Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pack rat

This is going to be a rant. I feel it coming on. In fact I am so angry I can hardly hit the right letters on the keyboard – it’s taken me twice as many keystrokes to get this first paragraph written as it would normally do. And me an RSA level 3 girl.

It started with the phone call at breakfast time, and I’m not going to bother disguising names to protect the innocent.

“Who was that?” I asked my husband.

“Tony. We’re working at his girlfriend’s place this morning. She wants her lawns laid, now that the drains are completed.”

I didn’t get up in a bad mood. Honestly I didn’t. I had no intention of blasting out a trumpet call to battle. But.

Every building on our place, bar the single section of one in which my pony sleeps in bad weather, is silted up with an accumulation of “one day it’ll be useful”. There is no wall that does not have its complement of things leaning against it; no space into which you could actually put anything without major reorganisation.

I have booked a firm of slaters to come and renew the very rickety roof on the stable range, of which the other box is – you guessed it – also full of “one day it’ll be useful”.

“Oh? Barbara wants her lawns laid? I’d quite like some buildings emptied.”

He began to detail where MY few items in use could be moved to; inconveniently; and ignoring all his own pack rat accumulations. I interrupted him.

“I’m going to put all that in the container at the top of the yard,” I said.

It’s not a building, but it is a dry, clean, almost empty space. I was also under the firm belief that as I had bought it, it was mine.

“Oh,” he said blithely, “but I talked to Tom the other day and I’m going to borrow his tractor and loader at the weekend to move the container so it can be a dog kennel for people who come to stay in the barn conversion.”

And that was the point at which I blew.

“And how is it you didn’t mention that to me? I’d quite like to have a space that’s MINE. Something that’s not half full of old carpets, oil-soaked fenceposts, lumps of scrap iron where the dog gets his rope stuck, and a ton of fertiliser with its sacks rotted off so you can’t move it. Something that doesn’t leak when it rains.

“And I wasn’t referring to MY belongings – I meant yours – like your Dad’s tools that you never use, and parts for cars that you scrapped twenty years ago.

“Oh, but Barbara wants her lawns laid. Barbara wants her drains done. Well FUCK BARBARA, that’s all I can say.”

It wasn't a particularly eloquent argument, I know, but maybe my vehemence got through for once. He didn’t answer. He went off to work, very quietly. For Tony, and bloody Barbara and her sodding lawns.

I think he’ll be making his own supper tonight.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


This is more of lyric than a poem - being based by David Trotter on the tune of the Londonderry Air. He intended to sing it at a hunting song competition, in the year when the Hunting with Dogs bill was much in dispute. On the night he was not well enough to sing, so asked me to take it on instead. I adapted it considerably so that it was easier to sing. This doesn't necessarily work on screen, so if you don't know the tune, well, just pass this one by.

Oh, country friends, the final horn is sounding
Across the lake, and down the wild fellside.
Our quiet land is crowded with offcomers;
How can we stand, against an urban tide?

Beware, beware, the bureaucrats are coming
To take our sport and country life away,
The final horn is calling from the wild fellside;
United we must stand to keep them held at bay.

The city man, who buys a home for holidays,
Out-bids the shepherd with his modest wage,
Who sees his children waiting for a council house,
And turns away, embittered by his rage.

The supermarkets work against the farmer;
Their buyers grin and take us all for fools;
We can see DEFRA stacking up the paperwork;
The farm is drowning in a sea of rules.

Our way of life is being taken over,
Each year they pass new laws upon our lives;
Westminster pawns and European bureaucrats
Must be defied, or we shall not survive.

The countryside marched into London City
And walked its streets with humour and good will.
Now that once more we’re forced to fight the bureaucrats,
We’ll use their tools to cheat them of their kill.

Beware, beware, you bureaucrats! we’re coming,
You cannot take our country life away!
We bid the horn that calls the Lakes to waken –
The hunt’s afoot – the horn is sounding: “Gone Away!”

David Trotter & Sue Millard, Lunesdale & Ullswater Hunts, 21 November 2004

Monday, October 29, 2007

One leg longer than the other

Now I know you are all dedicated followers of health issues: non smokers, fat-reducers and possibly even closet vegetarians; so let me share my secret with you. Go on, let me.

Given that some hospitals are now denying surgery to patients who they consider are aggravating their own ill health, you’ll know that a reduction in Body Mass Index (BMI) is something very desirable. If you have a BMI over the current “goalpost” max settings, your chances of getting NHS treatment are becoming a little slim (pardon the pun).

I have recently achieved an unexpected reduction in my BMI.

Some of it is entirely down to me; I’ve spent nearly a year limiting my intake of fatty or sugary foods, upping my vegetables and fruits, and taking longer walks. I’m now 17 kilos lighter, and have a BMI that is 6 points lower, than at this time last year.

However, in the past couple of weeks I’ve also discovered a neat trick that augments the effect: my BMI depends on which leg I stand on to be measured.

On my right leg, I’m 1 metre 61 centimetres tall. This gives me a BMI of 34.4. On my left leg, however, I’m 1 metre 62 centimetres – which gives me a BMI of 33.9. Neat, yes? Half a point shaved off just by standing on one leg.

As soon as the hospital repeats the resurfacing operation on the right hip, I’m told I’ll “grow” back to the same height on both legs! When the surgical team told me that resurfacing would be my best option, they explained that because my bones are strong and thick, they have only a small inner space; this meant that a full joint replacement would have allowed me only a slender prosthesis with a small bearing-head, but for the same reason resurfacing was the perfect solution. I just smiled smugly. You see, I’ve told the weight-critics for years that I have heavy bones.

Ah … now I think this is where we came in; I suppose my BMI can’t rely on surgery every time. Would you class it as a catch-22?

Oh well. Stay off the chocolates and buttery shortbread, and try not to bite your fingernails.

Black de Char

This tells the tale of how Willy and Chris invented a new breed of sheep.

Jennie, who keeps rare breeds, stopped to chat as she passed by Willy’s yard. It was a hot day during clipping, and the men were easing off from their morning’s work, ready for lunch. Among the newly clipped sheep was one that took her eye: its fleece was grey – a delightful, soft smoky colour. Other than that it looked rather like a Swaledale.

Jennie took a long look, admiring its colour. Then she asked what it was.

“It’s a foreign ‘un, a Black de Char,” said Chris, Willy’s son.

“It looks good,” said Jennie, seduced by the French name - something similar to a Bleu du Maine or Rouge de l’Ouest perhaps? “How many have you got?”

“We just have the one, at the moment like,” said Chris.

Willy added, with a grin, “ – but she’s got twins. There’s a tup and a gimmer, so we might breed a few more.”

“What’s the wool like?” she asked, thinking of showing her discovery to the wool growers’ co-operative she had just joined.

The men looked sideways at one another, and puffed at their cigarettes thoughtfully, waiting to see how Chris would respond.

“Come and feel it,” said Chris, leading her down the dark and greasy shed to the heap of newly rolled fleeces.

“Lovely shade,” said Jennie enthusiastically as she approached, envisaging sweaters, perhaps even a fine jacket, of that delicious pearly grey.

When she put her hand into the fleece she found it was harsh and gritty, and her hands came out smeared with black. "URGH!" she said loudly.

Outside there were smothered noises – whether of merriment or of coughing, it was hard to tell.

The old ewe and her twins had been sleeping in the nice dry ashes of a bonfire.

Read a book

small enough to put in your pocket
available even when the electricity fails
doesn’t need batteries
don’t have to wait for it to boot-up
play at any level you like …

go backward or forward in time
learn from the ancients as well as the moderns
meet people you’d never get to know
feel emotions you’d never experience …

teach your kids …