Of ridges, fridges and midges…

Of spit and polish

Eaved by the mantelpiece, the fireplace sits patiently. I’m glad it is patient, for it’s taken me long enough to share it with you…

In fact over three years have passed since I started my public peregrination around this room – wishing now that I’d thought to carry a duster with me… Three years just to cover the fifteen or so feet from the pantry to the mantel…

My progress has slowed – I blog, you see, when I find myself with a bit of spare time – a commodity which seems to have dwindled in inverse proportion to weariness over the last couple of years. I stare at my re-charging phone, ipod and camera blinking red-eyed, and long to be able to plug myself in… to sit still, to be good as new in a few hours.

My husband used to insert his fingers into sockets just for the watt the hell of it – but then he did grow up in France, in the days when the power to the people of Paris was a mere 110 volts. His move to London aged six then came as quite a shock to his system. And no, even if you get your electricity from EDF, do NOT try this at home…

I suppose I’ll just have to accept that sitting by the fireside – this fireside in particular– is as close as I will come to human recharge.

I’m connected, you see, to this hearth by an invisible lead of belonging – the old ‘CHATTAN SPECIAL – PATENT APPLIED FOR’ having already toasted and cheered my family for a quarter of a century before I was born. It was, I understand, installed in the late 1930s, my uncle Owen remembering standing in the kitchen, waiting for the first thrill of heat in the water pipe to confirm successful operation.

 

Its combination of multi-fuel fire, back boiler and side oven must have made an immeasurable difference to family life, for cooking and the heating of water were previously done using the oil stove or primus in the lean-to scullery, operations both hazardous and arduous. Now hot water would literally be on tap and supper could be cooked without having to venture outdoors.

In my memory though, cooking was almost entirely confined to a new-fangled electric contraption in the kitchen, leaving the constant warmth of the Chattan – for it was still our only way of heating water – open to improvisation.

When younger, the tiles to the left of the fire were just the right size for a cushion and the oven door a welcome leaning spot. With a book or pile of comics it was bliss at any time of day, but comfiest at night, after Grampa had gone to bed. Not only could I sit there then free from his ‘gei di cefen tost yn ishte fan’a’ warnings (Pembrokeshire areolation for ‘you’ll get a bad back sitting there’) but also free of the threat of being anointed with sputum. The fire served, you see, as a sizzling spittoon for my grandfather’s phlegm, and the happily wipe-clean tiles lay perilously within spitting distance.

There were, admittedly, a few weeks every season when he’d expectorate into his handkerchief rather than into the fire – the weeks when a whistling kettle graced the coals, invariably stemming from the arrival of the latest electricity bill. Eventually though the electric kettle would reappear – after a month or so of soot–smutted tea, not to mention the added body of the boiled-handkerchief stock every Monday morning.

Readers younger – or posher – may find it helpful to know that on Monday mornings, the largest saucepan in the house was invariably used to boil up all the handkerchiefs pressed into use during the previous week. It had to be done in the morning, because the saucepan was needed to simmer the Sunday chicken carcass for cawl in the afternoon…

Of baking and making…

Anyway, back at my night on the tiles, I couldn’t sit there entirely undisturbed even after Grampa had gone to bed, for the oven was used for warming slippers, airing washing and heating a sock-wrapped brick for the dog’s bed through the winter. Sometimes it was even used for cooking – most often for the swelling rise of dough, but once a year for the cooking of the Christmas turkey.

It has, you see, two settings, controlled by a pull, swivel and push contraption worthy of Heath Robinson which opens up flues running under and around the oven’s side. The first stop produces a gentle, warming heat perfect for reading, yeast fermentation and canine comfort. The second – when the fire is well stoked – cooks forgotten vests (yes, it did, once…) turkeys and any sentient creature in a ten foot radius. It’s great in the bleak midwinter – with windows wide open – but potentially lethal in the balmy 13 degrees Celsius of December 24th 1986, when it almost killed a pensioner; the last time the oven was turned to warp factor 2.

Until recently, that is, thanks to the unnatural cold of late 2010. As forecasts chilled from frosty to arctic, my worry-worms buried and multiplied, consuming hope and seeding fear… O little town of Bethlehem had nothing on this postcode area…

The specific nature of the hopes and fears met in me on any one night or day shifted as the windows of the advent calendar opened. For a while, the focus of my worry was whether we’d be able to pick up the turkey, ordered back in balmy October from a butcher seven miles away – across a mountain.

‘We could make a boat, and fetch it by sea’ I told myself – and whispered to Tom, who replied with the tolerant one-sided eyebrow raise he keeps for my wildest, most unlikely fears. It was only when he discovered me consulting http://www.westwaleswillows.co.uk/coraclebuilding.html that both his brows shot up…

Coracles, you see fall into the group of boats of which I am not scared – and he knows this. The subset also encompasses rafts (papyrus or otherwise, but preferably free of hieroglyphs depicting the weighing of human hearts), canoes, wooden rowing boats, catamarans and the Glenelg to Kyleakin ferry. These craft look as though they should float – are broader than they are tall and mostly made of materials which would bob around quite naturally whether fashioned into a boat or generally tossed to the mercy of the waves.

Tom did point out that the Glenachulish – a six vehicle turntable ferry almost as old as me – is largely constructed of metal, presumably to pre-empt any screaming abdabs halfway across the Kyle Rhea. We were, after all, about to cross the narrows where ‘tides race at 7 and 8 miles an hour, and with a head gale might baffle the steamers to force a passage’ according to the 1878 edition of the Royal Tourist Handbook to the Highlands and Islands. I pointed confidently to the rubber tyres girdling the deck though, and he allowed me to remain blissfully unaware of their bumper rather than buoyancy-aid nature until we reached the other side.

 

Regular readers will, no doubt, be expecting an explanation of the term ‘the screaming abdabs’. Well, much as I hate to disappoint, I’ve yet to find an explanation interesting enough to share with you… It was, however, one of the early names used by the band that went on to be known as The Pink Floyd – along with The Meggadeaths, Sigma 6, Leonard’s Lodgers, The Spectrum Five and The Tea Set. The latter is not of course to be confused with The Tea Party, which is simply a collection of mad haters.

The screaming abdabs also comes close, I suspect, to conveying the emotions experienced by Radio 4’s James Naughtie back in early December, when a Spoonerism encompassing Culture (Secretary) and (Jeremy) Hunt left him gasping. For those of you who missed it – or who would just love to hear his attempts at recovery again… and again…and again, I’ll post a link below.

Of Skye and why…

Anyway should you ever need to visit Skye – and if you haven’t, believe me, you do need to – I’d certainly recommend the Glenelg ferry, for a more atmospheric portal it’s hard to imagine. Merely reaching Glenelg requires a 10 mile journey along the precipitous but visually stunning Bealach Ratagain track:a high hill on which a road is cut, but so steep and narrow, that it is very difficult… Upon one of the precipices, my horse, weary with the steepness of the rise, staggered a little, and I called in haste to the Highlander to hold him… the only moment of my journey, in which I thought myself endangered.’ wrote Samuel Johnson in 1773.

The bay itself – where the road simply disappears into the sea beside a fold of rock – has probably changed little since he and Boswell departed from there either, although someone has thoughtfully painted ‘Kylerhea Ferry’ onto the rocks, presumably to reassure people that there’ll be a boat along in a minute – between April and October anyway.

You can also – at a squint – make out your terminus from your departure point, but to watch the ferry glide toward you from the other side rather adds to the Stygian, edge-of-earth atmosphere. The ferrymen though are thankfully far more interest in GB (or Scottish) Ps than Charon’s obol and your viatican is likely to be a polystyrene cup of coffee, self-served from an old lighthouse now transformed into a beacon of light refreshment.

On Skye, the landward climb involves a road even narrower than the one to Glenelg – the sort of road where grass marks the middle. A drovers’ route, it was along this track that cattle were herded in their thousands during the late summer to be swum across the Kyle Rhea:

They begin when it is near Low Water, and fasten a twisted Wyth about the lower Jaw of each Cow, the other end of the Wyth is fastned to another Cows Tail, and the number so tied together is commonly five. A Boat with four Oars rows off, and a Man sitting in the Stern, holds the Wyth in his hand to keep up the foremost Cows head, and thus all the five Cows swim as fast as the Boat rows; and in this manner above a hundred may be Ferried over in one day…’ wrote Martin Martin in his ‘Description of the Western Isles’ in 1703.

And then, as the final false summit breaks true, and the road begins to widen, the stunning curves of the Cuillin rise and swell before you, placed slap bang on the island as if to stop it drifting.


Perhaps I would benefit from some Cuillin…

Martin Martin, by the way – otherwise known as Màrtainn MacGilleMhàrtainn  – was the first to write a detailed account to this enchanting corner of Britain – and, importantly, almost the last to write from the perspective of an ‘insider’ – a Gaelic speaker actually born on Skye. Not that he calls it Gaelic – he instead uses ‘Irish’; not recommended when encountering Scots Gaelic speakers today.

Within the Description’s pages lies a cornucopia of information on each island’s geology, archaeology, fauna and flora, diet, common ailments, folk remedies, dress, and beliefs as well as glimpses of trade, agriculture and their economies, along with other sections devoted to topics such as ‘the ancient and modern customs’ and ‘an account of the second sight – in Irish called Taish’.

He records the belief, incidentally, that cows have the second sight on the evidence that ‘when a woman is milking a cow and then happens to see the second-sight the cow runs away in a great fright at the same time, and will not be pacified for time after…

Ah but is this an indication that the cow is actually experiencing enlightenment of its own, or might it simply be reacting to some change in the milker’s demeanour  – e.g. a sudden tightening of tension on its teats – or some udder explanation?

Apologising profusely, I must just add that research has since established that both dogs and horses can smell fear in humans – so perhaps cows can too?

Anyway, credulity aside – and although there’s something inevitably archaic about Martin’s  keenness to sum up the characteristics of various islands’ inhabitants, you at least get the feel of someone writing with fondness and respect – e.g. we are told of the Isle of Lewis that ‘the natives are generally ingenious and quick of apprehension; they have a mechanical genius, and several of both sexes have a gift of poesy, and are able to form a satire or panegyric ex tempore, without the assistance of any stronger liquor than water to raise their fancy…

‘They are great lovers of music; and when I was there they gave an account of eighteen men who could play on the violin pretty well without being taught: they are still very hospitable, but the late years of scarcity brought them very low, and many of the poor people have died by famine. The inhabitants are very dexterous in the exercises of swimming, archery, vaulting, or leaping, and are very stout and able seamen; they will tug at the oar all day long upon bread and water, and a snush of tobacco.’


The same cannot be said for Samuel Johnson though – who carried a copy of Martin’s Description with him on his travels…

Martin’, wrote Johnson – ‘was a man not illiterate: he was an inhabitant of Sky, and therefore was within reach of intelligence, and with no great difficulty might have visited the places which he undertakes to describe; yet with all his opportunities, he has often suffered himself to be deceived.

‘He lived in the last century, when the chiefs of the clans had lost little of their original influence… and feudal institution operated upon life with their full force. He might therefore have displayed a series of subordination and a form of government, which, in more luminous and improved regions, have been long forgotten, and have delighted his readers with many uncouth customs that are now disused, and wild opinions that prevail no longer. But he probably had not knowledge of the world sufficient to qualify him for judging what would deserve or gain the attention of mankind. The mode of life which was familiar to himself, he did not suppose unknown to others, nor imagined that he could give pleasure by telling that of which it was, in his little country, impossible to be ignorant.

‘What he has neglected cannot now be performed. In nations, where there is hardly the use of letters, what is once out of sight is lost for ever. They think but little, and of their few thoughts, none are wasted on the past, in which they are neither interested by fear nor hope…’


I think I know who I’d have preferred for a travelling companion – and actually, there is information about feudal practices within Martin’s work – perhaps Dr Johnson just struggled to find it for the same reasons cited by another critic of Martin’s writing:

‘It is not clearly structured, and contains a hotch-potch of loosely related material covering the natural world, customs and religion, antiquities and monuments, diseases and cures, and suggestions for economic development’. So if you’ve got this far with my blog, you’ll probably love it as I do…

Anyway the point I started making a digression within a digression ago is that taking this small, chugging, boat to Skye prepared me for the Island’s bewildering and ancient beauty… reminded me that until 1995, this glorious swathe of wildness could only be accessed by sea.


Nothing – nothing at all though – prepared me for the midges.

Of itches and bitches…

I’d encountered these irksome creatures many times before of course, as has anyone who has ventured north of Hadrian’s Wall between May and September. And let me make it absolutely clear that they will never ever deter me from visiting Scotland. Their bites are, I believe, a very small toll to pay in return for sharing the second most beautiful country in these islands…

The midges of Skye however are, I suspect, the equivalents of Darwin’s Galapagos finches – cut off from their mainland sisters by the Sound of Sleate and evolving larger, more vicious mouth parts by the day.


I first met them on the Sabbath, just north of Portree, where they had gathered together soon after daybreak to chastise anyone failing to attend the kirk. I say sisters, for only the female of the species bite – and only when pregnant. They do so, I understand, to provide a protein-packed meal for their second, third or subsequent batch of offspring, the first being viable without bingeing on red, white or rosé corpuscles… and so the wee free become the wee free fousand…

I say sisters, but it doesn’t feel very sisterly when you’re singled out for attention just for parking your tripod in long, damp grass. I was, admittedly, taking photos of the Old Man of Storr at the time – perhaps goading a feminist separatist strain of Culicoides to show me the error of my focus – or perhaps I just breathed too heavily in my excitement, CO2 the flame to which these creatures are drawn. All I know for certain is that the German tourists bringing up the rear as I retreated -slapping myself all over – gave me the same looks of hurt misunderstanding I associate with the Fawlty Towers ‘don’t mention the war’ episode.


And then from Skye, they followed me… all the way up to Durness and back again… The midges that is, not the Germans… By the time I got to Wester Ross they were half a million strong… unfortunately showing no inclination whatsoever to turn into butterflies above our nation… This, then, is when I resorted to tucking bunches of bog myrtle into my cleavage and behind each ear as a repellent… and Tom really could have reminded me of their presence before allowing me into the Torridon General Store.


By Ullapool I was half crazed, and marched into a chemist demanding ‘whatever the locals bought for the midges’. The assistant merely gestured as I held my breath and waited for her to start recommending bootees and rattles…


She was though indicating shelves which had obviously once held every midge repellent known to mankind but were now as empty as a box of Lib Dem pledges. Apparently, instead of having been culled by the exceptional cold of early 2010, midges actually re-appeared in record numbers last summer, their natural predators having been the only real victims of the chill. And so I retired to the pub, to partake of the other remedy favoured by locals… Laphroig, nature’s aide-oublier…


By Glen Coe, the bites on my bites had bites. Strewing myrtle to the wind, I slapped on a newly-obtained chemical repellent and headed out for an early morning photography expedition armed with cigarettes, smoke being another deterrent.  It took me only a few shots though to notice that my camera – and hands – were rapidly turning silver – the same colour as my plastic lighter – now dissolving in whatever it was I’d just applied to my skin…

‘Don’t scratch’ advised Tom, as I considered galloping round a field flicking my tail and bellowing as an alternative… Midge bites don’t hurt you see until you’ve manually agitated  them to cratered crustiness – they just drive you up the wall, across the ceiling and then force several circuits of the light fitting until scab stage is reached.


The itching though is the fault of your body rather than of the midge – caused by the the histamine produced in defence… No… all the midge does is scissor open your skin with her serrated mouthparts, spit in your wound and then sup… here’s blood in your eye…

Near desperation, I consulted the internet and found a site called ‘Biting midges in Scotland’ – turned down the heating and practiced snapping my jaws in revenge… until I realised that wasn’t quite what they were advocating… And then I became determined to photograph one, knowing by now that one day I’d want to share them with you. ‘We’ll go to a lake and trap one in the car’ I announced. ‘Then, when it walks up the window to try to get out, I can take its picture’…


As cunning plans go, this one was not without flaws. It a) ignored the fact that midges are disinclined to go anywhere in ones and b) assumed that when trapped inside a car with a free meal, they will show any wish whatsoever to leave. I did get my shot though – eventually – after the vampire sisters had dined… again.

In fact my plan was rivalled only by my cunning stalking of a heron, spotted fishing in a stream in yet another area adored by midges. Slowly, patiently, ignoring the knowledge that I would pay for my stealth later, I crept nearer and nearer…


How still I managed to stand… how still it managed to stand… how deeply the midges bit… Yet closer… and closer…


How boring a piece of wood it was. It was time for the universal donor to go home…


Of turkey and being quirky…

Anyway to return to my subject – offering only the link of large flightless birds…

And yes, I know that neither herons nor turkeys are flightless, but the specific ones I have in mind definitely were…Sheer bulk you see means that the turkeys that grace our Christmas tables today have about as much chance of take-off as we do after having gobbled them.

This was not always the case though, with wild turkeys being able to flutter up into branches, fly short distances at up to 55 mph and glide for up to a mile – presumably further if actually piloting a glider. I am certain, too, that this latter ability was not bred out of domesticated birds until sometime during the last century, for one of the stories I grew up with was that of my grandfather ‘allowing the turkeys to escape’.

picture courtesy of wikimedia

Born in 1898, his first job – at the age of 14 – was as a ‘gwas bach’ – literally a ‘small servant’ at The Court – a large local farm. However his subsequent letter of testimonial from his employers makes no mention that in the short space of fifteen months there, he accidentally drained a huge fish pond, startled the precious turkey flock causing them to glide haphazardly down into the valley below and (quite deliberately) locked a wedding party into a church where they were trapped for the best part of a day. Perhaps they were simply glad to be rid of him; the value of a large turkey in 1912 was after all around 17 shillings whereas a gwas bach was worth only 14 shillings – 70p – a week.

It was only intensive farming practices from the 1940s onward – with all the associated welfare issues – which made turkey affordable for most families for Christmas… and which indeed still deliver the vast majority of the birds for our tables today.

Not my table though – never again – although if you’d asked me until recently whether I’d settle for any turkey rather than go without, my honest answer would have been ‘I don’t know’. It is, after all, easy to have principles as long as you can afford them – and I am inordinately fond of my Christmas dinner. I can answer ‘no’ with certainty now simply because it’s a choice I’ve both faced and made.

picture courtesy of wikimedia

With only a week to go and the forecast colder by the hour, news coverage of frozen seas forced me to tear up the coracle blueprint. Christmas dinner or not, I had no wish to re-enact Titanic with a turkey as my Leonardo DiCaprio. Further newsreel – of empty supermarket shelves and vegetables that couldn’t be cropped from ice-bound fields – did however send me scuttling to the supermarket – in the dark, mid blizzard and with twenty minutes til closing time… Well I say scuttling – I in fact mean being driven by Tom – in turn being driven by me – now back to patient mono-brow raising as I wittered about the inevitable panic buying … the huge crush we’d face at the checkouts after such reports from the British Broadcasting Corporation…

So there I stood, snow pouring from the sky outside whilst Tom read the paper in the car – the only shopper in the village,  surrounded by mountains of food and surly staff anxious to get home even if I obviously wasn’t. I pondered the frozen turkeys for an age – rehearsing the for-and-against arguments under my breath… In fact so long did I stand there that I suspect every CCTV camera in the store was craning its neck, straining to see into aisle three… Was this agitated-looking woman some crazed animal rights campaigner hell-bent on rather belatedly liberating the birds from their crowded freezer? Was she talking to herself or to them? In fact I might be stood there still, had a kindly assistant not come and whispered to me that the store would be closing in five minutes. A sweep of two free-range chickens, sprouts, parsnips, and carrots later, I knew I could face Christmas and my conscience.


‘Why two chickens?’ asked Tom back at home. ‘Oh because turkeys are much, much bigger…’ I replied…

And so dawned a beatific state of calm that lasted some days. We were warm, we were well, we were home… ‘that’s what’s important’ I simpered to friends… thinking smugly of the chickens tucked in the freezer whilst trying not to think of the very large chunk of frozen lamb I’d hurled into the bathroom to cram them in. Well I suspected it was lamb at least – when it emerged it had had that ‘not quite sure’ look most frozen meat seems to acquire after a while.

I should also clarify that although I still call it a bathroom, the bath disappeared decades ago. Unheated since ablution became an upstairs event – and separated from an outside shed by only a thin partition wall – the small downstairs offshoot from the kitchen now houses the washing machine as well as becoming a very handy cold store when the fridge is full to overflowing.

It’s also usually a great place for de-frosting  food but remained barely super-zero this advent – so it wasn’t until the morning of  the midwinter solstice that Tom mentioned – a tad nervously – the ‘carrier bag in the bathroom from which blood is oozing…’

‘Oh shit, the lamb…’ I mumbled, continuing a soliloquy of oaths I’d already been swearing for at least half an hour. It had been, you see, a very special morning – marked by a stunning partial eclipse of the moon beginning at 5.28 am and capped by a befitting dawn just after eight… and I had photographed them both. I was now paying for having photographed them both by having sensation return to my fingers and feet for the first time in around three hours. And that sensation was not good.



And although the pain did stop eventually, the thought of dealing with semi-frozen flesh remained somehow repugnant… almost cannibalistic… ‘Leave it where it is for now – chop it up for the seagulls tomorrow…’ my fingers wagged wisely at my brain.

By the time tomorrow was today however, it was obvious that the hitherto indistinguishable lump of meat was in fact a whole shin of beef – now perfectly thawed and smelling absolutely sweet. ‘You’re not having this’ I hissed at Sammy through the kitchen window – one of the advantages of a childhood without refrigeration being a willingness to rely on my nose and eyes to tell me when food is safe rather than ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ nanny dates.

The problem was that I’d already started to make mince pies – and had somehow managed to weigh out a kilo rather than a pound of flour… Ah well, no point in putting it back now…

Ninety six mince pies and several hours later though, my enthusiasm for cooking had run out completely and was pooling with the blood now anointing large areas of the floor. But no, I soldiered on… two thirds of it could be turned into chilli beef today, whilst boiling the remaining chunk for cawl tomorrow… without handkerchiefs…

‘I like cooking’ I reminded myself as I browned meat, soaked peas, grated ginger, crushed garlic and excavated the freezer in search of a marrowbone – before preparing mammoth quantities of potatoes, turnips and carrots…

Of struggling and juggling…

And so began a domino effect that marked the rest of Christmas. As one dish made with something taken out of the freezer was completed, resultant spare portions then of course had to go back in – usually doubled and sometimes trebled in size by the addition of other ingredients. Eventually then, one of the chickens had to give… as, once more, did my calm…


In fact as the rest of Britain got snow that stuck and stayed, I kept it at bay in West Wales with the sheer glow of my anxiety. Sausage meat – previously forgotten – formed a new focus for my insecurities for a whole 48 hours – around about the time that the etymology of ‘purchase’ began to strike me as particularly apt.

Although synonymous today with the exchange of money for goods, its origins lie in one of its alternative meaning – to obtain through effort or to earn, from the old French ‘purchasier’ – chasier meaning ‘to chase’.

Of course there’s more than one way to skin a sausage – leading to the acquisition of several skeins of squeezable-if-needs-be pork links on my travels around the food purveyors of north Pembrokeshire – before two packs of the ‘real thing’ were, eventually, secured. I felt there was little point however in trying to explain at the till that I had already purchased this sausage meat through sheer endurance of effort and so currency was presumably supernumerary…

Then the cooker began to behave erratically. First one of the rings threw the trip-switch when asked to perform. Then the whole thing started making rattling noises when you turned it on. And finally – bringing panic coursing to my breast once more – the oven thermostat developed a twitch, working for a few minutes and then switching the heating elements off. My hope for the turkey – the overland acquisition of which had been starting to look more and more probable – faded again.


‘We can cook it next door’ Tom offered helpfully – our neighbours being away and their keys being in our care – ‘I’m sure they wouldn’t mind’. No of course they wouldn’t – they’re lovely people – but a good 90% of the turkey experience is, after all, the smell of it cooking… that unique, once-a-year combination reinforced down the decades by scent-memories associated with warmth, happiness and anticipation…  Short of knocking a hole twixt the semis, not a whiff of air-de-dindon would permeate, and that, that, I think, they might mind…

‘We’ll cook it in the front room oven’ I eureka-d… But the oven of course hadn’t been used to cook for over twenty years – and never by me. A test-drive seemed wise… and a rapidly thawing chicken was, after all, to hand.

I have had few happier days. It started elbow-deep in the belly of the grate as I scooped out accumulated ash and clinkers and culminated in a perfect chicken – moist and melting and with a hint of woodsmoke. And in the intervening hours, I coo-d and floated on the thermals. With the fire actively stoked rather than rescued when someone notices it is on the verge of extinction, any background heating became superfluous and the hot water tank bubbled and boiled with geyser-like vigour. The old Chattan Special was flying once more…


And so I tucked my worries up in bed, to sleep soundly there until Santa had been – and thanked the gods of dice that they were such very, very little ones.

Of the present…

What did he bring?

Well, readers of yore will already know that on Christmas morning, whatever the weather, I take a walk around our old quarry – ostensibly to feed the birds but also to look for violets to grace the table. Regular rambles in preceding days had however assured me that none would be available this year – earth really did stand hard as iron and that which grew in it slumped, exhausted by the frost.

I saw it first from the top of the steps, banking to its right as it flew towards me, so that the low, bright sun illuminated its underwing and breast… unmistakably a red kite – a glorious red kite – flying, for the first time above my patch of this earth. Did I have my camera? No of course I didn’t – but for once I was almost glad, for relieved of any chance of capturing the moment, I could stand and revel in it – follow its flight and simply smile.

one I took earlier

He brought other things, too – friends old and new, family, and a day soon after Christmas when the sun gave warmth enough to sit out on a damp bench eating salt-crusty fish and chips.

And best of all – most precious of all – he brought me some time, that commodity which can neither be bought – nor purchased…

Thank you for sharing some of yours with me.

Links:

THE lighter moment of 2010

Martin Martin


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~ by Jude on January 14, 2011.

6 Responses to “Of ridges, fridges and midges…”

  1. OH~
    It has been well worth the wait..
    Your posts and plug-ins may be few and far between, but their mirth and wit, fascinating bits of this and that never fail to keep me in my seat.
    I loved the photo’s from Skye, especially the ones of the heron log… 🙂
    we have a bloodsucking sister of the midge here, and she seems to prefer english blood. ( i have it first hand)
    and I have to ask:
    ” Ninety six mince pies”???
    what ever did you do with them all?
    I haven’t had Cawl since I stayed in Trapp..
    what a lovely memory…
    So wonderful to read!
    thank you!

  2. And it has been well worth the writing for such a lovely response 🙂
    When you say you have a midge sister ‘here’ where is here? (roughly I mean – I don’t mean to stalk…) How do you cope with them?
    The mince pies? Well, I hope I won’t sound too ‘nice’ when I say I kept 18 and delivered the rest to other people; anyone insisting that’s a nice thing to do will be forced to try my pastry…
    And why not try making your own cawl? There is, after all, a recipe on one of my old blogs which contains no handkerchiefs… Trapp is a beautiful place isn’t it? How long ago was that? I must blog about Careg Cennen at some point…

    In the meantime thank YOU 🙂

  3. a beautiful read as always….thank you for sharing.

  4. Oh it’s very much my pleasure Helen – thank you…x

  5. Enjoyed so very much as usual, especially all those wonderful photographs. We had the exact same Chattan Special Fireplace your Uncle Owen installed in our home in Manor Road, Manselton, Swansea where I grew up as a small boy. A wonderful stove in those days.
    Love and hugs,
    Brenton.

  6. Thank you so much Brenton – I wonder if might still be there? Chattan Specials were also – so I understand – at one time standard in lots of council and coalboard properties. Odd then that I’ve not been able to find anything out about their history or manufacturers…

    Hope you’re both keeping well and warm over there – lots of love to you x

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