Friday, 28 May 2010

♫I am sailing, I am sailing……♫

Ok, quick update from yesterday:-

Well, I, with singular aplomb, managed to miss the girls in all their key swimming races. I always get lost trying to get to the Leisure Centre in Macclesfield and yesterday was no exception. Got there 15 minutes after the start and the girls were in all the races in the first 15 minutes. Story of my life. To lie, or not to lie? Did I pretend to them that I had been there from the start and seen it all? My friend said yes, but I just couldn’t do it. Instead I got them to describe in minute detail how the races had gone (E would have won, apparently, had not biggest girl in her year lurched into her lane and spent the rest of the race kicking into her face!) and then talked enthusiastically about all the bits I DID see. Still, it was all a bit tricky trying to get to grips with what was going on as there were so many kids, some with swim hats coded to their House colours, but many without - so I spent half the gala thinking there was an unfair preponderance of Adlington House (= blue) children competing, before I realized that half of those kids were wearing the standard old school swim cap which always used to be blue, before they brought in the colour-coded ones (doh, I am a bear of little brain). It was also nigh on impossible to watch two of my own children and all of my friends’ children while also marvelling at the child pounding out front and feeling for the one flailing out back, whoever they were (impossible to tell in swim caps and from a distance). So, all in all, the gala was a mixed success from my point of view, though much more fun and exciting than I was anticipating (have horror of such things as used to dread them when I was a child – have always hated idea of such raw competition. Two of my daughters take after me, one doesn’t. She’s like her father).

From here I dropped children at Afterschool Club from whence a friend was collecting them and looking after them until N could get home, as I had another pressing appointment. One I had also, like the gala, been rather dreading. Yes folks, I was due to go and see Rod Stewart in concert at the MEN arena in Manchester. Ageing Rocker inevitably comes to mind. Well, he is, isn’t he? I worked out he must be 65. Friend with smart iphone checked, and 65 he is. Still, he didn’t do badly for an old bloke. In fact he doesn’t look much different to when he first came to my attention with Maggie May on Top of the Pops three decades ago. That is a great song. As a young teenager I really identified with it. Though, thinking about it, I’m not sure why! I’m female for a start and have never been into older men and was a model (well, -ish) student. Never a day’s truancy, me. So, yeah, not quite sure where I’ve got that idea from. Anyhow, he played it as his last song (before the encore at least), so he must think it’s rather a good one too.

My friend had bought the tickets for another friend’s birthday and it had seemed churlish of me not to accept, despite the fact it was the night before we were leaving on holiday and I am notoriously chaotic and stressed trying to get everything packed and ready and the house sorted for abandonment, cat in cattery, dishwasher done, bins emptied, plants watered, security lights set etc etc etc. It’s all a nightmare. So I needed Rod Stewart like a hole in the head. But you know what? As with all things you don’t look forward to much, I really enjoyed it. It was a great show by an old pro with some fab songs which have stood the test of time. He’s engaging, self-deprecating, this son of a plumber – now a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)for his contributions to music. The boy done good. He’s got wife No.3 who’s known to a friend of mine in the village from the days when they lived in Bermuda – she used to throw great parties apparently – and went back to England to marry their mate but somewhere along the line, before the big day, met Mr Stewart and the rest is history. Well done Penny Lancaster. I bet they have a right laugh together. I think it’s all rather lovely. And they have a young child who did a scribble which Rod put on a T-shirt and was selling for charity last night. Really, all seems well with his world. Oh, and he’s still got a good head of hair. So maybe being a pensioner’s not all bad, y’know.

Right, well I’d better get going. Am meant to be planting out some runner bean seedlings, finishing off the last bits of packing, watering the pots, closing up the house and getting on my way. We are off sailing – hopefully not Rod’s stormy waters as we’re going to Turkey and pottering around a few bays. Lovely. Did it last year. Everyone thought we’d hate it and/or drown. We did neither. In fact, we loved every minute. It was superb. Wall-to-wall sunshine and the most free-ing holiday I think I’ve ever had. Life on the ocean wave. Not bad. Not bad at all.

So, me hearties, I’ll see you all in a week or so. Tell you all about it when I get back. If we get back. Ashclouds, perfect storms etc permitting...

PS: I've been most industrious while I should have been packing and have also published a new post over at Fridge Food. Go take a look if you have a mo.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

♫‘The hills are alive with the sound of bleating…’♫

First week of May

Until recently I was lamenting the fact that the field opposite our house had been devoid of sheep for some time. It always seems a bit empty when they’re not there ambling about their business. I learned from our neighbour, who owns the field, that this was because he was dealing with a rather persistent mole problem. Indeed, the top field was riddled with small piles of earth and N was muttering something about hoping they wouldn’t cross the lane and get onto our lawn…

I saw our neighbour out there on an almost daily basis, setting traps and - while he was in the mood for housekeeping - re-building a fallen down dry-stone wall, with a little help from his wife. It seems all this hard work paid off as there is a line of dead moles hung up by the side of the field (a rural tradition), not an earth pile in sight, and a green field full of expectant ewes and diddy little lambs. It is a joy to behold. And to listen to. Every time I step outside there is a cacophony of bleating and baaing as mother talks to child and child to mother. The farmer pulls up regularly in his Land Rover either to take a ewe away or to arrive with some newborns.

The girls leap up every morning and peer out through their bedroom curtains to count the lambs and see how many new ones have arrived. Sometimes though the lambs just get on with it by themselves. G noticed one pushing and groaning the other day and pointed it out excitedly to me: ‘Mummy, that sheep’s having a baby’. I went outside to take a closer look but things seemed to have calmed down. I assume something appeared during the night because the girls counted an extra lamb in the morning. Meanwhile, last Friday, N was working from home. His study looks right out on the field and about coffee time he called out to me that a lamb had just been born. He hadn’t seen it actually happen, but he did see the new arrival all covered in blood and with the umbilical chord still hanging down. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures and watching to see how mother and lamb bonded...

Three weeks later

The field explodes with noise every morning about 9.30am when the farmer comes up to give the sheep extra feed. He opens the gate opposite our driveway, drives in, honks his horn and they all come running in a small stampede to where he lays the feed on the grass. They seem to know the sound of the Land Rover for the symphony begins to build even before he has appeared. Amusingly, they sometimes get it wrong – it’s the bin lorry or another tractor – and the whole place reaches fever pitch then dies away into a rather embarrassed silence as the vehicle concerned rides right on by.

The lush green grass of just a few weeks ago is now looking well-chewed and is strewn with white clumps of sheep’s wool like giant dandelion clocks. The four week old lambs are getting nice and sturdy now, with only a few smaller, later arrivals left. One got out from under the field gate yesterday and was enjoying some lush long grass on the verge. We tried to herd him back in but he just tried to shove his silly head through the wire fence, with singular lack of success. In the end I opened the gate wide (hoping there wouldn’t be a sudden dash for freedom from the whole flock) and eventually he understood and came in the right direction – but the silly creature still squeezed under the gate rather than running through the large gap I had created. He still has much to learn, clearly.

But you know what? Sheep aren’t as stupid as you may think. We have consistently had three or four who have escaped their confines and enjoyed many many happy hours munching away in our garden. We’ve lost half a hedge thinking it was frost, then waking up to the fact that the woolly blighters were coming in over night and having a good old chew.

One of our favourite things, though, is watching the new lambs springing about in the air. They wag their little tails and suddenly go flying upwards. It’s hilarious. And as they grow more confident they start to hang around the field in small gangs, larking about and winding Mum up. Just occasionally, she gives in to their mithering (good northern word, that, covering a multitude of sins – it means ‘nagging’ or ‘bothering’ or ‘hassling’) and you suddenly see the whole lot of them go shooting off round the field, jumping and skipping and having a laugh. Somewhere I have a video of that, but I’ve just been searching my files and I can’t find it. If I do, I’ll add it later.

Right, talking of lambs, I’ve got to go and see mine now in their school swimming gala, so’d better dash, or guess what? Yes, I’ll be late. Again. Thence to the garden centre and then a Rod Stewart concert at the MEN. I'm not quite sure which is the lesser of the two evils...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Good Grief!

Good Grief! I just popped in to my blog - having been doing some other stuff online - to see if anything was going on and have just discovered, wonder of wonders, that I've become a Blog of Note overnight! Now this is rather wonderful, and I'm deeply flattered, but it is also a little spooky as, just the other day a blogging mate, Maddie Grigg, had just received the same accolade and I was planning to pop over there to congratulate her later today. Now it seems the honour, most unexpectedly, is mine too.

So I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to Mr Google Blogger Person who has chosen me amongst others this month - and to all of you who have read his (or her) recommendations and therefore found me here. WELCOME to all of my new friends and thank you so much for reading. I will endeavour, as time allows, to visit you all eventually. Bear with me, though, as Time is not always on my side...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

New Fridge Food Post

Just to say that I've just published a new post over at Fridge Food if anyone's interested. Two ridiculously easy meals - an Italian salad lunch and an English pub supper.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sign of the Times

Tuesday 11th May, 2010

Well, this is all very jolly, isn’t it? I have been listening to the news tonight and watched how the media have got themselves into an absolute frenzy over this Conservative-LibDem coalition government thing. There is no doubt that it is hugely historic – nothing like this for 70 years or more and in times of peace not war. But, as ever, there is endless cud-chewing and weeping and wailing and question posing and interrupting of answers – no-one is giving the situation a moment to settle. The only key thing to take on board and appreciate at the moment, as far as I can see, is that a decision has been made by three people: Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Gordon Brown has done the only viable thing and resigned; David Cameron, as the winner of the election (albeit without a majority) is therefore now Prime Minister, however suddenly and unexpectedly; Nick Clegg has done the only sensible thing and signed up with the ruling party. You can argue forever about which party has most sold itself down the river. That’s not really the point. Cameron and Clegg are actually just being quite level-headed and mature about it all (which is refreshing in itself when it comes to politics) and have accepted their slightly compromised situation and are now trying to make the best of it in the most positive and forward thinking way that they can. As it stands with the current electoral system, the people of this country effectively gave Labour a vote of no-confidence. Whether the LibDems sided with them or not, they were in a weak and untenable position.

As a country, we have not been in a situation like this in an age of such media scrutiny. We are sailing new political waters. We are, ironically, suddenly a little more like some of our European counterparts. Personally, I think it is quite exciting – and it will certainly be interesting. My God we needed a shake up and By God, we got it. And if it fails, I suspect it will be the media who will be significantly to blame.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Great Election 2010 and Other Stuff

Monday 10th May

Well, it's all a bit of a shambles, isn't it?

The Great Election 2010 was a fiasco with hundreds of people failing to vote due to poor organisation, unexpectedly high turn out (doh!), not enough polling stations and every other excuse under the electoral sun.

We now have a Hung Parliament with much political posturing and no sign yet of a resolution, let alone the much promised 'strong and stable Government' (still, this never bothered the Italians so why should it bother us? They seem to muddle along ok without.)

Greece (Portugal, Spain?) are in meltdown as is the whole Euro concept. Which will be the next dominoes to fall? Did anyone ever think this one through? I doubt it. Meanwhile the tax payer digs ever deeper into his pocket...

The Icelandic volcano is still spewing out sporadic ash clouds causing chaos to the airlines. But don't worry, it will all be recovered in soaring ticket prices. Good old Joe Public bails them all out again.

There's an oil slick the size of Luxembourg threatening to destroy the coast of New Mexico and various wildlife reserves. BP are making a total horlicks of trying to right their wrongs. Will anyone ever learn? It only happened because they were too mean to carry out the proper tests on the concrete used on the well. Oh, and guess what? The Tax Payer is going to pick up the costs of their greed...again.

I was going to change the header picture on my blog today. But I don't think I'll bother. Snow is forecast. And yes, there was sleet here this afternoon.

But you know what? The birds are singing, the lambs are springing and new shoots are trying to push through against all odds. While there's life, there's hope, after all.


PS: for anyone who might be interested (unlikely I know), the High Peak was returned to the Conservatives and our UKIP mate got 3% of the vote in Derbyshire Dales - not enough to save his deposit. But, hey, at least he tried to do something he believed in, and that alone is worth celebrating in an increasingly self-centred and superficial world.

PPS: update as of 9.30pm, Tuesday 11th May: have just seen that David Cameron becomes our new Prime Minister. Suddenly feel a little sorry for Gordon Brown. I'm such a softie. Will be interesting to see if anything much changes. Doubt it.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

'I might be 80 but I'm not daft.'

On the eve of The Great Election 2010, I thought I would give just one quick nod to it all. The following is a letter which was published in our local newspaper, The Buxton Advertiser, a couple of weeks ago. I have only just read it, but I thought it a particularly well-constructed one, and worthy of an airing here.

Over the last few weeks there have been quite a number of letters from a handful of Labour supporters in the Advertiser.

May I, through your kind auspices, try to correct the balance?

We have seen the effects of thirteen or more years of Labour policies and can anyone honestly say they like what they see?

They ruined direct grant and grammar schools, they took us to war in Iraq on false pretences and the effects of that are the almost weekly parades of coffins through Wooton Bassett and the appalling suffering of those who return injured and jobless.

Our economy is in a mess with companies closing, ending their pension funds and struggling with increased red tape whilst industrial activity has virtually ended in this country and moved to China etc.

Crime, drugs, the expenses scandal, the treatment of the desperately sick by NICE who will not authorise the drugs that will help the sufferers because the governement will not pay the price, and the appallingly mean increase in the state pension, are all the result of Labour policies.

They now accuse Conservatives of being 'toffs', yet government seems to be run by an 'elite' who award each other peerages.

It is reported that John Prescott's wife wants to be known as Lady Prescott. You only have to ask, love. Yet is was Prescott who punched a constituent in the face, played croquet whilst Rome burned, and had false Tudor beams put on his home at taxpayers' expenses. All things worthy of a peerage.

We thought all the spin, hype and the secrecy that evolved under Blair (who courted millionaires and is now paid thousands to open his mouth) would change with Brown, who promised transparency and open government. What a hope.

Even Alistair Campbell is still around spinning his way behind the scenes.

Our trust and faith in New Labour has been destroyed.

They are no longer the party of the people. Can we bear to think of another five years of this?

I might be 80 but I'm not daft.

Edith Bennett, Broad Walk, Buxton

The High Peak is a marginal constituency - and Derbyshire a key vote for the country. Conservatives lost to Labour by a narrow margin last time round. Tom Levitt, our retiring Labour MP and former teacher, has not covered himself in glory, particularly with regard to rural education (not to mention personal expenses...ahem). One of our friends is standing for UKIP in another Derbyshire constituency. He's had an interesting few weeks. Tomorrow night his wife will be offering him moral support on the political stage and I am looking after their children for them. It will be a long and interesting night.

Monday, 3 May 2010

After the Rain

It was one of those Sundays where we'd drifted a bit. Jaded from two late nights on the trot of celebration and partying, we did not exactly get off to a flying start. Bed was finally relinquished about 11am and a desultory sort of breakfast had - over which we attempted to make plans for what was left of the day.

I wanted to make the most of my newly renewed, after some years absence, National Trust membership by going to Biddulph Grange - at its best at this time of year with a mass of rhododendrons and azaleas; N was less than enthusiastic and quoted as saying 'you're far more interested in gardens than me'; and the girls still had homework to do. The weather was as uncertain as we were - sunny one moment, heavy showers the next. N needed to go for a run as part of his somewhat lackadaisical preparation for the Manchester 10km run in a few weeks time, and we also had to recover a car abandoned after the Ball in Buxton the night before. By 3pm I'd given up on Biddulph - it would be shutting by the time we got there. So we came to a compromise. We would go to Lyme Park - a National Trust property effectively on our doorstep - and have a walk there and then have an early supper at the Rams Head which serves up a good meal in pleasing surrounds. Decided then.

It was after five by the time we got there and I was concerned the park might be shut (as the handbook suggested it would be). However a large notice greeted us as we turned into the grounds informing us that they were open till 8.00pm. No need to worry then. There was a strong sense of being tale-end Charlies - such cars as there were were all going in the opposite direction to us, and when we got to the car park it was practically empty. We put our boots on under the shelter of the raised boot of the car as yet another heavy shower passed overhead. Was this a good idea? We persevered and as it eased set off for the little wooden gate which led into the park right behind this magnificent house. (Lyme Park was where they filmed the TV series of Pride and Prejudice - you know, the one with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy where he strides out of the lake in wet trews and all the women faint. The part that has dogged his career ever since by setting him in cliched stone.)

I have often wandered in the gardens and admired the vistas of the park beyond. There is a long avenue of trees that leads through it where once carriages would arrive from the south; there are marshy bogs and tufted grass and birch copses through which deer munch and meander. We passed an incongruous lady in smart trousers and unsuitable heels walking her dog at a swift click-clacky pace as we trudged by in our noiseless wellies. The grass was damp and spongy beneath our feet, the air heavy with wet scents of earth and plant. There wasn't a breath of air and, after the high-heeled lady, not another person about. We were alone with the birds, the bees, the trees and the deer. It was magical.

As we walked up the avenue, some deer with black and white striped 'targets' on their bottoms, drifted across our path. The ground rose gently at first, and then a little more steeply as we reached the outer stone walls of the park. Here an elegant gate with a simple design of gothic arches marked the 'arrival' at the big house for those weary travellers of old. We passed through a wooded gate in the wall to its side where now a magnificent beech wood stretched up to the right while to the left pines predominated. We turned to the left, stepping over a small stream, and followed the walled perimeter of the pine wood. Climbing gently uphill we passed through another wooden gate and were now on the moorland which stretched as far as the eye could see beyond the beech and pine wood. The contrast in atmosphere was remarkable and very beautiful.

I decided we should follow the wall south, rather than north and we were greatly rewarded. Another gate in the wall appeared in due course and we stepped back into the forest and followed a pathway through the high beech trees. Some saplings grew at a lower level and I pointed out the unfurling leaves from their thin brown cocoon. They were the most perfect delicate concertinas of translucent lime green - so delicate that if you tried to stretch out the concertina to see the shape of the leaves they would become, they tore immediately. The juxtaposition of bare golden moorland to our left from where the sound of a stream babbled up, with the stillness of the wood and the birdsong which echoed throughout it, was quite exquisite. I looked back and saw E had sat down on the edge of the path where it rose steeply and took a twist and was simply looking out at the moor beyond, drinking in the atmosphere. She'd chosen the exact same spot I would have chosen and, if alone, I would have sat there in quiet contemplation for hours.

We left the path and took a short cut through the trees which, like most beech woods, were beautifully spaced and open. The canopy above us was not yet dense as this was just the start of new growth. Light filtered easily through and, looking up, you saw a delicate tracery of branches with intermittent bright green clouds of new life and the sky beyond. Underfoot the rain had left the thick carpet of brown leaves and pine needles soft, silent and fragrant. More bursts of lime green from moss and lichen enlivened the earthy canvas and every now and then thin gnarled fingers of fern were starting to reach out of the ground towards warmth and light after the dormancy of winter.

And so we came to another gate in the perimeter wall which led us out onto a pasture at the edge of the moor. Here sheep were grazing and as we walked down the track with a small copse of pine trees to the right, lambs gamboled out following their mother, to the safety of the rest of the flock. In front of us now, looking westward, a perfect water-colour sky full of different hues and shades of grey with breaks of palest blue, lay above a view of Manchester and the Pennines beyond. The light was of a clarity which allowed the gaze to reach as far as the industrial shapes of Ellesmere Port and the Welsh hills beyond and all that lies between. It was remarkable to step out of the intimate peace and beauty of this deciduous haven and have such an intense and sudden exposure to grand horizons, to light and space, to a world beyond.

Having absorbed all this for a moment or two, we continued on down the hill and back to the car park, our Sunday afternoon walk having come full circle. We dipped into the adventure playground and swung on the monkey bars in perfect solitude. No other screaming kids, no other peoples conversations, no other energies. Just us and the birds and the bees and the great outdoors, washed clean by April showers and spring sunshine. A moment in time where the rhythms of our family and those of nature had, for once, perfectly convened; a walk after the rain which left our own spirits cleansed and contentment restored. We climbed into the car, now on its own in the park, and pointed its nose towards the pub and the thirst-quenching beer that N had been longing for ever since he'd come back from his run...
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