Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Two Little Angels

I hope everyone had as good a Christmas as we did. These are just a few photos from Christmas Eve - not great as there were a lot of people around in a small space and it was a case of snapping what I could. A local farm does a Nativity play which the children take part in during the few days leading up to Christmas so I booked tickets for Steve, Hannah, Juliette, myself and the two girls. It was a surprise for Kaitlyn and Lucy as they had no idea where we were going when we set out. First of all the children are dressed up so that they can take part in the play. Kaitlyn and Lucy both chose to be angels - along with pretty much all the other children:)

The nice thing was that there were real animals - an 'ox' in a stall, real lambs for the shepherds and a real donkey for Mary to travel to Bethlehem on.

Afterwards the children were all able to ride on the donkey if they wanted to which Lucy definitely did!

Holding one of the lambs was fun too though the lamb seems to be more interested in Aunty Juliette's hair than anything else.

Finally came a visit to Father Christmas - Kaitlyn seems very happy with this part:) Lucy is more interested in what the parcel might contain! Grown ups weren't left out - there was a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie for us. It made a great start to the holiday.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Here we are again with my traditional Christmas Eve post:)

The Night Before Christmas was always my children's bedtime story on Christmas Eve.
So for all of us who still feel the magic of this night......

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

May I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Winter Solstice!


So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!"

- Susan Cooper, The Shortest Day

These are still the most perfect words for the celebration of Winter Solstice that I've ever found so here they are again:) I have been so busy recently with preparations for the winter festival and life in general that I'm afraid that the blog has taken a back seat. My son and his family are over from South Africa and for the first time in three years they will be spending the holiday season with us so it's a very special one for us. Hopefully in January I shall have more time and will be back to posting regularly. Meanwhile I wish you all a very Happy Winter Solstice!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day

At 11am on the 11th of November each year our busy lives stop for a brief moment as we remember all those who have given their lives in the service of their country. As always I remember my Great Uncle Harry who died in WW1 and my husband's Uncle Harold who died in the Far East in WW2. This year though I want especially to remember Tom Fisher, a young local man who died at Cambrai in WW1. He was from a farming family and I pass the farm where he was born every morning when I walk my dog. He left our little local school at the age of 14 and began his working life as a farm labourer. When we wrote our book about the men named on Totley War Memorial we were unable to trace any living members of his family and we have no photograph of him. We were fortunate though to discover a memoir written in the 1980s by an old man who remembered Tom and it gives probably a better 'picture' than any photograph. This is what Archie Thomas (1903-1991) wrote:

 “In the bottom cottage in the 3 on Baslow Road lived Mrs Fisher. To my brother and I there was no-one like her in the world, she had 3 sons at home and the youngest daughter Jess; 3 other daughters being out in service. Jess later became Mrs Joshua Tyzack - an affair of which I probably have more knowledge than any other living person! I loved the youngest son, Tom, and one of my earliest recollections of him (when I was about 3 years old) is of him taking me by the hand one dark winter’s evening and going to Ash Cottage where he milked a couple of cows for an elderly Mr and Mrs Hattersley.. When he took the milk to the house he was given about a half-gallon can of morning milk for his mother. I used to go with him when he was mowing and sit on his knees on the machine for hours at a time, while he mowed the land where Main Avenue, Rowan Tree Dell and all that property now stands.” 

 To me this conjures up a picture of a kind, gentle young countryman who was liked by all who knew him. Tom Fisher is my favourite of all the soldiers we researched and even though he has no known family to remember him he will not be forgotten. Tom's body was never found and he is one of over 7000 names of men with no known graves on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval.

             When you go home, tell them of us and say,
             For their tomorrow, we gave our today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Samhain!

I don't have time to write a new post so this is a repeat from 2009:)

 Sunset today will mark the beginning of Samhain, the last of the three Celtic harvest festivals. The word Samhain means 'summer's end' and from this point we are in the dark time of the year and the days get shorter and the nights get longer as we move towards the Winter Solstice. The Celtic people measured the days from one sunset to the next so Samhain will end at sunset tomorrow.

This is also the time when we remember our ancestors who have passed on to the Summerlands. I haven't yet set out the candles that I will light this evening but this is one from a previous year. It is surrounded with the herb rosemary for remembrance and tonight there will be individual candles for my parents and grandparents and a single large one for all the many past generations stretching back into the mists of time. I wish both them and you a Happy and Blessed Samhain.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

St Crispin's Day

" This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
 He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
 Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
 And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
 He that shall live this day, and see old age,
 Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
 And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
 Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
 And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
 Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
 But he'll remember, with advantages,
 What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
 Familiar in his mouth as household words- Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
 Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
 Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
 This story shall the good man teach his son;
 And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
 From this day to the ending of the world,
 But we in it shall be remembered-
 We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
 For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
 Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
 This day shall gentle his condition;
 And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
 Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
 And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
 That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

These stirring words were spoken by King Henry V as he rallied his troops before the Battle of Agincourt and come from Shakespeare's play 'Henry V'. Today is indeed the feast of Crispian - and October 25th is the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. On this day in 1415 King Henry V led his men to victory over a French army who greatly outnumbered them. When I say he led them I mean that quite literally - he fought alongside his soldiers on foot as well as on horseback.

This victory was due largely to the English longbowmen whose reputation was fearsome in Medieval Europe. The archers began their training at the age of 7 and could fire their arrows at the rate of 12 -15 per minute. In 1252 a law was passed requiring every Englishman between the ages of 15 and 60 to equip themselves with a bow and arrows. In 1363 a further law was passed requiring all men to practice their archery on Sundays and holidays and failure to do so carried heavy penalties. There are many old churches where there are marks on the outer walls left by the constant action of the archers sharpening their arrows. Henry's archers were handpicked from the best archers in England and they cut down the French cavalry with a constant hail of arrows. Most of the archers who fought at Agincourt came from Cheshire and many of them from the area where my ancestors lived.Cheshire archers had the reputation of being the best of the best. There are forty seven archers named Wright on the muster rolls for Agincourt and I often wonder whether one or more of them were among my ancestors:)

I shall be remembering those Cheshire bowmen tonight as I watch Kenneth Branagh's wonderful performance as the king in the film 'Henry V'.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Walk on the Moors

On a beautiful autumn afternoon my friend P and I took B Baggins and his friend Bertie up on Big Moor for a short walk. The colours on the moors at this time of the year are really beautiful - the bracken is a patchwork of greens and browns and the grasses have turned to gold. Moorland is a stark kind of landscape but each season brings its own beauty and autumn is my favourite - it starts in late August with the rich purple of the heather and then gains a wonderful golden glow which is accentuated in the sunlight of an October afternoon.
The moors around here are full of stone circles and burial cairns though if you are looking for a Stonehenge or Avebury you will be sadly disappointed. You will need to click on the photo to see the circle of stones surrounding a larger central stone. The circle dates back to the Bronze Age and is around 4000 years old. Quite close by are traces of pre-historic field systems and a Bronze Age settlement. I suspect that there is a lot more of each stone below ground as over the centuries the peat layers will have built up and the ground level will be a good deal higher now than it was in 2000BC. This is purely a personal opinion not based on any archaeological knowledge:)

This is the centre stone and if you look carefully you will see that people still leave offerings here - mostly coins but there are other things too.

While P and I were looking at the stone circle other members of the party were having a good time too! This is mostly Bertie but B Baggins is in there too:) Can you spot him?

B Baggins is a bit more visible here, at this time of year it's often hard to spot him as he blends in with the colours of the fallen leaves and brown grasses.

This is a proper path across the moor and as you can see it's pretty wet and muddy, it was a good deal worse than this in places too. Once you get onto the small tracks the open moorland can get very boggy indeed - peat bogs can be large and deep and dangerous.

About half way along the path is this small reservoir, a stream connects it to a much larger reservoir further up - as this was only a short walk (about an hour and a half) we turned off just before reaching the second one. I love the reflection of the trees in the water here.

We could hear more than one stag roaring as we walked and eventually we spotted this handsome chap standing on the skyline - he was a long way off so even with an 18x zoom I couldn't do any better than this.

Further along we spotted another stag with several hinds, they weren't quite as far away but still too far for a decent photo. In different territory I'd have tried to get closer but it was so wet and boggy here that discretion seemed to be the better part of valour! Clicking on the last two photos will make them a bit clearer.

Just before we reached the road again we passed this guide stoop - these date back usually to the 1700s and were put there to help travellers to find their way over lonely and difficult terrain before the turnpike roads existed. These high moorland routes were used regularly by pedlars,jaggers,salters and tinkers. Jaggers were men who led teams of packhorses carrying all kinds of goods, the salters transported salt from the salt mines in Cheshire over wide areas of the north of England. Mostly the routes were used between May and October, during the winter months the harsh moorland conditions made the journey extremely dangerous. Many lives were lost when travellers lost their way in snowstorms or in the thick mists which can descend suddenly out of nowhere. No mists or snowstorms yesterday though so we made ir safely home again:)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Home Again

I'm back home again after spending five weeks in Suffolk. Happily my son is recovering well and as long as he's sensible and does his physio exercises all should be well.

East Anglia is very flat so it's a marvellous place to see sunsets and sunrises. This was taken one evening from one of the lanes near my son's home.

Autumn is on its way but not as advanced as it is here a couple of hundred miles further north. In Suffolk there are still lots of wild flowers growing in the grass verges along the lanes.This pretty pink flower is field bindweed.

The hedgerows were thick with blackberries and they were really sweet too - I tested a good many during my daily walks:)

Suffolk and Norfolk are still very rural and the farming is largely arable. The farm next door to Neil and Cesca grows wheat, rape and sugar beet which is in the foreground of this photo. The fields further away have been recently harvested but not yet ploughed and I think it was wheat growing there.

The September Harvest Moon when it was new - a beautiful sight.

The huge acorns of the Turkey Oak with their long mossy bristles. It took me a while to discover what type of oak tree this is as I've never seen one before.

Shaggy Ink Cap mushrooms growing on the grass verge outside Neil's house.

I think these are White Bryony berries twining round the tree.

There were lots of lovely seedheads along the lanes,Cesca made a lovely arrangement using these and some Chinese Lanterns - I didn't think to take a photo of it though!

The highly poisonous but very beautiful berries of 'Lords and Ladies' - it's proper name is Arum maculatum and it's a common plant in the woods and hedgerows of England and Wales.

In the later part of my stay when Neil was able to walk a short distance we took the boys to Thornham Walks which has a lovely play area, lots of interesting woodland walks and plenty of places for Neil to sit and rest when he needed to. Gabriel and George love this Leaf Chair.

The local church is one of the round tower churches that are found almost exclusively in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Sadly St Andrew's was heavily 'restored' in the Victorian era so there is little of interest inside in spite of the fact that the tower and nave are Norman and there is mention of a church in this village in the Domesday Book. One of the few remaining medieval features is the 14th century piscina in the chancel.

This is the south aisle which had been recently decorated for Harvest Festival I think, this is by far the most attractive and interesting part of the church. On the left is the shaft and lower half of the bowl of the 15th century font which has now been replaced by a far less attractive modern version. Behind the font are the rood loft stairs. Since they start quite a way up the wall it rather looks as though either the floor levels have altered since the Reformation in the 16th century or, more likely in this case I think, there may have been a wooden stage giving access to the stairs.

There were two gravestones in the interior of the church one hidden by a piece of carpet, this one I found interesting as it is written entirely in Latin which seems to me to be quite unusual. My Latin is distinctly rusty but the grave is the final resting place of John Hobart born 3rd July 1605 and died in 1673. I rather think that his parents Sir John and Lady Barbara Hobart are buried in London in the church of St Botolph Bishopsgate - as it happens a great many of DH's ancestors are also buried there!

The view from my bedroom window - this was ploughed and harrowed during the time I was there and will now be sown probably with winter wheat. Hopefully I shall get round to commenting on blogs during this week and be back posting regularly. Thank you all so much for your concern and good wishes for Neil, it was greatly appreciated.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Blog Break

I am currently in Suffolk as my son has been in Norwich Hospital with a broken back since last Monday. He is doing OK fortunately and has managed to stand and walk a few steps today but for the next two or three weeks at least I shall be staying here to help my daughter-in-law in any way I can. Although I have internet access I simply don't have time to post at the moment. I shall be back eventually :)

Edited to add that Neil is home from hospital now and is doing well. He's walking albeit very slowly but any progress is very welcome. Thank you so much for all your good wishes, they are much appreciated.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Medieval Peasant

Last week I was in Sussex for 'A Medieval Experience Day' at the Weald and Downland Museum - always one of my favourite places to visit. It wasn't quite what I expected as I'd thought we'd go through a fairly typical day in the life of a medieval peasant from getting up to going to bed. It wasn't quite like that but it still was very enjoyable and interesting. Later in the day we got chance to dress in period clothing which was probably my favourite bit - I just love dressing up:) The costume is absolutely authentic being hand sewn and using the same fabric that would have been available in the medieval period. The belt is a cord woven on a lucet and threaded on to the belt is my knife in a leather scabbard and a cloth pouch which would contain various personal bits and pieces. They aren't visible in the photo but I'm also wearing a pair of black leather boots.

I'm standing in the doorway of 'my' cottage which is actually Hangleton, a reconstruction based on archaeological evidence from a 13th century flint cottage in the deserted medieval Sussex village of that name. A home like this would have made me a fairly well off peasant, the poor would simply have lived in hovels made of sticks, straw and mud.

This is the back wall of the main room showing the window, you can see how small it is. Since there was no glass in those days (unless you were extremely wealthy) it would have been very draughty indeed in the cold weather even with the wooden shutter closed. Hangleton only has two windows, this one and one in the small inner room. You can imagine how dark it is inside even on a summer's day.

This is the small inner room and on the right you can just see the corner of the bread oven.

The bread oven which is really rather large for such a small cottage. Our tutor thought that it would probably be used to bake bread and pies for other villagers who had no oven of their own.

The main room has an open hearth where all the cooking was done and it was also the only source of heat. It was also the source of a great deal of smoke! You do get used to it after a while and in fact if you are crouching on the floor it's less smoky than when you are standing up. You can see the various cooking pots around the edge of the fire. There were seven of us on the course and between us we made Fish in a Coffin with Lumbard Mustard Sauce, Sowpys Dorry, Herb Fritters, A Cheese Pottage and Poor Mens Wardens in Syrup. The 'coffin' in case you're wondering is a paste of flour and water used to encase the fish while it cooks. It wasn't eaten except probably by the family pig.

Lunch is served! It doesn't look especially appetizing but looks can be deceiving. The fish in a coffin is on the right and you can see the thick brown pastry crust which has been broken open to reveal the fish stuffed with herbs which was really delicious. The mustard sauce is in the bowl at the side of it.

Anyone for Sowpys Dorry? This doesn't look too great either does it? Actually it's a sort of white onion soup made with almond milk and served over toasted bread (the sowpys or sops - as in sops in wine). I can assure you that it tasted a whole lot better than it looks:)

This is one of the dishes that I was involved in making - the cheese pottage. Again it looks less than appealing and I wasn't over anxious to taste it. However having helped make I thought it would look bad if I didn't:):) It was fantastic! So good that I'm planning to make it in the winter as a breakfast dish. Here's the recipe:

120gm cracked wheat (bulgur wheat)
375gm ricotta cheese( or any soft curd cheese)
60gm honey
1 egg

Place cracked wheat in a bowl and add just enough water to cover it Leave to soak for 10-15 minutes. When soft drain away any remaining water and add the cheese, honey and beaten egg. Bring slowly to boiling point but don't let it actually boil. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring regularly until it's a porridge consistency. Serve immediately with extra honey if you like.

Here we have the Poor Mens Wardens in Syrup. Wardens are a very ancient variety of hard cooking pear that were used to make Warden pie which I gather was a great favourite of Elizabeth I. These were cooked in cider, honey and a spot of cider vinegar with caraway and sweet cicely. They hadn't been poached quite long enough but would have been really nice if the pears had been softer. I might give this a try at some point too.

This basket contains both wool and linen which has been dyed using natural plant materials. Most people have the impression that medieval people lived in a sort of brown and grey world but nothing could be further from the truth. The colours that can be obtained from very ordinary plants such as nettles, woad and onion skins are really lovely. In the afternoon we were able to try our hand at some of the crafts that most women would have been expert at as they would have been taught by their mother from childhood. Spinning with a drop spindle is something that will need a good deal more practise on my part! Lucet weaving I've done before and can manage to make a reasonable job of. The weaving I didn't even attempt! It was a really enjoyable day and a nice group of people to work with too. As well as the practical part we learned something about medieval history too which is something I shall probably read more about during the long dark nights to come.

As I walked back I passed these wonderful teasels in the garden of Poplar Cottage.

I couldn't resist a quick look inside as well. Poplar is a 17th century labourer's cottage.
I'm going back to Sussex in September for a course on hedgerow preserves and I plan to spend some time looking round the rest of the Museum then. I've done posts on the Weald and Downland Museum in the past, for anyone interested just click on 'Weald and Downland' in the labels on my sidebar - there are posts on Tudor cooking and herbs.