Sunday, 28 February 2010

The last day of February

It's the last day of February. Such a grey muddy last day of the month too. It's raining, but we go for a walk anyway. The dog doesn't mind and as Billy Connolly said: "I hate all those weathermen, too, who tell you that rain is bad weather. There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little." So, suitably coated, hatted and booted (but perhaps not in a sexy way, sorry Billy) we set off up the bridle path.

This used to be the green lane - now it is more like a brown, muddy motorway thanks to some fencing work the farm has had done under the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme. Little bits get done every year. It looks horrendous at the moment with fresh muddy scars everywhere, but spring will erase of all that. It's all in the name of protecting the environment  -  in this case the traditional Pembrokeshire hedgebanks have to be fenced so the sheep don't climb all over them and destroy them.

Lovely wooden gates are popping up too. This gateway hasn't had a gate in it for the whole of the 25 years we have lived here. This is a novelty to us all. The fact that they swing open and shut without dragging on the ground is a novelty too, as is the fact that they have proper hinges and catches, not baler twine.

A lovely stretch of new fence makes this field sheep-proof for the first time (ever?) and gives us a nice little summer paddock to stop the ponies getting too fat. There are a few piles of trash to be either piled up as habitat (which gets us Brownie points on Tir Gofal) or burned (which doesn't).

There's a new gate at the top corner too. We like to walk down the field. Joe Public is supposed to walk down the lane, but I have my suspicions that this gate might look at little too tempting for some and some straying of walkers might take place. I think the ponies will look very pretty leaning over this making goo-goo eyes at anyone who happens to pass by.

And another gate to another newly sheep-proofed field and a second small ponies-on-a-diet field. I'm not sure what the animal residents are going to make of these new fangled arrangements. They're used to roaming where they please on these two fields at once (over the banks if it pleases them) and hassling anyone who walks or rides along the bridlepath. Being confined to either one of these two fields is bound to irritate them.

Spring isn't really in the air yet, there's still a sense of limbo or mother nature holding her breath before all the full glories of spring burst forth. These hazel catkins are early sentinels, though, but everything else is still brown and asleep.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Green shoots

It is so frustrating waiting for spring! The seed order has arrived, the Charlotte potatoes are lined up chitting quietly on the dining room windowsill, but it's still too soon to get anything done.

One thing we were able to do (and 'we' in this case is mostly Granny in the Annexe, assisted by Brian and I) is to plant the bare-rooted fruit trees we had bought. In all we had a damson (Merryweather, pictured), two plums (Victoria and Opal), two pears (Concorde and Winter Nelis), three cooking apples (Grenadier, Lord Derby and Lane's Prince Albert) and four eating apples (Beauty of Bath, Claygate Pearmain, Ellison's Orange and Sunset).

These varieties were selected on a trip to Dolau Hirion Fruit Trees in Capel Isaac where we explained our requirements, topography and rainfall and the apple expert recommended varieties. Most are maidens, so it will be a while before we are able to enjoy the fruits of our labours, but it did feel like a very satisfying achievement to finish planting them yesterday.

I have to admit I was feeling disillusioned with the garden. Three years solid now of unremitting rain had dampened my enthusiasm for it somewhat. Things just refused to grow - like beans, for example - and the slugs were the only ones enjoying the conditions.

But it hasn't been a total disaster. Some things did well, like the courgettes (eventually) and there's still food to be found in the garden. I've just picked the last of the sprouts for tonight's dinner and there are a couple of small January King and Savoy cabbages still to eat.

My new lawn has done well too and is firmly established; at least a wet year was a good thing for a freshly sown patch of turf.

The optimist in me believes that it has to be better this year, which is why I'm champing at the bit. GintheA and I cleared one of the raised beds ready for the Charlottes, but it's the only bed dry enough for any kind of work. Everything else is still too soggy and today covered in a fine layer of cold white stuff.

In the meantime all I can do is plan things, write lists of jobs for Brian to do (fix the polytunnel is high on the list - the door has blown in and it looks like Steptoe's Yard in there). Then, and only then, can I start planting seeds. I just have one final week to complete at work (I've been covering for maternity leave and the new mum is back) and then it will be March and I can make a start on things.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Things that go brrrrmmmmm in the night...

I live on the sort of road full of tight twisty turns and vertiginous hills that, were one designing a Good Road for Driving, one would include and then people would say: "Don't be ridiculous"!

Goodness knows how this road evolved. It's not the sort of road one would happily drove cattle along and only a fool would tackle Rhiw Coch in anything without at least reliable brakes, if not ABS.

It is impassable in snow. We've had days this year in which the road just could not be attempted. It has hill after hill after hill, and I should know because I have have run up and down every single one of them.

So, all in all, it is entirely perfect for the annual night rally run by the Teifi Valley Motor Club. Two weeks ago, amidst four inches of snow and sensibly on a quad bike, one of the organisers delivered the letter informing us of this year's event, a pre-Valentine's treat of night time revving engines.

The skies were clear again, it wasn't snowing and conditions, I should think, were pretty much perfect. The first car passed at 11.30pm or thereabouts, followed by sporadic others and then, at about 1.30am, queues of them, all revving engines and testosterone-charged gear changing.

This year, as an extra-special treat, the bottom of our driveway was the venue for a stop check, so every single rally car paused at the end of our drive before revving away noisily up the hill past our neighbours' farm.

The marshals backed their Audi into the bottom of our driveway and stood (bravely) in a puddle of torchlight in the road waiting for each car. Some drivers slowed in good time, paused quietly, drove away. Others skidded to a halt, revved wildly, roared away.

I ambled around the fields in the dark for about half and hour or so watching the fun. Yes it's noisy, but it's great to see these cars enjoying the bends and turns of the road and there's a certain amount of joy in the fact that, in these days of crazy health and safety rules, events like these can still take place.

These guys weren't hanging about - they were as flat out as they could be. You wouldn't tackle these roads at those speeds without being pretty sure you won't encounter another car coming towards you. I'd love to drive this road - my normal school run - under those conditions (but perhaps without the kids in the back clutching their Baby Annabells!)

It's terrific, noisy, old-fashioned fun. Perhaps there are a few tired souls about today, kept awake by the noisy cars, especially those who live right next to the road. But long may it last. If loud, dangerous, bonkers stuff like this was banned it would be a very dull world.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Simple pleasures

As my last post was very much about life hitting the pause button, I thought this one should be about the little things that are pleasing me at the moment.

These are Charlotte seed potatoes from Sarah Raven's catalogue. Each year I think about growing a different variety, but each year I grow Charlotte. There's something very satisfying about growing potatoes, from setting out their little earthy selves to chit, burying them like treasure, digging them up (like buried treasure) and finally eating them in all their lovely deliciousness.

Yes, these are my legs, quite useful to have two of them that work and I'm especially proud of the fact that they ran a half marathon last October, but it's what they are wearing that is pleasing me at the moment. These are More Mile leggings with a lovely fluffy inner lining, neat ankle zips and nice stripy shiny bits. Just perfect for these shivery arctic days we're getting. Who'd have thought that they could make such a difference? And who'd have thought that such a huge difference could cost just £14.99 from

I love orange. Possibly a little too much. This is my latest orange buy - the perfect shade. I don't often wear nail polish on my fingers (hence there's just the one thumb to admire) and this is destined for summer toes. In the background are my favourite M&S leather gloves. Butter soft and always on my hands. I get a little arthritis in the first joint of my right index finger, so gloves are a necessity when there's even the slightest nip in the air. 

We acquired a box of ex-batts last year and sadly due to old age/foxes/whatever only two remain. But they're two lovely ladies and one of them lays us a big brown egg at about 6am every day. That's enough, really for our egg requirements and we're very grateful to her.

Finally signs of life in the garden. It may be minus something out there, we may have had weeks of snow, thaw, snow and thaw again, but the crocuses (croci??) are undeterred. The orange ones (of course!) pop up first and the purpleys are just beginning to show their leaves. Spring, it seems, might be just around the corner.

Knitting! I haven't knitted anything for ages, but then I saw a lovely pair of fingerless gloves on Pipany's blog and have hankered after a pair ever since. The pattern is for Sirdar's Crofter wool, but the wool shop only had the very pale greys and pinks in that, which don't suit my freckly auburn tones, so I pounced on this wool instead which has some lovely rich browns, oranges (of course!) and a splash of turquoise to keep it awake. I now have to go back for some Crofter to fulfil the orders from H8 and R6 for the pink girly fingerless gloves in the centre of the picture. (See Pipany's blog for some more accomplished knitting and the full gorgeousness of Sirdar Crofter.)

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The deafening sound of silence

I don't have a lot to say for myself at the moment, which is unusual. I'm not sure why it is, really. Perhaps it's next week's impending gall bladder scan, perhaps it's the time of year, or perhaps it's the weather?

It isn't as if nothing has been happening. Of course it has snowed quite a lot, then it thawed and then it snowed and thawed all over again. I've been going to work and running and doing all the mundane stuff involved with general day to day living.

It might be because I'm feeling in limbo at the moment - I've been covering for maternity leave at work which might be over in a fortnight's time - or it might not. It's difficult to plan under those circumstances. I think I'll be disappointed when it ends, but also disappointed if it doesn't. I've very much enjoyed being back in my old job subbing the farm pages and the agricultural supplement, but I've let things slide at home. I haven't written anything fiction-wise since I finished NaNoWriMo at the end of November and there are countless little and big jobs to do in the garden and in the house itself.

I'm feeling a little house proud at the moment having splashed out in the sales on a gorgeous leather armchair and a coffee table - both from Laura Ashley - and they've rather raised the tone of the place. What they have also done is highlighted all the other little bits that need doing too - re-painting top to bottom, inside and out, for starters - and I need my three days back to do that sort of thing.

I need a good summer in the garden as well. My polytunnel needs a bit of refurbishment and everywhere is looking a bit flattened and soggy after such an onslaught of snow. I'm itching to get at it all. The seed potatoes and vegetable seeds have arrived and I'm beginning to conquer the disappointment of last year and look forward to this one with some enthusiasm.

So perhaps a bit of quiet is in order for a while longer yet - at least until a few questions have been answered and spring has sprung.

* The picture is of Mido the dog having a bit of a bark. He doesn't often have much to say either and we have had to train him to woof occasionally.