Sunday, 29 December 2013

Happy New Year

Just days away from another New Year,
Already there has been snowdrop cheer,
And lots of other wintering buds will start,
Like Winter Aconite and hellebores

You may see the ermine leaping and hunting,
For what a stoat in their new coat gloat,
Whilst listening for the squeaks it seeks
Amongst the forest or open floor.

Looking out for mistletoe on the trees,
a rare site it would be for one to see,
The host is apple, then hawthorn and lime,
Levens or by the Kent it climbs.

Rudolf has been and gone for now,
And time for our doe of the roe to bow
Whilst she doth run as sweet as heart
O’er hill or dale she will take her part.

Robin is singing whilst pouting his breast,
It’s orange, not red to put to the test,
No fighting today or angry mood,
Today its peace and hostility cease.

The Holly and the Ivy with holly berries bright,
And ivy slowly spiralling up the tree whilst clinging tight,
Stretching out in silence a new vein is born,
And yet its still the Holly who wears the crown….  

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Seasons Greetings to all

The Saturday preceding Christmas 2013

Thrushes are darting over the hedgerow,
Good job its cars on the road and not a bus,
One, then another, then a pair, until a dozen passed,
So low down and skimmed the car roof Into Curwen.

Further on,  passing Endmoor and Summerlands,
And even further to where the road bends,
Whilst watching out for the White Crow,
And just on cue you was there among the rest,
You stood out, to welcome a Christmas best.

And further on past Oxenholme and Nat
And just before the asda roundabout,
Looking up into the snowy sky,
There were Seven Swans a Flying,

On reaching Wainwrights “happy” Kendal,
I could here the song “We wish you a Merry Christmas”,
Followed by “Get your Big Issue Here”,
And brass did play across the road,
To welcome Christmastide.

Ho Ho Ho!
It hailed with stones as big as beans,
Whilst winds blew and rains came as well,
And thunder and lightening too,
Then “One almighty bang” was heard,
And all the lights and electric was gone,
And plunged into darkness all around.

And on that very second “Santa” appeared,
He came around that corner on his sleigh,
With lights so bright, and carols so clear,
Whilst shouting lots of words of cheer.
And waved to all the children, one by one.
Ho Ho Ho…
( Experienced on 18th December 2013 approx 1930hrs - Burton In Kendal.)

So late the "Bombus"

Last Saturday the 14th December 2013,
So late your appearance caused a stir,
I had to look twice to make sure.
You must have been one inch and a half in size,
And you seem to hover at times,
You are so nosy, your checking out all around,
In and out of the leaf litter on the verges,
Then you went in one hole and you were gone!

It must have been so mild this year your majesty!
The queen of (bombus) – the great big black bumblebee.
 (21st December 2013) and for the records – so so late!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Memories of Sheep shearing high above Ullswater

“A shearer’s assistant for the day,
High on Cumberland heights,
“Dadd-y-ing" * sheep along their way,
To each shearer’s delight,

Or carrying chalk to shearer’s shouts,
If nicked a sheep to stop the bleed,
And taking ale or juice at regular bouts,
Throughout that “magical” day”.

                                                     The day’s finish was signalled to all,
                                                     And to the barn we did retreat,
                                                     Laid out was a meal fit for a King,
                                                     Home killed, homemade, homebrewed!

It was a Saturday morning when we set off and I remember us catching the 244 Ribble bus which at that time went over the Haslingden Hud Hey and through Blackburn to Preston.  Then at Preston we changed buses onto a old double decker Ribble bus that took us all the way to Eamont Bridge near Penrith. And little did I know then, that the week was going to throw up some great experiences, but the main memory was of becoming a “Sheep shearer’s helper for a day.

The summers then (1959/1960 period) were generally sunny and very hot on most days especially during July. We had arrived on summer vacation to my friend Malcolm’s relation who fortunately for us just happened to be the River Bailiff on the River Eamont near Penrith. It was great to stay here in his family home which was built on the banks of that fast flowing river. As the week went on we would try our hand at fishing on most days and also had the pleasure of slipping the bank and accidentally ending up within the river. On another day we visited the fabulous waterfall named Aira Force.

But still the best had to come, and that was the day we went along to help (or I wonder if we hindered) with the sheep shearing at a farm which was so high up in the monstrous heights somewhere overlooking the great lake of Ullswater. The account of that very special day as I remember it went as follows:

“The day had been previously arranged for us, and can only think that perhaps our host farmer was some relation or close friend of Jims, the River Bailiff at Eamont Bridge where we were staying.

We certainly didnt complain about
"Peripheral Vascular Disease" those days
We set off peddling those bicycles, it was hard work climbing the ascent to the farm which seemed to us at the time, the highest building on the planet. The long road ascension seemed to go on and on and on with such painful leg challenging work as I remember, but at the tender age of 12 you would never have considered complaining of things like “Peripheal vascular disease” . Everything was a new challenge and we were young and active and filled with excitement of the unknown!

Eventually we arrived at the farm, and I remember that just looking back to Ullswater below and the long twisting road we had come up looked so small, set within that far bigger picture. And that “pain peddling” achievement was now so well rewarded by the beautiful feeling of being on top of the whole wide World in front of you. It did not stop at that, much more was on offer as well with that farmhouse set out in such a picturesque setting of oldy, worldy. It seemed idyllic even before the eyes of a sprouting (almost) teen.  With local stone flags and cobbles as well set out in true “westmorland/cumberland style”, and the buildings were well aged with weather worn stone which you immediately thought could date back to the “arc”, there was character all around with lots of small windows which were very narrow and tall, which today I understand would be called “mullion” windows, and the door to the farm was very old and very thick and heavy, in fact you wondered how on earth did those hinges support such a weight, but they did and had done for probably decades.  All the tops of the surrounding walls were covered in a thick most beautiful green coloured moss which lay there perfect and looked like the whole area had been fitted into a green velvet garment.

All around the farmyard there were several wooden chairs which had seen better days, forming a poor shaped circle, and these were to house the buttocks of the dozen or so “shearers”, who were the local collection of neighbouring farmers who had come today to carry out the annual sheep shearing duties. They all helped one another at this very busy time, moving around from one farm to the other, until all the farms in the neighbouring collective had been completed. What a beautiful way of doing things and I wonder if this is still the practice today.

Prior to this most spectacular of days, lots of preparatory work had obviously taken place with the farmer and his family members or their appointed shepherds together with their agile working dogs gathering the sheep, and driving them down from positions higher up on the fell sides, and down to the few noticeable enclosures dotted around the farm, and near to where we were stood. 

So the working day began!  And we were quickly shown our duties, one of us was to carry the sheep out from the enclosure to the shearer, whilst the other was to “run with the chalk”.  After a hour or two we would swap over jobs.  If you was the carrier you had to quickly get the knack of sort of getting the sheep into position by a sort of twisting movement, then to perform the art of what we called “dadd-y-ing”* the sheep whilst upright and between your legs and with your hands holding the sheep under its front legs and taking them towards the shearer where he would then take the sheep from you and re adjust the sheep into a more comfortable position, before he carried out his shearing duties.  The shearing was carried out with specially designed “shears” which were made from a springy metal.

The other person who carried the chalk, was to run to the shearer as soon as he shouted for the chalk.  It meant he must have “nicked” the flesh of the sheep whilst shearing and the white ground up chalk powder rubbed into the wound seemed to quell the small amount of blood and dry up the wound almost immediately.

There was also another job that day, but we were were not allowed to take part directly in this particular job, which was to carry around a large white jug of ale to each of the shearers every now and again and when they had worked up a sweat. But guess what, every so often we did manage to get the odd glass spilling over our way.

"Everything you could think of"
Another memory is at the end of the sheep shearing day, probably around tea time we were all invited into the barn of the farm, where in the middle of the barn surrounded by wooden benches stretched this very old large timber oblong table and it was absolutely full up with home killed meats, homemade foods and lots of homebrew to swill it all down. They had their own butter and it tasted so good, I can still remember the taste today, I have never tasted butter like that since, they had their own peanut butter, their own cream, milk, cheeses, jams and chutneys and lots and lots of other home produce. The meat had been a product from their own fields. All this good food had to be swilled down with some good beverage and although the orange juice was OK it seemed far better at the time to manage to quietly squeeze yet another “jill”* or two of ale.

Now it was almost time to leave that farm to return back to Eamont Bridge.  We could see Ullswater lying in the distant bottom.  So on our bikes in our semi inebriated one eye open and one eye shut state we began to freewheel all the way down that bendy road to the bottom.

What a very special day that was, and one that has stayed within my memory now for well over 50 years.

 (* Dadd-y-ing is probably a Lancashire slang word for the motion of moving a large oversize object (similar to a flag),
whereby you would  rock it from side to side whilst at the same time edging one of the corners forward and then edge the other corner even  more further forward. I suppose it is not unlike the “waddle”  motion of a duck.)

(* Gill pronounced Jill is a measure of ale between a quarter of a pint, or a third of a pint and as in our case was a half pint measure)