the author documents his experience of the light in darkness. I have also treated myself to a soon to be published novel – one of my historical crime/spy ones. I enjoy escaping into such fiction but when I put some out for passersby to take they were not at all popular. I suspect because the authors were not usually on bestseller lists and the covers were not especially alluring to the casual reader. 

One of my most favourite novels is the slim volume entitled “A Month in the Country” by J L Carr. Set in the aftermath of the First World War, it tells of a young man, scarred by the war, who goes to live in a village for a month in the summer to restore a medieval wall paining in the church. Most annoyingly I have mislaid my copy just when I thought it would a good idea to re read it. Why do I like it so much? Probably because it does evoke  certain nostalgia for a countryside that has all but gone, but more especially for its spare prose that tells of that countryside. In the short extract below the writer is able to draw a picture of the scene but also to successfully evoke the eternal and unchanging quality of the natural world. He also does so, through his character’s eyes, with a certain sense of wonder. 

“Day after day, mist rose from the meadow as the sky lightened and hedges, barns and woods took shape until, at last, the long curving back of the hills lifted away from the Plain… Day after day it was like that and each morning I leaned on the yard gate dragging at my first fag and (I’d like to think) marvelling at this splendid backcloth.” 

We own an enormous number of books and they are a relatively eclectic collection. Novels, and sundry poetry anthologies rub shoulders with historical tomes that tell of long fought battles, literary criticism, nature writing in all, or most, of its manifestations, works on painters and artists, and among them all the odd book on hop growing, gardening or smocking and sewing. It is no wonder I can’t find what I am looking for – once they were arranged in an orderly fashion but over the years volumes have been taken down and replaced in a different place and any order has long since disappeared. Not only that but although most books are kept in one room – a spare bedroom that doubles up as a study – there are also bookcases dotted around the house, upstairs and down, with strange collections in them gathered together as they have been acquired or because one of us particularly treasures them. My Sheila Kaye-Smith works have pride of place on a particular shelf with the first and special editions kept ‘safe’ in a separate place. Goodness knows why because they have little intrinsic value even to book collectors – one is even signed but as it is religious poetry of a not too appealing kind I can’t imagine there is a queue out there to thrust good money into my hand for it! Nevertheless, they are treasured by me but certainly not himself. He is no fan of Kaye-Smith. What led me to write about this any way? Well I had seen a small article on “A Month in the Country” and as I looked absentmindedly out of the window I was reminded of some of the descriptive writing of the countryside. Not least because this is summer, I have spent rather more than a month in the country, and it was raining outside. That soft summer rain that dampens and washes the plants, trees and bushes but does not soak or beat down. Through the palings of the field gate I could see the mistiness of it as it gently washed and watered the standing wheat. The wheat’s golden tipped ears topping the still blue/green stalks swayed gently in the wind and was indistinct apart from the colour shadings that undulated across the field into the distance of the gauzy pale hills. 

I also particularly like this cover – it is the same copy that I have – the style of painting and design always reminds me of the railway posters of years ago.

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“Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing”

“Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing”

Today is now, as I write, humid and warm with a blanket of cloud cover pierced from time to time by searing sunshine. Pleasant in one way but a bit too sticky in another. I was woken, I no not what time it was, by the sound of  rumbling and in my sleepy stupor I, for some reason, thought it was a grain lorry going down the lane to the farm. It seemed to be rather loud for a lorry and anyway it isn’t the right time of the year for the collection of grain. Then came the mighty crash and clap of thunder, followed by torrential rain. Well it sounded torrential as it poured down on the roof and the skylight window in the bathroom. On and on it went – crashing thunder, pouring rain like thousands of tiny nails beating against the window. I didn’t get up or look out of the window but was pleased that the rains had come at this time – before I needed to be out and about. 

There is still the threat of more rain but I suspect we have had our fair share for a while. I have always liked the pictures of flowers etc that I have seen in magazines that have rain drops suspended on them and so as soon as I could I went into the garden to see if I could replicate them. I have to a certain extent but the rain was so fierce it has damaged a lot of the roses and made them look bedraggled and droopy. However, I have managed to get a photo of a yellow rose that I am very pleased with. Attempts to take pictures of individual sweetpeas were much less successful. The garden looks and feels much fresher and vibrant after the rain and the birds are rejoicing in the bushes and trees. Yesterday was unbearably hot here and despite windows and doors open it didn’t cool down until the evening and even then a residual heat hung around. The sounds of a typical hot summer have returned to the marsh. Traffic hum from the main road across the fields, emergency vehicle sirens piercing the calm, droning of farm machinery, rising and falling in intensity as the tractor came nearer or edged its way across to the far side of the field, mower engines from the churchyard, and hammering and a dog barking from the village. The quiet, calm, peaceful sounds of the natural world were overlaid and dulled almost to distinction by the human noise. The news told me that traffic queues curled their way along lanes and country roads across the marsh in a vain endeavour, by the occupants, to reach the sea. The local seaside village was jam packed full of cars and those trying to reach Camber Sands were turned away and all access roads closed. To my amazement the radio informed me that those that had got through were queuing for many miles through our small towns and villages and in some cases parking up in them and walking upwards of four miles to reach the sea. The noise that I found intrusive was suddenly  of no consequence. Sometimes when there is a serious accident on the main road that follows the line of the sea wall, traffic is re-directed along our narrow lanes through the village. The occupants of the vehicles are suddenly sent along narrow, in some cases single track, lanes that twist and turn and run between deep ditches on either side. There are few pull off areas and no verges to speak of. The traffic that is often redirected includes, on a regular basis, double decker buses as well has large lorries, delivery vehicles, removal lorries and, of course, domestic vehicles. The ensuing traffic jams are extraordinary. When we hear the sirens that inevitably precede these traffic jams, if we need to go out, we plan a route that takes us out across the marsh and down lanes that will not be used by the interlopers. 

The sweet peas are doing very well now but need attention every day. Because of the way I have chosen to grow them they need tendrils removed, have to be tied in and have flowers cut each day. I am pleased to say that the stems are long and straight and I have some stems with three or four blooms. The ideal would be five but in my case this is crying for the moon I feel. My father used to grow sweetpeas each year. He bought his seeds from a specialist seed merchant and had what amounted to an extended ritual of sowing and growing that extended from early in the year right through to mid summer at the very least. He had a purpose built frame to grow them up and literally each day he would spend a fair amount of time tending to them. His objective in all of this was several fold – he liked to have a bunch of flowers indoors on the dining room table, he wanted to win the village Horticultural Society cups for the best sweetpeas in a number of categories, and he wanted to make enough money by selling bunches of flowers to the local farm shop to pay for his next year’s seeds. The whole process was highly competitive, particularly within the village, and if a friend called during the blooming season my father would employ every trick he knew to keep his guest away from his garden. Spies were definitely not welcome and such guest at that time of the year was certainly not calling just for a chat – they were spies and no doubt about it! The highlight of his sweetpea growing ‘career’ came when he entered blooms in the Daily Mail national competition. He gained highly commended – top prizes went to growers who had extensive areas of sweet pea production while he had a couple of rows in his back garden. The excitement grew when his blooms were exhibited, along with the top prize winners, at the Hampton Court Flower Show that year. He went, with friends on a coach trip, to view his blooms and having seen them took himself off, with a friend, to sit in, and stroll around, the gardens of Hampton Court well away from the hustle and bustle and crowds at the flower show. They stayed there until it was time for the coach to leave to take them home. As countrymen they hated the noise, crowds and general hubbub of the show and once they had done what they set out to do they had no desire to see anything else of this jamboree. 

Just as I was posting this entry to the diary my door bell rang. I assumed it might be the children from next door who occasionally pop round with stuff. But no. It was one of my regular readers and he had brought me some beautiful cakes baked by his wife. Thank you so much Adrian and Sue. They look absolutely lovely and will make tea time so much more special. My readers have come to mean a great deal to me – it is very special and rather humbling to know that people are reading my ramblings and perhaps relating to my silly mishaps and trivial concerns. I am overwhelmed by the fact that there are people all over the world who take time to read the diary. Thank you so much to all of you and please feel free to send me your comments any time.

Showers and Toby Jugs

Showers and Toby Jugs

Again a hot sunny day. The conservatory is so hot, even with the door wide open, that one could expire just passing through it. So far I have only ventured out briefly to deliver a small gift for the little boy next door who has his birthday today. Yesterday evening I spent a while watering the pots of geraniums – they are not doing very well at all – and the vegetables that are growing in containers as well as the sweetpeas. Himself suggested that as the wallflowers and sweet williams seeds were showing no signs of germination they might benefit from  some water. I found the remains of  some tomato fertiliser and added some to each can of water in the, perhaps, vain hope that it will help the tomatoes, squash and courgette to grow bigger and better. The agapanthus were bone dry but they too were given a good drink and a dash of the fertiliser. What I didn’t factor in to my calculations was that carrying several heavy cans of water all around the garden would have an effect on my back that was already creaking from the digging I had done a couple of days ago. It is fine now – just the odd twinge – but this morning, first thing, it was not at all happy! 

The shower in our bathroom has decided it doesn’t ant to work properly. I put it on this morning and for some really odd reason it refused to deliver anything that could be construed as warm water. Instead, however long it was allowed to run, the water was ice cold. In a fit of exasperation I gathered up a towel etc and went down one flight to the family bathroom and used the shower there and very nice it was too. The weird thing is that the shower in our bathroom is very much younger than the other one, rather more sophisticated in its workings, and much fancier looking. The down side of the one I used is that I am used to the giant shower tray we have and this one is tiny – there is just about room to turn round if you are careful! It is a power shower – well that is what it says on the box on the wall – and the water was warm and cascaded out in a most satisfactory fashion. The other one will have to be replaced. Himself seems quite reticent about this – I know not why. However, the hunt is now on to find replacement tray, shower and enclosure. It will be a joy – for me – to have a door on the shower enclosure that doesn’t keep coming off its runner. Yes, I know I thought it was a brilliant idea to have a curved set of double doors, but it has proved to be a silly idea. They have to go. Much more taxing is trying to find a person to fit the new equipment. Do I want a plumber? Do I want a bathroom fitter? Do I want and electrician? Where on earth am I going to find them? The internet should help but so far has only succeeded in confusing. How on earth do I know if they are any good or if they are cowboys? The search continues.

When going in search of something the other day it struck me that we have a fair number of objects and bits and pieces dotted around the house that have a fairly long history. Most of them have been left to us or been acquired when my sister and I cleared out our parents home. They had gathered, over the years, things from both their parents homes and they in turn had done the same from their parents and grandparents. Among the very old things that we have there are a number  that date back to the early nineteenth century. Not antiques of any value but nevertheless things that I treasure for their age and associations. An old wooden armchair that my maternal grandfather always sat in, that has its arms rubbed shiny, not by polish, but by his hands. A silver skewer that was used as a paper knife by my grandparents generation, but which was originally a meat skewer used in the village inn kitchen and dining room that my great grandparents ran. They, however, had not been the first owners of the skewer, its original owners had been one of their parents. It is very long and must have been used in enormous joints of meat. Sundry other objects  from a former age and handed down the generations include a Toby Jug. This item has family stories attached to it.  In my childhood it was always kept safely on a tall wooden “trolley” in my great Aunt’s dining room. To be viewed from afar and NEVER touched. Legend had it that it had been given to my great grandfather in payment of a debt. It was said that an elderly lady had carried the Toby Jug from the neighbouring village – a distance of about two and half miles – wrapped in her shawl and presented it to my great grandfather. He kept the Jug on the bar throughout the time he ran the village inn and then took it with him when he took up residence in a  local farm house. This same farm house is where I saw it as a child. The Toby Jug was carefully protected in the Second World War – probably in the cellar. My father took custody of the said Toby Jug and I can remember him saying to me, not long before he died, that he expected that we would sell it when he was gone. I assured him that this would not be so. It stands today on a bookcase in my study. I have tried to work out some provenance for it and it is possible it is one of those made by Ralph Wood in the latter part of the eighteenth century but equally it might not be. I think it is of little intrinsic monetary value, and I would not choose to buy it but because of its associations it is staying put for the foreseeable future.  

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“A Box of Crystallised Fruits”

“A Box of Crystallised Fruits”

The forecast for today was hot and sunny and it has certainly lived up to that prediction. Outside it is very warm with a pleasant breeze and full sunshine. Not being one to pass up a good drying day the washing line is festooned in anything I could grab that looked as though a wash wouldn’t be out of order.

The usual suspects from the bird world are around – the pair of pigeons have had to be driven away from the vegetables and fruit – I still haven’t managed to find anything I can use as a bird scarer. On the lawn there was a committee meeting of magpies. Apparently there are two collective nouns associated with magpies – a mischief and a parliament. The ones on the lawn had every appearance of having a socially distance meeting as they sat in an arc shape with a seemingly dominant one at the front controlling proceedings. The gathering went on for some time and then the chairman sauntered in an off hand manner away across the lawn towards a flower bed and eventually took off into the wide blue yonder. The others continued to sit for a while and then they too left, heading off in varying directions, no doubt to go about their daily affairs. It would be very easy to imagine they had hatched up some ‘mischief’ and when they are collected together in the trees chattering away in their raucous and loud fashion they do have a remarkable resemblance to the House of Commons at Prime Ministers Questions.

The smaller birds, blue tits and great tits, sparrows and the blackbird among others are twittering away in the bushes and trees. The seagulls have decamped and are nowhere to be seen – I presume they have headed to the beach and the local seaside where there will undoubtedly be exciting pickings from the tourists that will have flocked to the coast. Now that the fish and chip shops, ice cream kiosks and the other take aways are now open there should be a veritable feast for them on the sands and beach and in the car parks.

There is enormous excitement and anticipation here today because, in view of the latest pronouncements yesterday from the government, I have contacted the hairdressers and they have informed me that we are on the list to be contacted by our stylist some time today to book an appointment. It is no exaggeration to say that I am literally sitting on the edge of my seat willing the phone to ring. Close to hand is the calendar and a pen poised ready for use. Needless to say July is overwhelmingly vacant of any appointments or meetings etc. A blank canvass that is just waiting to have dates allocated to something, anything. Just in case I have managed to locate two masks in the garage. They are not really the sort that seems to be recommended by sundry websites and newspaper adverts – they are in fact some I bought long ago from a builders merchants to keep out dust etc when I was sanding, and they came in very useful when I had a bonfire. On that occasion I wore one along with goggles, also acquired from a builders merchant, to keep acrid smoke out of my eyes when the wind suddenly changed direction. The masks are made of a sort of white moulded polystyrene I think and the elastic which goes around your head – not as fancy as those that hook over the ears – is slightly perished. I think I could encase the mask in a fabric cover, remove the perished elastic and add pieces that would hook over our ears thus, possibly, making a fair facsimile of a virus mask. On the other hand it would probably be far easier to ask my sister, who some proper masks, to send me a couple.

Later I might try and finish the bit of weeding I started the other day. There is only a small patch to do and then one job would actually be finished. The briefing document I have written for Friday’s meeting has run out of control and is far longer than perhaps was anticipated. It is a sad fact that I am prone to go on a bit, especially in writing! No matter I shall write a shortened version and send both to attendees and they can choose to ignore the long one if they wish. To be fair I will probably never know. I have almost come to the end of my Mapp and Lucia novel and would love to try my hand at writing something in the same vein but the chances are that I would end up in a load of trouble because invariably the characters would be recognised by those that I had made fun of or drawn rather larger than life! I have the almost perfect plot I think but I just don’t dare and anyway is there really a market out there for that sort of novel in the twenty first century? Probably not.
I was rather amused by a very short piece in The Times today. In the manner of the novels mentioned above it is so British in that old fashioned way of the century past. In 1948, at Christmas time, various Ambassadors to the USA were asked what they would like for Christmas. One said peace on earth, another wanted freedom from imperialism and the British responded by saying “Well, its very kind of you to ask. I‘d quite like a box of crystallised fruits”. Polite, and self deprecating but completely missing the point, or a view of a bigger, more grand picture. In many ways I found the response wonderfully endearing and just a little eccentric but, perhaps, quintessentially British. I use say I am not averse to a crystallised fruit either.

As the Mapp and Lucia books are set in Rye and around Church Square I thought I would include a picture of Rye taken from the church tower I think.

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