A golden day

I don’t mind admitting that I have found life difficult over the last ten days:

A dear friend who has been my support and refuge in dark times is moving away.  Seeing the cottage being emptied and cleared and smelling the old familiar smell of wood smoke from the evening fires when we used to settle in to talk and watch DVDs is upsetting.

I have real concerns for two loved ones whose health looks to be seriously compromised.  We await test results.

Another close friend has been in an accident and is off her feet for some weeks.  Her husband has to have another round of chemotherapy.

My favourite farmer with whom I exchange memories of the countryside 50 years ago when I go to buy feed, has been in hospital, lost one kidney to cancer, caught a hospital infection, now has breathing problems and the surgeon is concerned over the health of his remaining kidney.

We are noticing our energy levels are decreasing with age but are not mentally ready to give anything up, but we can see the beginning of the writing on the wall.

The Robin is practising his Autumn song: not much yet, just a few notes, but it is on the way. I am not ready for the wistfulness and poignancy of Autumn.

I have been weepy and wanting to hide in corners and pull covers over my head.

So the mood around here has been:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see.

So yesterday I went to see my doctor and reminded her that the last time I had felt so bad she had offered me HRT.  Then I went to the chemist and begged for the prescription straight away before I cut my throat.

And this morning? I slept well, the sun is shining, and we are having a glorious, sun-soaked, golden day. The kind of burnished gold that comes in late summer when the sun is lower than at the height of the season. The air is humming with insects, the bushes are bright with butterflies, some cyclist went past and commented, “What a lovely garden!”

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Nothing else has changed, but the hay is cut and the smell is wafting down the valley, nature looks productive and happy, I have spent the morning sowing seeds – Lamb’s Lettuce and Miner’s Lettuce for winter salads – my turnip and kale seedlings are nearly ready to plant out, my winter planting of garlic is on the way by post, and we are all bright with sun and blue skies and lovely smells and activity.

When I walked up to the hay field, the sight of the cut hay drying in windrows took me back centuries.  Hay has lain drying like this since humans began to farm.  The cutting mechanism may be different, the baling may be different, but the look and smell on the field is timeless.

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Butterflies were patrolling up and down like drops of jewelled light and I sat in the shade of the hedge that I planted in memory of my mother, and remembered descriptions of this scene in music and words, that has entranced so many before me.

Wherever I end up in old age, I must be somewhere in the country, where I can be soothed and healed by such sights.

I am taking a day off from worrying and sadness today.  It would be sacreligious not to.


I have been away from blogland for much longer than I thought.

Neither writing nor reading other blogs.

Summer is short in the UK and while we had good weather I was gardening like mad: then visiting friends, going out and about, enjoying life.

A young friend J.  has been suffering from ill health and various problems since a car crash four years ago: she needed some help and I was involved with that and eventually took her away for a short break. I took her to help me ‘house-sit’ for my friends in Ireland while they were away and it did her the most tremendous good! J left a couple of days before I did because I stayed on to spend my birthday with my friends: the first time for many, many years.  I had such a wonderful day that I will blog about that shortly, it deserves a post to itself:)

Here at home, we are undertaking some work in the Bank field, building a fence round the veg garden so that animals can go back on that field, and incorporating a ‘gathering pen’ for when we need to isolate one animal for a short time from the others.  Also included are two large dung heap containers to prevent it from sliding and covering more pasture than we want.  Photos to follow when finished.

Even now, when I have sat down to write, I am about to go out to visit two family members who have both been in hospital for fairly small procedures, but which involve continuing pain and distress afterwards until healed so I do not have long to write much!  I am taking vats of soup for them, one had four wisdom teeth out at once, the other had his tonsils out, so both have sore mouths.

So, after a short visit to my blog I will leave you with some photos of the Paddock taken yesterday: please excuse the washing.

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jane and me in ireland 2015 065jane and me in ireland 2015 067I hope that you are enjoying your summer too.

Corvus cornix

On our return home from our cliff walk we found a small fledgling hooded crow nestled in the long grass up against the wire surrounding the vegetable garden. P said she had seen it the night before, there was a nest in the Ash tree overlooking the stables and it must have come down from there. It looked miserable and I was worried about it but then its two siblings flew down to join it. Well, I say flew, I think it was more of a tumbling glide! All three hopped around in a jerky fashion and then their two parents began to come and try to feed them.
I went out and put some grain on the ground and the parents picked it up and fed it to the young.

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After a while I noticed the parents balancing on the side of a large yellow plastic container getting drinks of water. One of the youngsters hopped over and began pecking the water line visible through the side of the plastic but it could not balance on the top to have a drink. Then I saw something I have never seen before and did not even know happened. One of the parents flew up, took a large beakful of water, flew down again, and poured the water down into the baby’s beak. It kept doing this over and over for all the youngsters until they had had enough. It was really interesting to watch but I did not manage to get a photograph.  They both had wide open beaks as the water flowed from one to the other.
So, out I went again, this time with a small bowl, which I filled with water and put on the ground beside the yellow bucket: once inside I noticed the babies immediately came up and drank and drank and drank from the bowl.
They hopped and fluttered all over the ground, being even more ungainly than crows usually are: they tried flying but it was a very low ‘hit and miss’ affair. We noticed that at one point they became interested in the chicken run and we kept a wary eye out in case they tried to fly down to eat some of the chicken food. If P’s chickens get a crow cornered in the run they kill it.
The Starlings who were nesting in the bottom of the stable roof kicked a huge racket whenever the crows came near the area: I know that crows, and magpies for that matter, get a bad press as regards taking the young of other birds, especially our beloved songbirds, and anyone who has seen a Magpie attacking a young Blackbird will be horrified but I gather that this is usually a response to acute hunger rather than a preferred source of food. And when starving I have heard of human behaviour which is not too savoury, to excuse a dreadful pun. But watching the crows they seemed to be pulling leatherjackets and other insects out of the grass rather than going for young birds. However, not very pleasant for the insects either.

By the evening at least one of the baby crows was able to fly up to the gate and perch there:

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Late that evening  –  first night out of the nest.

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Over the next two or three days they grew in confidence and ability and by the time I left they were flying well, although still drinking from the bowl :)

Lining up beside the hanging bird feeder and bird table, waiting their turn to pick up some titbits.

ireland 2015 059 As I am sure most of us are aware the Corvus family has been in the news over the last ten years or so, for its intelligence.  There are clips on Youtube of them deliberately putting nuts on the road in Japan at traffic lights, to be crushed open by the cars, and then retrieved when the lights turn red!  And others of crows operating slot machines to get at food inside, including finding and using items to put in the slots: and the famous experiment in Oxford where a crow was found to make and use a tool for the first time.

According to Wikipedia:

“The crow has the habit of hiding food, especially meat or nuts, in places like rain gutters, flower pots or in the earth under bushes, to feed on it later, sometimes on the insects that have meanwhile developed on it. Other crows often watch if another one hides food and then search this place later when the other crow has left.”

Also, “This species is seen regularly killed by farmers and on grouse estates. In County Cork, Ireland, the county’s gun clubs shot over 23,000 hooded crows in two years in the early 1980s.”

I just hope these babes have a reasonable life and a swift end.

One of the first things on the itinerary was a supermarket shop: the one used the most by my friends is a few miles away in Clonakilty so off we went under a blue sky and in bright sunshine.

Going round the back of the small town we passed a Traveller driving in his trap, going at a very brisk trot.  I have seen them before parked in a supermarket car park and they are taken very much as a fact of life around here.

Next door to the shop we were going to is a really nice Restaurant where we stopped to have lunch before shopping.  I gather it is never sensible to do a household shop when one is hungry, although that was not the reason for our indulgence: growing up we were allowed to do very little together as friends and a coffee and cake, or a lunch out, are still treats for us!  In fact our friendship was very frowned upon.

This Restaurant has staff who are very helpful and I asked for a gluten and dairy free salad: this arrived – full of goodies and was absolutely delicious!

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P also had a salad and hers came with Irish Soda Bread:

ireland 2015 017I was sooo envious!!

However, it was not to be for me, so ‘tant pis’.

After a slow chatty meal we departed for the supermarket and parked in the multi-storey car park: I had to take a photo from the roof as I consider it one of the best views I know to be had from such a building:

ireland 2015 018We found a whole section of gluten free baking including some super ginger biscuits and imagine my pleasure and astonishment to find some gluten free Irish Soda Bread which we promptly bought:

ireland 2015 056It was delicious and I really enjoyed it eating it during my stay: however I did notice some effects after a few days and on closer inspection noted that it did have a little buttermilk and some gluten free oats in it.  Now the protein Avenin found in Oats contains similar amino acid sequences as  wheat gluten and can evoke the same immune response.  Oats always used to be considered off-limits for people with gluten intolerance since avenin is so similar to gluten: Today, there is no way to predict ahead of time, which people with celiac disease will or will not be able to successfully consume oats without an immune reaction but since 2013 the FDA legislation has been changed so that it is now considered gluten-free in the UK and Ireland.  I don’t know about other countries. This is a problem because in many places I am offered food which is guaranteed gluten free but later I find oats in it: when I query the product the sellers are most offended when I explain that oats are not necessarily OK: I wish the FDA had not changed things!

I will experiment at home trying to make Soda Bread using lemon juice or apple vinegar instead of the buttermilk.

Apparently Ireland has the highest percentage of people sensitive to gluten of any country in the world, hence the large array of specialist food.

After our most successful lunch and shopping expedition we  decided to use the glorious day to go to the beach and go for a walk on the cliffs – so we returned home, unloaded the car, collected the dog and set off.

Beginning to climb the cliff path

ireland 2015 031We passed Thrift, Violets and Primroses amongst other flowers and herbs: the sea was aquamarine with purple patches and white horses breaking round rocks.  Here we are about 130 feet above sea level: at home we live at 750 feet above sea level amongst moorland and high hills and in the very middle of the country, the furthest you can get from the sea in the UK.  I love it there but do miss the sea terribly so it is a real treat to be able to come here.  Today, in the sun it all looked and was idyllic with unbelievable colours!

ireland 2015 043You can just see Galley Head Lighhouse station: it stands on the end of this promontary overlooking St George’s Channel.

Closer view with a Gannet in front

ireland 2015 035from the cliffs we saw this Gannet, a Skylark, two Stonechats and a Gull, plus, lower down on the cove, an Egret and hordes of Swans, Oystercatchers and Curlews.

According to Wikipedia, “Galley Head Lighthouse station was built in 1875, during the heyday of lighthouse building, and within twenty years of its closest neighbours at Old Head of Kinsale and Fastnet. The Galley Head and the Fastnet have the distinction of being two of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe. https://blogotheirish.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/galleyhead-corksml1.jpg?w=500

(picture from:  https://blogotheirish.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/lighthouses-in-irelandure)

The lighthouse displays an unusual landward arc of light because, it is said, the Sultan of Turkey asked to be able to see it from Castle Freke at Rosscarbery nearby on his visit there. The castle was built in the 1680s but abandoned in 1952 and can be seen from Galley as a Gothic ruin.”

However, I gather that the castle is currently under restoration.


(picture from:  http://angarrancoir.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/castlefreke.jpg)

From 1997 the requirement for an Attendant to live at the Lighthouse station was discontinued.  The tower corridor was sealed off from the dwellings and a remote control and monitoring system linking the station to the central monitoring room at Dun Laoghaire was installed. Then in 1998 the two Keepers’ dwellings were leased to the Irish Landmark Trust, which restored them using traditional materials and building methods after which they have been let to the general public by the Trust as holiday accommodation.

(photo from:    http://www.irishlandmark.com/propertytag/by-the-sea/)

They would be a lovely place to stay:)  Stone is the building material of choice in this area and the fields also are bounded by stone walls, just as at home, but here they use the stones vertically, whereas at home in Yorkshire the stones are used horizontally.  The effect is startling to my eyes!

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The air here is so pure that lichens grow in abundance: and they find a suitable home on the walls:

ireland 2015 042.jpg  1We stayed out long enough to soak up some rays but then had to drag ourselves back to the house to attend to other things.

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Turning back for home.

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ireland 2015 034Closer down to the bay.

We felt full of good food, fresh air, sunshine and life could hardly be better.  Back home we were met by an interesting spectacle, but more of that next time.

Meeting in May

A month exactly after returning from meeting one dear friend in Paris, I have the good fortune to be spending a few days in the Irish Republic staying with my oldest friend and soul-mate from school days P, (we’ve been friends for over 54 years!). She and her husband live in an old cottage in the hills an hour’s drive West from Cork, ireland 2015 007 and you can see the sea from their South-facing fields! ireland 2015 004 Before coming she warned me to bring warm clothes because the weather had been so chilly.  But here I am on my first morning sitting outside the kitchen door on a bench with a mug of coffee, drinking in the sun and the views. Looking South up to the old Stable block (now unfortunately empty of equines), hen house and run, veggie garden and polytunnel: ireland 2015 002 and looking East down over the apple trees into the valley (with the woodshed at the right at the end), from the same bench ireland 2015 003 going through the gate, you first cross the boreen (sorry for the dreadful lack of focus but it gives you an idea of the lushness this Spring) – looking down the hill from the cottage ireland 2015 009 the top part of the boreen looking down to the cottage ireland 2015 012 Having crossed the boreen you see the tool shed and veg garden on the left, with the polytunnel ahead of youireland 2015 013 The veg garden planted up with onions, leeks, carrots, broad beans, peas, early and maincrop potatoes, beetroot, French Beans, Runner Beans, Cabbages and Sprouts, and –  I have probably forgotten some. ireland 2015 008 Inside the wonderful tunnel, with a super vine producing sweet white grapes, carrots. beetroot, Runner Beans, French Beans, early potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, courgettes, salad leaves, and numerous flower seedlings.  We ate good sized, delicious new potatoes most of the time I was there, all from the tunnel and a few delicious strawberries.  They were coming along beautifully but each night some creature got to them before we did.  Last year P was getting a bowlful each day. ireland 2015 005.jpg 1 ireland 2015 006 Looking to the right after crossing the boreen you see the old stable block and the hen house and chicken run.  We ate fresh eggs all the time, so very good!

Ireland December 2014 541Joseph and his five ladies.

ireland 2015 049They are very sociable chooks and enjoy visiting us in the kitchen:)

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This Spring seems to have brought a veritable munificence of birdlife: there is a Blackbirds’ nest in the woodshed, another in the Quadbike shed, a Robins’ nest in the toolshed, a Wrens’ nest in the workshop, a Starlings’ nest in the first stable bay  and several Swallows nesting in the end bay, So, that is five buildings temporarily out of bounds!  Then there are Crows, Magpies, Great Tits, Bluetits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, House Sparrows, Dunnocks and a Wagtail all feeding merrily at or around the bird feeders, suggesting nests fairly nearby in the numerous trees and hedges.

The fields in front of the house are let out to a local Stables at the moment and two young horses are spending their days growing and filling out on the ample grass and resting in the sunshine: ireland 2015 024 My little bedroom, partly in the roof, view from the bed: Ireland December 2014 519So this is my rural Irish idyll for a few days!

Midwife to a moth

About three months ago I went to do my greengrocery shopping at my usual shop: a whole-food cum organic co-operative in my area of Sheffield.

It is run by lovely people and quite a few of the part-time staff are university students, which gives me a glimpse of the youngsters I used to teach.  Useful for when I miss that age group.

Part of my shop consisted of a bag of mixed salad leaves, my own as yet unplanted yet alone ready to pick!  Far too cold.

As per usual I left them to soak for about 45 minutes to remove dust, grit, dead critturs and any aphids therein, being organic you know.

Well I got sidetracked and over an hour later I came down to process the leaves: bear with me, there is a point to this story and we ARE getting there.

I removed all leaves and spun them in my lettuce spinner and went to pour away the soaking water.  At the very bottom was a small green blob, which turned out to be a very drowned caterpillar.  I felt dreadful at causing its death: if I had been faster off the mark I would have found it earlier and put it outside in the most sheltered spot of greenery I could find.  The poor thing would probably have died of cold anyway, but what can you do?

Instead of letting the corpse run down the drain I put it on a piece of folded loo-roll, the better to absorb any water, in the undoubtedly vain hope of a resurrection, and left it on the sitting room table whilst I went back to my work elsewhere.

Another hour passed and when I came downstairs I remembered the caterpillar and went to have a look.  It had disappeared.  After a fruitless search crawling round the floor and looking under chairs and sofa I gave up and had one last look in the cracks on top of the table.  (It is an ancient folding table and over the centuries the hinge areas have crumbled and broken, leaves quite deep fissures.)

Nothing to be found so I picked up the loo roll to throw it away and issue warning to my other half to beware of caterpillars when walking through the sitting room.  And there, in the fold of the loo roll was the caterpillar.  It had lost water to the tissue, awoken, and crawled into the crease.  Eureka!  I was not a murderer after all.

But what to do next?  In the short term I placed it in a small container with some of the salad leaves it had come in, and air holes for ventilation of course, and then went to look up all my wildlife books which could throw any light on the kind of caterpillar it could be. angle shade moth caterpillar No joy there: a small green caterpillar with few distinguishing marks could be one of many. So there it remained for some weeks, gorging on greenery, growing immensely, and poohing heroically (and astonishingly).

Then one day it became comatose and I worried that I had missed out on some vital ingredient in its diet and it was now dying. A google search of caterpillar husbandry gave me some useful tips which suggested it was about to pupate, so I set to, making a small hatching container –  a large glass jar with kitchen roll around the outside to give cover and privacy,  more on the top to allow air inside, and some folded lengthwise leaning up therein for climbing and support if it wanted, some salad leaves at the bottom and bob’s your uncle.  Over the next four or five days it refused to eat or move: one evening I looked into  the jar before retiring to bed and found a chrysalis.  In the matter of four hours it had turned from a fat, succulent green caterpillar, into a hard, dark brown chrysalis. Presumably its insides had been slowly transforming over the last few days, but the the surface had only suddenly changed.

angle shade moth chrysalisPhoto from: http://abugblog.blogspot.ie/2011/01/angle-shades-caterpillar.html

which has a blog post illustrating the life cycle in photographs for anyone interested.

Thus it remained for weeks.  Of course I kept referring to my books and google, all of which said it should have hatched by now.  Then I had to leave for Paris, having written down instructions for husband in the event of any hatching.  Regular texts to and fro during my trip informed me that nothing changed.

Two days after my return home I was giving an evening meal to husband, son and grandson: roast pork and all the trimmings and a ‘catch-up’:  when I returned to the kitchen at one point to fetch something I noticed that there was a fluttering at the top of the glass jar.  The chrysalis had hatched and a browny-pink moth (I assumed), had climbed up the folded kitchen-roll and was beginning to use its wings.  Huge excitement on my part.  I immediately left the others to their meal and vanished upstairs to look up the identity of my moth.  It was an Angle Shade Moth: very beautiful in an understated way, with serrated wings, little horns on its head and gorgeous green, pink and brown markings on its wings.  Apparently they are not particular as to foodstuffs.

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It being about five o’clock on a bright sunny evening I decided to release it at once so that it could warm up/feed/find shelter and generally do what it wanted, before night fell.  I went up to a patch of dense, gloriously flowering pak choi and put the moth on a stem below the yellow flower heads.  And took some photos of course!

Mine are not brilliant not being a photographer and not having the necessary equipment for really close up pictures but they were OK, and I found more and much better on the web.


Photograph by Ray Hamblett (Lancing Nature) from
ADUR NATURE NOTES 2005 at http://www.glaucus.org.uk/May2005.html

 The above photo shows the ‘horns’ better than mine does: there are three on the head, one in the middle and one at each side.  The bottom one is at the front beside the antenna.

Waiting for a while to make sure the moth was comfortable and well suited to its situation, as far as I  could ascertain, I returned to the dinner table and my cold plate.  Enthusiastically, I showed pictures, opened books, told the tale, to a mesmerised and unenthusiastic audience.  Husband to give him his due was also very pleased at a happy outcome and interested, but the others looked dumb with –  well it was not boredom exactly, more kind of expressions of polite interest masking complete astonishment and actual non-interest.  You could see them putting up with, “her usual eccentric behaviour”, which means they never knew what I would do next and therefore from that point of view there was a little interest, but the actual situation bore no interest or excitement for them of any kind.

Some times I wonder how I find myself in the family I inhabit.  Surely genetics is not meant to work like this?

But the pleasure and pride I feel on this little caterpillar’s clever transformation is immense.  On a par with sowing seeds and watching the final transformation to strong plants.  The change from apparently dry, lifeless form to vigorous, glowing life always uplifts.

So, back home and what have I been doing?

Muck spreading, that’s what!

In order to prevent the garden turning into the Brazilian Rain Forest before my eyes I need to get straight onto gardening duties now I’m home again. It was really hot here when I first returned and so much needs doing at this time of year as all you gardeners out there will know only too well.

The muck heap is enormous (measuring 17 feet long, 7 feet deep and over 4 feet high) and we have run out of space for any more addition: the fruit garden has had no muck on it for years and years so that is the first port of call:

The raspberry patch

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The pears, gooseberries and currants

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The roses in the front garden have also been neglected so a goodly dollop for them too

    muck spreading and road works 009                 Then in rotation I put muck on different parts of our little veggie garden-

the runner bean trench (of course the runner bean trench gets it every year)

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and the extra pieces of field that I am trying to incorporate.

muck spreading and road works 010

  The compost bins were a disgrace: a new compost bin needs erecting, and one of the older ones dismantling: well to be honest, it has dismantled itself but I need to sieve and spread the compost to clear a space to put up a new compost bin. A friendly farmer has let me have five pallets and I put one at the bottom to allow for aeration and used the other four to make the sides.  It became full almost immediately but at least the compost is looking organised

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and the muck spreading is nearly finished.

This is all that we have left and it has a home waiting for it as soon as we get round to it.

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A good thing too because look what we have waiting for us to build into a new heap:

  muck spreading and road works 014 Fuelled with energy after my superb holiday, I’m fairly speeding through the jobs.  I’m one of those people who needs physical exercise in the fresh air and to feel surrounded by the natural world to stay ‘grounded’ and it is a perfect foil for my mental activities, wanderlust and desire for occasional glimpses of city life.

I’m feeling very pleased with myself:)


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