Friday, December 31, 2010


This week I have been ill advised in my activities. I look forward to the new year in the hope of better.
There has been the ongoing saga of my dongle.
Living conveniently far from the madding crowd I have been pleased over the last three years to rely on one of these to get a broadband connection. At first regarding this as an inconvenience I have come to appreciate that the early example of the genre has served me well.
Sitting in my favourite chair, in the garden or even in the foreign; I have been able to do all the interwebby things that a man could want.
And before you porn addicts smirk I would like you reflect that I am a contributor to the medium. My idle chatter has been visited, according to the great Google themselves, on over thirty thousand occasions. Admittedly over twenty nine thousand are down to a loyal friend in the west midlands but….
Anyway the point I ramble towards is that in the last ten days my trusty dongle has given up its ghost.
Children down at the Vodanet2 shop have tried to replace it and I am now on the third substitute and am quit irritated. Not least through having to stand in the shop while they talk to a grown up at the other end of a help line after having taken my valuable time to confirm my assertion that the previous replacement was not working either.
I have gone through two white dongles and am now on the black dongle.
Even this isn’t as good as the old one.

Add to this the fact that the plumbing child in Bodge it and Quit seems to have a comprehensive ignorance of the products on sale in the store when I am trying to purchase fittings to install a heating system worthy of Heath Robinson here on the mountain.

If the new year doesn’t get a grip I am going to be Mr Grumpy.
Still. I have been able to purchase a few fireworks from under the counter from a man in Bilston. It promises to start with a bang for all of you who care to look up.

Francine, Rich, Lou, Janet, Ginevra, Karen, Sally, Robin, Jo, Sandy, Sarah, Claire of course, Jane, Ian, Craig, Dave, Mike and Jo, Gideon, Jim, Lara, Kate, Mark……lurkers. Look I know there are loads of you.

Happy new year all from Hallett’s Mountain.
Don’t be strangers.
Come and see me in the soon before I visit you!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas All

Pictures like this don't come easy you know

Lots of love from Hallett’s Mountain

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hallett’s Mountain Ate My Car

I have placed a number of posts with roughly the same title over the years. This one I found particularly amusing.
On a practical note. If you are ever in need of a first class four wheel drive car I highly commend the Hyundai Santa Fe.

Mine has nipped up and down a thousand foot mountain covered in snow and ice several times in the last few days.

Now then!
Moonlight over snow... cant beat it.

Have a look at some of the snow photos over to your right in the little flikr box

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bleak House

Instructions eh? I mean who ever read the instructions on anything. Certainly not She Of The Townhouse.

I mean its like use by dates isn’t it. They really only have to be in the right half of the current decade round here. And even if they aren’t we always give it a good sniff as we would hate to chuck anything away. Ever. I have a can of tripe in the back of the top cupboard that has been there for fifteen years past…….you never know when a canned tripe emergency might come….but enough of the aside and on to the main.

My farming colleague and partner in crime has ignored an instruction or two this weekend.
As the ice forms on the inside of the windows here on Hallett’s Mountain, and a thin film of frost manifests on top of the quilt cover, it is nice to know that the expensive electric blanket with all kinds of heat and snooze settings is at least keeping the inner layer at a level of comfort that can be endured; nay even enjoyed (I whacked a semicolon in there for Mike seeing as how it’s Christmas soon).
Beyond the refreshingly clear explanatory leaflet that came with it, there was only one piece of advice that the manufacturer saw fit to actually print on the quilt controller itself. Moulded in to neat white plastic is the fairly obvious caution.
And of course it was just this that ‘the dark of my life’ chose to take with a hefty pinch of salt.
Subsequently malcontent with the effect of the penetrating cold on her side of the bed, she did decided that the situation might be rescued by the expedient of changing a fuse in the plug (a good idea), and drying out the little controller (and equally sound proposition).
The thing is though, that you have to be so careful. Drying out small plastic containers full of clever electronics and some kind of transformer is a job best carried out with patience over a few hours.
You wouldn’t under any circumstances want to rush, for example placing such an object on top of an electric heater displaying the legend :-
Well…. Not if you were hoping it was going to work again…..

Thursday, December 02, 2010


From around the spring above my house, water flows through the settlement tank, the first stage of my cold water supply. In this tank bits of grit and dirt sink to the floor while a few centimetres up a protected inlet pipe draws the water on to the next stage,
This is a much larger cistern. Two meters deep and about one and a half in diameter, it holds then about three and a half thousand litres of water, This almost completely underground and about fifteen metres higher up the hillside than the house. It provides a cool clean store of fine water year in and year out at a good pressure.
At the bottom of the tank a second filtered inlet carries the water on down to the house below. This passage is conducted through a plastic pipe buried about one and a half metres deep to avoid even the worst cold spell that the winter can bestow. This pipe ends just outside the wall of the kitchen at a reducing stop tap.
Here the pipe steps down from twenty two millimetre to the standard domestic copper pipe of fifteen millimetre diameter.
A metre or so on, through the wall and now in my kitchen, there is a second stop tap.
If ever the water supply hiccups, and this has happened three times so far in all the time I have lived here, it is to this stop tap that I turn my eye. It is from here that I use a simple corkscrew to extract blockage.
Now then. Reflect upon the journey that the small frog in the picture above has endured.
You will appreciate perhaps why the poor creature seems past its best.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Deep Within The Heart Of Darkness

The picture above shows a stepladder descending in to a deep water tank.

Briefly then?
The reason that I am so cold and wet?
Well, I have spent a not insignificant part of my day bailing mud and water over my head from the bottom of my cistern.
After the coldest night in living memory my water decided to cough and give up the ghost. I am pretty sure that it isn’t the cold that has done it though as the event was preceded by a harbinger….
So on a bitterly cold day I have been underground and underwater.
I have cleaned out everything that I can get to easily and there is now a small trickle restored but I have a feeling that a large hole is going to have to be dug behind the house in order to get normal service back online.
Sometimes the joys of a remote mountain farmhouse seem a little more tenuous than others. There is a certain appeal in being able to complain to a water company or perhaps claim on household insurance.
Up here we have to make our own entertainment.
And yet you know what. Really. I love it.
It is things like this and the tales that can be exaggerated from it that make life worth a damn.
So as I replace the large cast iron lid on the underground reservoir that has served me so well and the skin on my hands freezes to it and peels slightly…..
As I stand here head to foot in freezing sludge with slim prospect of a shower.
As I watch Jupiter ride over the snow.
I know. I can boil up some of this snow for a shower.

And this is me. Deep underground.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Alien Perspective

A few years ago I was on the lookout for pictures to go with some little snips of verse that I was writing.
For various reasons I wanted to keep them out of the other things I did.
The class I am going to on Saturday morning thought they were OK so I will wave them at you.
An alien perspective

Sunday, November 14, 2010

If Not Then

Come in the spring. Come after the equinox.
But if not then, then when the cuckoo calls.
Or if not then, come when the may blooms.
And if not then, we'll sing June's song.
Save if not then, lets sit together,dust July and August still.
And if not then, share cool woods shade in Indian summer.
But not now. Not when the wind blows.

Monday, November 08, 2010


We were ever conscious of Marius, No minotaur but rather a lumbering giant of a Limousin who sought out, like we did, the cool air under the village with his herd.
Pools were uncommon back in those days. Oh we could progress in a cloud of pungent blue two stroke exhaust to the ‘lac’ at Creon but this took time.
And so when a break was needed from the overheated game of ‘belote’ was needed ‘les caves’ drew us. Just across the field from our dormitory geometric openings in the soft golden stone led us down to another world.
Hollowed out many years before as a store for grapes and other farm produce, largely abandoned now in favour of more industrial solutions. The entrance held a few forgotten pieces of farm machinery which when passed led to vast cathedral spaces with roofs supported by towering oolithic limestone pillars. Huge pools of air held in calm cool mystery.
There were few landmarks within and beyond the sunlight and the sounds of the outside we would sometimes turn off the lamps we carried.
Sitting quiet in the dark the drips fell from roof above to unexpected amplification in small subterranean pools.
Always though, if you listened closely enough, you could hear the soft breathing and the gentle movement of the cattle. Sometimes close enough to catch their warm animal scents but usually quietly avoiding. Following somehow, without our convenience of light, where Marius led.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Hunter

I am always pleased to see Orion standing on the horizon at this time of year. Often thought as a winter constellation because that is when most people see him in the evening,
If you get up at around 4 o'clock you can see him now.
As I don't expect many of you will join me I offer you this mornings view rising outside my front door in the east.

If you believe in your own versions of The Great Moo Moo please spare a little prayer for the spirit of my grandmother who passed by this afternoon at the tremendous age of 98 and 3/4.

Goodnight Gar.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Hallett's Mountain recently got bigger.
Click on the picture.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Greener Grass

Mountaineers, I have to confess that I have strayed.
I have been tempted by smooth firm curves and I am ashamed to say that I have been found wanting.
A friend recently mused that there is a gene predisposing men to impulsive behaviour. A gene that makes them feel that unseemly conduct to which they might otherwise eschew, especially when triggered by libation, is permissible. But I don’t really know about that.
I am quite prepared to own my behaviour. It was my eye that wandered, and I don’t pretend that it can be offloaded from conscience by accidents of biology.

It’s the mega pixies you see. Those and the giggle bytes….
Colleagues have been shiny eyed in devotion to small plastic communicators. They have unsettled my own train of thought.

A phone that has served me well for some years was found sadly lacking.
Oh it makes calls and takes all kinds of messages. It stores every nodding acquaintance and many good friends. It takes passable pictures in a strong light. It smurfs the interwebby thing but…but… well I guess an over familiarity has led me to take it for granted.

And then yesterday I was left alone for too long in the supermarket. She Of The Townhouse was late to Aisle 13 and the siren song drew me mesmerised over to the shiny new phones.
Phones whispering, “stroke me….. let me mp3 in your ear…..feel my trembling vibration…..”
Before I could help myself I had parted with hard earned credit and was scurrying back to Hallett’s Mountain with my guilty purchase.

But you know what? The next day I awoke full of remorse.
The experience you see had not been all I had imagined. The touch screen was a hideous disappointment, false plastic hiding inadequate silicon. I found its earlier siren a chirruping irritation in very short order. Even as I held it in my hand I reflected on the fact that what I had left behind was where my heart truly lay. I longed for the buttons that I know so well.

So this morning I withdrew my chip from the false promise and showed it the way home. I also palmed the new phone back off on the supermarket. Reviling its inadequacies to the pimply face youth who sold it to me, I demanded a refund.

I feel I have learned a lesson.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Vestment

While I look forward to the wedding I have to confess that aspects of the Hallett temperament have been tested to the point where a few more days will find it wanting if I am not careful.
I made a mistake you see. She Of The Townhouse asked me what I thought of the outfit she had chosen and I gave her an honest opinion modestly expressed.
I know what you are going to say…. I said it to myself….You would think that a man my age would know better. And indeed I do know better, I really do.
At the first hint of preparation I should have remembered an elderly relative. One who needed repatriation after a spell in a hospital yurt somewhere on the Mongolian Plain. Somewhere with very poor communications in regard to the western world and its expectations.
I was trapped though. Caught like a rabbit in the full glare of a military spotlight. As she uttered the dreadful words. I was stuck in a corner and could see no line of escape.. . . .
“What do you think of it then?”
I am going out now. I may be gone for some time.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Attention To Detail

I toss him one of those crunchy sticks he likes. He swallows it after one bite and rests. At ease but alert for the next one.
Asbo understands you see. Or at least he listens, which in my observation is probably all of us need anyway.
I have taken a short break from the reports, we are taking an easy round of our favourite marine walk, here at the chair, for a short while we put our feet and paws up and set the world to rights.
“Its about the shoes mate.”
And he is my mate you know, the dog and I have a bond….
“Its taken me ten years to get these how I like them.”
Asbo gives me a sympathetic glance and so I toss him another of the crunchy sticks he likes. It disappears again in the same manner of the last.
Others; people who would do well to walk a mile in a mans shoes, have been looking at my footwear and figuring that I would benefit from a change.
Change the shoes that have grown to fit me like a second skin.
We sit on and look at the tide run against the boats, evening sunlight dappling the stumps of the Vadre opposite.
“I don’t know what to do about it.”
After a minute or two, I toss him another of the crunchy sticks he likes. I am amazed by his capacity for these little gravy bones, especially as they never seem to touch the sides.
Down by the river a lone heron stalks through the rock pools, picking morsels that we cant see from the bladder wrack. Taking the last hour of the long daylight for his suppertime.
“Ah well mate, lets catch a pint on the quay before we go back shall we?”
In anticipation of a possible share in some pork scratchings Asbo stretches and we both stand.
As we turn homeward bound I dig into the pocket for the last time and absent mindedly toss him the memory stick with my reports on. It disappears in one……

Saturday, June 26, 2010

More Dark Arts

The accidents of geography mean that some constellations are reserved for a summer treat. Better viewed over ‘La Manche’ from the top of Purbeck cliffs. Summer constellations held near the southern horizon, seldom advantageously positioned from Hallett’s Mountain.
I have a personal fondness for Scorpio with its scarlet jewel of Antares. Challenging Mars in its ruby beauty.
There is a little bow of stars that draws my eye at the end. Its curve guiding me back to a scorpion I found back when I was eighteen and travelling light.
I found myself out later than usual on Monday this week. Wishing farewell to the spirit of a departed friend. Sitting out I looked down in to the gap between Craig Celynnin and Tal-y-Fan.
By pure chance this was the same ten minutes that my summer friend was visible sliding through the space between darkness. A little asterism of companion stars that I find breathtakingly beautiful.
My spirit lifted and for a few minutes the peace of the great Moo Moo was cast like a blanket around the world.
I felt elevated and intensely alive.

Moments like these are hard to describe.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Baaa Humbug

It’s tippy toes all round here on Hallett’s Mountain.
Anything else and the chain reaction starts.
I should have know better, I should by now recognise the sign. An old welsh sheep farmer with a glint in his eye is bringing mischief. And the less he says, the more there is to say, indeed the more should have been said.
Tom kindly grazes the field in front of the house you see. This in exchange for a lamb or two for the freezer. It also stops the pasture from returning to a clag of last years decaying stems. Quite a convenient arrangement and though She Of The Townhouse sometimes wavers towards a sounder financial proposition, one where someone pays a bit of rent up front for use of the acres, she usually wavers off again, or forgets the matter when she has one of her enthusiasms.
So that is the scene.
A few weeks ago Tom wondered if we would be good enough to spare him the trouble and if he were to leave a bag of sheep nuts in the barn would we distribute the odd bucket now and then.
Seemed reasonable. After all it was saving him a journey of a couple of miles there and back. I usually wander round the field and have a quick headcount anyway.

Now despite their ineffably stupid front, sheep are really quite canny. By the second day they knew that the large bloke with the bucket was bringing the good stuff. Being quite an organised bunch they began to call out to all their mates who might not have heard the dinner gong.
After a while they began to spot that while there isn’t much point doing this when I am not around, it was a reasonable enough to tip off the rest of the field if I was at the door or in the garden….or if I stuck my head out of the window…or turned a light on.
In fact they are now so conditioned to my presence that I really only have to turn over in my sleep or cough in an unguarded way for the bleating to start, and then I get a full half hour of sheep calling for food at the tops of their lungs.

It’s enough to drive a saint mad!

I had intended to wave the picture of mid summer sunrise from my front garden at you yesterday but I am afraid the interwebby thing was being arsey with me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ship Of Fools

She Of The Townhouse has been away for the night and like men all over the world my thoughts have turned to the mischief I might get up to while the gimlet gaze is averted.
Putting yesterdays rather pathetic attempt aside, one which involved eating cold faggots dipped in chilli sauce while wearing merely my undercrackers…. No let me spare you that.

Today me hearties I have been addressing matters piratical. You probably all One or two of you may already know this as I might have excitedly texted from the Welsh Maine.

First I had to chase a pigeon out of the sitting room. I have no clue as to how it got there but it had been sleeping in a box.
Retrieving The Ship Of Fools from the top of my barn, I tied it to the top of my car. In truth it would have been easy to give up at this point as it seemed heavier than last year, maybe its just me getting older.
A sneeked copy of Gareth’s passport stamp allowed me to cross on to the island without incident and, after stop for cholesterol and a mug of Darjeeling, I was soon donning the famous rubber suit in a remote car park.

And so I set sail. Well, paddled really. Leaving a crease lining my westerly course over the dappled waters of the eastern edge of the Irish sea.
Dear reader, I was in hog heaven.
For the next four hours I rode a gentle swell around little islands. Played tag with a seal and a few cormorants. Entertained wavelets shimmering with sunlight. Tried in vain to spot the skylarks. Parked on a deserted beach, Lost sight of land. Ate a tuna sandwich. Set the compass and, laughing in the face of danger paddled saltily back to base camp.

I understand that some of you may have been rained upon.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Recipes For The Squeamish

Go on admit it. You wondered where I was last night didn’t you. You know you did.
Well I was eating roadkill in a field. Like you do.
Hoofing it along the Offa’s Dyke road She Of The Townhouse and I chanced upon a nice plump pheasant you see. And knowing that later on we would be having a barbecue in a field…. I slammed the jalopy in to reverse and sped back being careful not to compound the fractures that the bird had suffered earlier in the day. Sniffed it carefully. Finding a light gamey tang irresistible I placed it in the footwell next to She Of The Townhouse. She gave me a look which I hope was appreciation (though I must say she did twitch a bit as well) as I turned the aircon on to frosty.
A couple of hundred miles later I skinned it, trimmed off the breasts and thighs and gave them a light grilling over the coals.
It was delicious. Though I think that next time we might just hang the crock pot over the fire with some herbs a chopped onion and some carrots. Perhaps a splash of wine. Maybe some bacon.
Oooh ….. I wonder if the bacon is ready.
Later on my niece decided to hold a Viking funeral for the bits of the carcass that wouldn’t grill well.
I swear I am the only one that is anything like normal in this family.
The writing will be a bit lightweight for a day or two as I am partying in Bristol.

The chickens were good as well.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Basket Case

I think I did mention it the other day. You remember. The other weekend when it was sunny. She Of The Townhouse and her enthusiasms.
I don’t know what its all about. Perhaps its a time of life thing …. All I know is that it started with an ill advised nod of the Hallett barnet and now there are bloomin baskets everywhere. They confuse me and they confuse the dog as well.
In a moment of weakness I agreed that she could tidy up the bathroom. Now you must understand from the outset that it wasn’t untidy in the first place, but there were aspects that offended the Townhouse eye. Suited me quite well for many years you know, but not entirely to the feminine taste.
Stuff on the shelf rather than squirreled away, perhaps in the airing cupboard, the odd cobweb ( these are both decoratively interesting and functional in my opinion…) and a gentleman’s preference for the seat up of course.
So there I was the next day, bemused that the spider was not in his usual lair and wondering why the gleaming porcelain of the Armatige Shanks wore a wooden cover. And all of a sudden I spotted wicker work where my knick knacks ought to lie.
Not just one basket mind you but five!
Not a clue as to what lay within any of them. The chin lowered itself in a posture of dumbfound. After a short period of distraction I noted a warm dampness around the sock area.
Every thing has been arranged and I cant find a damn thing!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

More Tales From The Riverbank

Not the right picture but I am still looking for that...

In this era of ‘Silent Spring’ the Avon was a seldom full of natures riches. Unles of course you count the ones that fell in and died or died and fell in.
From Bath in particular a number of small industrial units regarded it as a convenient see no evil dumping ground. Oxygen stealing effluent of all kinds was stored so close to the edge that it was merely a matter of time before it was taken or assisted on its journey without the inconvenience of any expensive clean up procedures. Diluted thousands of times and eventually swept out in to the tidal Severn Estuary there was a lax attitude to pollution at the time and tracing the source was pretty hard.
And when the river rose with floodwater, the trees along the bank caught plastic debris in their winter fingered branches. These rags hanging like torn Christmas decorations until the leaves hid them as summer came.

Compiling insult upon these injuries were some of the legitimate licences to pollute. The first, just a half mile upstream from our village was a local tannery. Making gut rope out of the foul smelling intestines of what I always presumed to be cattle. These laid out in long trays to dry and tighten and as they did, a gagging rancid effluent guaranteed to put you off your tea was regularly washed away downstream. The willows on the bend below this tannery dipped leaf heavy branches in the waters catching indescribable bits of grey slime offal. These then fed some of the sleekest scale tailed rats I have ever seen. In the waters below bloated giant eels rose open mouthed and further competed for these titbits. In later life these twin scavengers became great sport for teenage boys as we set about them with rod and rifle but my earliest thoughts of them were fearful indeed. No Danteesque vision of hell or the apocalypse could conjure the horror with which these pursued me in the night, and even now I shudder as if in wait for their hideous eyes to turn my way.

As if bookending the village watercourse the counterpart, just below the village was the outfall of the local sewage works. Never at rest, a stream of waste water from this processor of human effluent became an unchecked torrent when the river was in flood.

A testament to the power of nature, the river did see dramatic improvement over the period of the late sixties as this waste was made subject of a more robust legislation, withdrawn, and recovery allowed, but when first I saw it back then, its majesty was polluted and the only large fish we saw were floating belly up on the surface having ill advisedly strayed in from some tributary higher up the stream.
Small surprise then that for a while we were held back and advised not to drink the water!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The River

For the most part the Bristol Avon slides between the banks of its lower reaches like an oiled great grey green snake. Often lazy, and sometimes moving so slowly that you need to concentrate to see that it actually is alive and breathing. Occasionally, though thank God not often, in flood, when it becomes a fury of undivertible destruction and is rightly feared by man.

This westbound river slipped past us as the end of our garden dipped its toe in its waters. From being prohibited, it grew gradually familiar and as confidence grew our playmate in the summer and a transport that no road would ever match.

While taught to swim in the Chippenham outdoor lido it was made abundantly clear that my junior skills were no match for the river. And for many years it remained so. The way barred by a hedge and some improvised but sternly forbidding fence of thick galvanised wire. The way down only ever endorsed when hand in hand with my mother or father. A small gap in the hedge gave way to a run down wooden landing stage, overhung by a small greengage tree. Dressed in a strange smelling yellow plastic life jacket, we would be allowed on the calmest days of summer to peer in to the depths and reflect upon the monsters that lay within. The cool deep water called a siren song to me. Leaning ever further with a stick to probe its mystery, steadying myself with the lower branches of the tree, it seems no wonder then that my mother never let us stay there for long.

That particular stretch of the river, the reach between Saltford lock and the bridge where the old Mangotsfield and Bath railway crossed it below near Bitton was the part I knew best back then.
In the early sixties, the industrial pollution that had been a natural part of life along its banks for over two centuries was just coming to an end and with this end a new era of leisure.
Not gone yet though. Once or twice a day we could still see commercial transport barges huffing and puffing up to the lock bringing less perishable loads from the Bristol dock heading for the city centre in Bath. Later they returned, gliding back more at ease with the current, lighter of their load. There was no obvious return cargo.
Tar barges was the most popular supposition among the children of the village, no doubt mentioned once in an offhand way by one of our parents. Standing at the end of the garden we would shout and wave across the river as vessels were tied alongside the path to the island in the river, prior to being swallowed up in the inexplicable but somehow essential lock. Occasionally we received an answering wave. What they did with all that tar when it got upstream we never knew. Perhaps it was instead coal for the Bath gas works. Who knows. As they passed on through, these diurnal visitors left a sheen of oil and a faint smell of diesel exhaust in their wake, adding little of value to the already far too infected waters.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hanging Out My Old Love Letters……

Writing about the past has sent me scurrying to the Hallett Archive. Hidden away from my memory in the de personalising room.
Trying to put a time frame to things I did in the sixties means I need to look for clues.
I have thought about asking other people but I’m not so sure about this. Memories are cherished on both sides. Hearing the other version sometimes interrupts my own. Worse still it sometimes corrects it and that will never do. It feels like someone stealing treasure.
The other day for instance. I was out on the island visiting a vintage rally. Men, and possibly women as well though I feel they are generally far more sensible, were lovingly polishing details on machines that, lets face it, were past their sell by date. How amazing that we have come by enough leisure and riches to let us preserve a free standing single cylinder Bambleweeny cardoom chopper in perfect working order. Safe in the knowledge as well that Gisons of Nempnett Thrubwell still do spares and offer a comprehensive after sales service.
Such a long way from guarding the cave mouth in case the bears try to steal the haunch of mammoth.
Admiring rows of the exhibits I eventually came to the tractors chanced across the fine fellows above. I wouldn’t mock people who get excited by tractors, but then again I wouldn’t count myself foremost among their rank. These Massey Fergusons however brought a hidden tractor geek in me straight to the surface. A glorious 35X, a 135, and a 165. Back at the end of the seventies I spent weekends and summers working farms on the Cotswold escarpment. These three, restored to the point that you would think they had never done a days work in their lives, gleaming red perfection, were all tractors that I remember driving. A nostalgia overcame me to the point that I felt someone else had to be told.
As She Of The Townhouse had wandered off to the ‘Bad Mother’ stall in search of supplies for witches she was unable to share my excitement. I decided to phone my old friend Jim. Better he than she as we shared those times. He would remember them just as clearly as I. Jim would understand.
After listening a while though he corrected me.
“Strictly speaking Fred that should be a 185 and not a 165….”
I felt quite deflated.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

And So Inside

Glenavon circa 1970
Lets start then and watch a young family settle their belongings in a small cottage, crammed into a small corner of the southern Cotswold. Built of random stone back in the first half of the nineteenth century. Held on the one side by the road that eventually led me out of there and on the other by the river that ran trough our lives like time.

How my father and mother came upon the house I am not sure. We had been living near Calne in Wiltshire for the earliest years of my life. Recently though my father had gained a place to study in Newton Park College just outside Bath. He was training to be a teacher and the house in Swineford was just a few miles down the road.
My mother was probably glad to leave the old place. No electricity and water from the well would have been hard with three small children. Never mind the remote location in the middle of a field.
I was around five years old, my sister Melissa was four. My recently newborn sister Claire completed our little family.

Jumping out of the car Melissa and I ran through the gate, past two Lawson Cypress trees, and a wilderness of cabbages greeted our senses. Brassicas in forms new and horrid towered green over our heads and the whole world smelled of them. Melissa and I were soon lost among trees of sprouts, cabbages and kale. Emerging bewildered and bemused at the hand fate had dealt.

And so inside.
The unpromising front door opened on to the pavement of the only road running through the village. It was hardly ever open and in time was closed off with bricks. Beyond serving as a shallow alcove for Christmas cards and other seasonal decorations seldom thought of .
To get in to the house we had walked through a side gate, round the relatively modern bathroom extension and in through the south facing back door. A ramshackle kitchen with a roof that let more water through that it held back, leaking in every corner. To the left the post war luxury of an indoor toilet and bath. To the right a garden facing room with the exotic unfamiliar ‘french doors’. Then on from here to a dark enclosed sitting room and study, both with Bath stone pillared windows. Between these two, the corridor leading to the front door. To the side, sharing one corner, a cupboard and a set of stairs spiralling one hundred and eighty degrees up to three bedrooms. Two roadside and one facing the garden and the river.
This then was the little house we move in to. A leaky roof covered with red baked half roman tiles. Fireplaces that smoked whenever the wind was in the wrong direction. Strange smells of damp and putrefaction from the river and the drains which seemed equally gifted to flow in two directions depending on the nature of the flood.
A few small rooms with monstrous wall paper covering damp plaster. Ceilings defying gravity with only the strength of a few layers of paint to hold them. Floorboards offering holes of every size from the tubiform sponge of woodworm, to gaps where a medium sized rodent might rush and hide.
This whole tucked inside random stone walls and with a garden large enough to grow vegetables and feed a pig. Pretty much unchanged since the eighteen forties, the only real concession to its second century being the bathroom. Robust in its way and built to serve the accommodation needs of the local copper mill owner whose work force needn’t stray too far.
Outside, as well as more cabbages than one could comprehend, two ill advised, and in truth ugly, trees far too close to the main building, an asbestos garden shed. A flagstone path held a straight line down to the river Avon hidden behind an untidy hedge and a greengage tree.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Starting Here

I figure that, pushed to rely on memory alone I would guess that it was the late summer of 1964. Nelson Mandela had been jailed for life. And if you decide to read on then please allow me some indulgences. I know that the stories I tell are just that. Remembered for the most part over a gap of forty or more years.
When other people see the words they will quite rightly want to challenge my version. In some cases they may even be annoyed but it will never be my intention to offend. These are the colours that I saw. These are the sounds that I heard. These are the smells and tastes of my memory and the times, places and objects that touched me as I hold them now in my mind.
You may not even feel they happened at all, well so be it. Let them then be reflections upon and stories from another age. Snapshots from an ordinary life.
So! I want to take you back to a dozen or so years covering the period where I grew from infant to the day I left my parental home. From around the age of six to just after my eighteenth birthday I lived in a small village straddling the border between South Gloucestershire and North Somerset. The village of Swineford. The village where I grew up.

What was that little village like back then? I have often seen it said that if you think you can remember the sixties then you weren’t really there, but this of course was directed at a different set of tastes and a generation slightly older than I was.
As my sisters and I grew there, our horizons moved from house to garden to village and later to the lure of the cities. For each in our way, it was leaving home that showed us how lucky we were

Swineford lies near halfway between the cities of Bath and Bristol, held between a bend on the north side of the river crossing known since before time was a record, and a road that the Romans marched upon. A mixture of new electrical light industries replacing the water driven copper and ochre mills of its rivers and streams. A farm, a pub, an old tin chapel marked the eastern end and to the west a small hill climbed up out of the village past elm trees and the paddock where the village landlord kept his hens.
A spot where planners shuffled the Somerset and Gloucestershire border, leading to a confusion of addresses, eventually giving up to the short lived county of Avon before returning once more to South Gloucestershire.
Less than half a mile long and strung out along a main road. You might have swept past it through it in a car taking no notice and leaving no record. Perhaps on your way to visit the Georgian splendour of Bath, or maybe opposite to the shops at Bitton. Maybe the only thing to strike you, the tall chimney of the mill, surrounded by attendant buildings, and hiding your view of the river.

to be continued

Sunday, May 23, 2010

More Sleeping Dogs

Around five in the morning the sum leaspfrogs the backbone of England.
After the barest pause for breath it soars above the sea, blurring the horizon with a heat haze and stuns Hallett’s Mountain into a surprised silence.
By midmorning the cuckoo goes off to cool its throat leaving just the small birds singing in the coconut scented gorse.
My garden jobs are done for the day and I have retired to the shade with some minted apple juice in an ice filled glass. Insects buzz round the rosemary and all is at peace in my world. All is still. Across the hillside bluebells dust the fields. The sun beats down.
Asbo lies panting in the shade below the wall, the theme from the Archers fades from a small radio on the table, Desert Island Discs starts as gently as Roy Plumley’s measured tones. The punctuation marks of Sunday morning.
Lunch is still an hour or two away from pleasant contemplation, teasing new combinations of garden herbs and salad.
Later on the bell in the old church will tempt us across the fields to stone cool prayer.
Time to spend an easy hour or two measuring my toenails. Time to wonder, slowly about …about…oh you know……you know……

Hey ho. Lets hope She Of The Townhouse doesn’t let another enthusiasm gallop away with her!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stoned Again

Don’t get me wrong. He was a very nice young man indeed. The sort that you really wouldn’t mind if your daughter….. hmmm I suppose I should add son as well in this enlightened age…. came home and introduced him. Polite, articulate and not too shy to hold a conversation. Obviously well educated. The thing is though he had an enthusiasm.

She Of The Townhouse had identified a local archaeological walk of interest. Abso and I noted that it was traversing one of our favourite haunts and elected that we would not be averse to tagging along. So it was that we met the Augustus Finknottle of all things lithic.

After a climb of about one thousand feet from sea level to the plateau above, we hove up to, an at first sight unpromising pile of gravel' close by a rocky outcrop. Stone in hand our guide held forth for the best part of half an hour regaling the assembly with tales of stone age distributions, of fine axes, of seasonal migratory populations, and all in a manner that kept us spell bound. He also took care to point out the boundary layer from which charred bones had been extracted to reliably date what to me looked like a pile of fairly recent chippings back to pre bronze age Neolithic times.

According to the ratio of certain carbon isotopes the pile was from round about 5013BC.....a June afternoon at around three o'clock.... probably the bone from the Sunday roast...this backed up by knife marks showing it had been sliced rather poorly along the grain....something like that.

Excitedly onwards then, we next inspected further trenches full of suitably fascinating gravel, again dated with intimidating ossuary accuracy.
Putting off doubters who felt that the whole upland area may have been worked in medieval times our rockmeister led us on through a bewilderment of burnt mounds, cairns, derelict hut circles, settlements and various other evidences until not a man, woman, or indeed dog was prepared to cast uncertainty. At least not out loud. Not if we wanted to get off the mountainside before tea.

Finally we arrived at yet another hummocky prospect of little interest to the uninitiated. For some reason this one excited our man more than the others. This one it seems has yet to be excavated. Quivering like a rodent, animated at the prospect of a fine supper, he produced flints from nearby test trenches and speculated on the hope of bones being excavated at some near future date when funding would allow.
Now I don’t want to pretend that this wasn’t interesting. It was a real treat to see someone clarifying a subject about which many would carelessly remain ignorant. A subject about which he clearly had a great deal more to tell and would clearly love to do so.

That was when I caught sight of what Asbo was up to. Lacking some of the social skills that were keeping his human companions from expressing even the remotest ennui, he had looked around for alternative entertainment. I had noticed him snuffling up a morsel earlier from the previously unexcavated ground and had assumed that he had found the dogs end of a sausage roll, or perhaps a sandwich crust.
As he crunched his way through a particularly ancient bone fragment I calmly juxtaposed myself between him and the guardian of prehistoric knowledge……..

The bird seems to be making a nest in my bedroom and has nothing to do with the rest of this post.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dark Matters

One of the secrets of the universe seems to be just why there is so much pesky gravity. Galaxies it seems have too much of it you see. When you look at what is actually there that is. There is a load of gravity sloshing about and not enough matter to cause it to be there.
Scientists eager to protect their reputation have of course come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation. Reasonable in the same way as the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus perhaps…
They postulate thus; "If there isn’t enough stuff in a galaxy to explain why it is so attractive then it seems that it is perfectly OK to assume that there is an awful lot of other stuff nearby that we cant quite see".
Add in this so called dark matter and suddenly the sums start to make sense. Scientists who might have otherwise had some difficult explaining to do can rest without the problem of egg on their collective faces. Job's a good un.
Mind you, kind of like the x that is constantly flapping its wings all over algebra, its difficult to pin down. Just when you think you have it safely in hand it changes. Dark matter can be anything you want it to be. The only thing you had better not do, is ask childishly innocent questions about it. Things like what is it? Why is it dark? How come we cant see it…….
And you wont be surprised to find that Hallett’s Mountain has a theory about dark matter.


Dark matter is God’s socks.

It makes perfect sense and answers the innocents.
If She Of The Townhouse can make 14 brand new pairs of socks vanish off the face of the earth in a fortnight then why not Mrs Deity. The helpmate who washes God’s socks obviously bungs them in to some kind of swirling vortex. Only later to be surprised that all that is left is a whirlpool of creamy star suds.
The inky abyssal blackness of the missing God socks is now unobservable and spread in a halo around the machine.
There you go! It all makes frightening sense.
It also sorts out one of Einstien’s other little conundrums. God doesn’t play jokes. Indeed he doesn’t. That doesn’t mean to say though that he cant be puzzled.

Next week I shall be explaining exactly what Mrs Higgs did with the spare boson, and why taking your wife to Switzerland isn’t a good idea if you are a theoretical particle physicist.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Asda Man On Short Notices

Look at this idiocy.
I mean I ask you!
What do you suppose that the exciting changes are. Come on guess. I mean obviously the inhabitants of the nearby Old Town are turning in their sleep in eager anticipation at the prospect, but what do you think?
Okay there we are. I waited five minutes but none of you rang so I am going to have to tell you.
White lines.
Yep. That is what has got us all so excited. They are repainting the white lines in the car park.

I hate it when supermarkets do this. Not the white lines. They stop fights I suppose and confuse the Chelsea tractor drivers. No I mean this false bonhomie rubbish. The pretence that we are all in this for the future and if we can just get through it will all be over by Christmas. Why cant they just put up a short notice apologising to everyone for the inconvenience of half the car park being out of action and offer a free bottle of wine. I mean that would keep me going back.

And another thing. Team shirts. I hate ‘em. Not the football shirts, I can see the point there, you have to pass the ball to the player on your team after all and contact lenses can get displaced in the frenzy. A decent blob of the right colour in a suitable space must prove useful in many instances out on the field of play.
The team shirt that I hold a particular dislike for is the one in my local QuikiMart ( and in case anyone else wants that name I am going to dotcom it double quick. There you can buy it off me if you feel the need.
The team shirt in my local QuikiMart has a slogan upon it. Scrawled across the back of course, over and below the shoulders. Never on the front where it would encourage people to admire the chest…....oh dear.....Water please!
Where was I. Hmm. The slogan on everyone’s back reads thus.

“Can I Help U?”

Yes you bloomin can. Stop using damn text speak on your T-shirts and write properly!
Grrr rant rant grrr.

Eh? Oh yes. So it is. Um. Another half of mild and bitter please.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Flagrante Delicto

“It’s Greek,” she offered.
And you know I was surprised. It was last back end that we went to Crete for a week but this didn’t taste too bad even so. If you like olives and leafy stuff that you cant really indentify that is. In fact I would go as far as to say that it was quite passable. I even decided to chase it off the plate with a glass of red wine….and perhaps that was the mistake. One glass led to another and then a whiskey….or two.
The next thing you know I was there at two in the morning. Hosepipe in hand, dripping wet, and stinking of smoke. Mind you I was breathing a sigh of relief.
Oh and for the future… I think it best that we don’t mix fireworks and alcohol. It’s a bad example to The Boy and came close to being very difficult to explain to the very nice people that offer financial protection to Hallett’s Mountain in case of fire.

The day had started well mind you. I was up at eight after an exceptionally long lie in and shortly afterwards heard the cuckoo for the first time this year.
I shifted a ton or two of logs that had been left beside the barn. I made a new flowerbed for night scented stocks. Visited The Metropolis that I used to work in. Even helped She Of The Townhouse carry the vegetable garden to the car.
No surprise then that by the end of the day I was well disposed to someone else burning the tea and found myself looking forward to relaxing in front of the box.
Actually that’s a little bit of an understatement. You see there were really far too many boxes. Forgetting that some of them had duff fireworks in them was silly.

Shortly after dark we lit the fire and as the flames soared 10 to 20 metres in to the air I could hear The Boy giggling like that hyena. You know… the one in the Lion King… the one that has a marble less than a full bag. Oh yes, now that I think, I seem to remember She Of The Townhouse hiding behind a tree as some of the single ignition boxes stared to cook off and jump all over the place. After that it all gets a bit hazy.

Still. All’s well that ends well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

99 Red Balloons

OK, I know you will have noticed it as well but! For the sake of my own record then. A week on Hallett’s Mountain without a single plane breaking the wind…..errm breaking the silence.

I was sat sitting in the sunshine the other day underneath a clear blue bowl. A bowl stretching from horizon to horizon. She Of The Townhouse was off in the Unions Capital. Visitors were departed for home. I was alone with my thoughts in the garden. A cold cider close to hand. Beyond the birds in the bushes the only sound was the faintest of whispers of a train in the valley.
Trains in the valley leading people far away. Over the mountains and across. The bor… here hang on a mo! I nearly went back to my Herman Hesse days there. That was a narrow squeak. Ooh don’t start me on that track it always leads to trouble!

The thing was that I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of the sky. No vapour trails. No sardine cans scurrying packed people down the jetstreams to Manchester or beyond. No daily flypast of jet fighter heroes, scraping over the ridges of Craig Celynin. Not even the angry chatter of the police helicopter.
And you know its not till you have a week off that you realize just how intrusive it is.
I was stood out in the garden at ‘sparrows’ this morning around ten to six. Hoping that all the dust in the sky would produce a glorious sunrise picture for A Black Country Boy (Alas it wasn’t really there mate).
After days of profound silence, I was aware once more of the low background hum. Fingers of white cloud chasing the 747’s east. Broken sky.

Some time this week I shall hear the cuckoo.
Hopefully the St George’s Mushrooms will be out.
I’ll probably let you know….

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Something Nasty In The Woodshed Fridge

I am amazed by the amount that can be forced down a plug hole. Determination, the aid of barbecue skewer, and soon the bodies will be gone without trace.
Hallett’s Mountain is being spruced up you see. And for the second time in a fortnight no less.
Its all about visitors again. While I toil at the chalk face next week, my friend Grayson will be enjoying the frugal comforts of my humble abode. Along with Gadgetgirlie and The Captains Mate, her daughter and mother respectively.
Can you imagine, three generations of women aiming to run their fingers along the Hallett dado rail looking for dust. Good job I haven’t got any dados that’s all I can say.
I have though got a fridge. A fridge whose darkest crevices have lain dormant… nah, dormant is wrong, dormant suggests that nothing is happening… The crevices in which the things that live in the fridge accumulate, breed and fester. Crevices that have not had a great deal of attention since Mike and Mrs Mike came by last, have been exposed to daylight.
If you look at old episodes of Star Trek….oooh hey incidentally have you had time to catch up with the new digitally re-mastered original series yet….umm where was I.
Ah yes …Star Trek.. the cutting edge of low budget special effects aliens from the sixties often had some coloured latex that was being quivered by a man out of shot with a stick. This posed as ‘life Jim but not as we know it’ and was either erased by setting the phaser on ‘turn to plasma’ or was welcomed as a new facet of the all embracing federation. It all seemed to depend on how misunderstood it was.
Eh? Pardon? Oh yes, the point.
The thing is that these aliens live in my fridge and occasionally need evicting. People are kind but sometimes you sense that they may just be humouring me.
Anyway, I cant stay long. I now have to gird my loins for the stirring of the midden that The Boy inhabits. That is going on to a whole new level……

(I am comforted to see that the Microsoft dictionary has no concept of midden.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Leave And Let Diet

Around the turn of the year She Of The Townhouse decided that it was time something was done.
Asbo, The Boy, and I, invariably plan and execute swift egress when this happens. Of course the Axeman has departed stage left and is now hiding out in the city of light. The rest of us, we return after the pubs have opened. Usually the whole thing has blown over. And although I digress, in some cases ‘blown over’ is the literal fate. There was that memorable incident with the gazebo on a windy October day…… Still, I can’t use up all my stories in one post so….
The thing is This time it has gone on a bit longer than usual. Two months, twenty one days and a few hours longer than usual in fact. And I tell you that Rosemary Canary woman has a lot to answer for.
We have to wait until she goes off to Capital City if we are even so much as to get a whiff of a fry up now.
Let alone a chip.
Times are lean people….times are very lean indeed.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More About Socks

Turning over the debris in my sock drawer the other day I was forced to confront a couple of unpleasantness’s (cor that word has a lot of s’s in it).
First I have an unseemly number of odd socks. Thirteen in fact. I mean its taking the mick.
Then I realised that there was a second problem. Quite a few of the partnerless hopefuls were not even mine. Foreign and I have to say distinctly female socks have invaded my drawer.
I quizzed She Of The Townhouse about the situation but she denied all knowledge whatsoever. Always a dangerous position for a woman to adopt as it immediately arouses suspicion.
Assuming though, just for a moment, that she has a case, and that the intruders are not belonging to she, then I am forced to look elsewhere.
I am forced to cast my mind back to all the other ladies that have…..I am going to have to put it delicately of course….used the Hallett’s Mountain bedroom. And now that I think about it this isn’t the first time I have had to tick them off about this kind of thing.
Ladies please….take more care…avoid the embarrassment that is bound to arise.
Oh and wash your own bloomin socks!

The Last Post

The thaw has at last set in here on Hallett’s Mountain. The snow is by no means gone, up against the mountain walls some of the drifts that surpassed the mountain boundary walls are still well over a metre deep, but the road up here is clear and has been for a couple of days now.
The post box at the end of the track is clear as well. This a little odd as the snow was still on the ground about it. Also on the bins. And the penny drops.
For the first time since the 18th of December the postman has been.
Thank you all for the lovely cards.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dog Tired

This fine morning Asbo and I decided to follow the ridge line.
Do you know what? I am not sure that I am giving the dog too little credit here. I remember him looking back at me and giving the Paddington Bear stare when in fact it was I that took the decision to follow the ridge. He was rather committed by the fact that I held him to little choice on the end of a lead.
Anyway we followed the ridge and eventually stepped out on to the top up above Maen Penddu. The East wind bit in to both of us. Well it bit the dog more than me of course. I had dressed sensibly in the full awareness if the bitter cold. He, being less informed, wore just his old black coat.
The snow was up to my boot tops, and in hidden hollows where the wind had deposited more up to my knees. It was fun to push through the crust of hard snow on the top and through the deep powder below. Fun unless you were a dog scraping your …umm … parts.. through the deep freeze.
We stopped up by Maen Amor to share a coffee. Well again I may exaggerate the sharing aspect here. Asbo in fact gave me an almost baleful glare as I took of a glove and poured myself a coffee. He was right of course, I should have kept my glove on. My fingers were frozen despite the warmth of the drink. Goodness only knows how his paws must have felt.
Fortified, we turned the corner towards the path down. Particles of hard snow ripped from the surface stung our eyes. Thank goodness I had my hat and scarf pulled tight to my glasses. I was easily able to follow the hound and keep my eye on him as he tried to dodge from side to side.
An hour or so later I sat down to a superb breakfast. Eggs Benedict setting me up for the rest of the day. The dog, a complete lightweight in every regard, has flaked out in front of the fire.
I wonder if he needs worming……

Friday, January 08, 2010

On The Road To Nowhere

So then, realising that perhaps it wasn’t my last breath, I felt that discretion was the better part of valour, and retired to Hallett’s Mountain for the day instead of going to work.
Since Before Christmas there has been snow on the ground here. I may have drawn your attention to it already…. Anyway the thing is that this morning things got too cold.
Sometime during the night the small streamlet that runs beside the road froze up really badly. It managed to block itself in the ditch sufficiently to overflow and then run on down the road surface. By the time I got there in the comedy Landrover there was a sheet of ice covering the steepest part of the hill and some way up. In addition the salt bins had run out.
I contemplated this little rocket ride from the top end and as I paused for a moment I felt the whole shebang drifting sideways towards the larger deeper stream on the far side. Inch by inch. Parts of my anatomy pouted a bit as I selected reverse.
I called the council about the salt bins but it seems they were having problems with other things. They should have deliveries on the weekend.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Big Top

Snow Maen Amor Moon
Up before the world, Asbo and I tackled the North Face of Craig Celynin.
The thaw that had started yesterday afternoon was stopped as the temperature plummeted under last nights clear sky. As we walked over the fields towards the mountain gate footsteps crunched. Mine penetrating the crust and erupting soft powder. Asbo skittering around ungainly in a way left behind when he was a mere cautionary warning. Puzzled by the lack of friction he reverted to giant puppy.
Higher and higher we climbed and the snow grew deeper. Swinging round the shoulder of Tal-y-fan we turned up the final slope and I noticed that the waning moon was hanging full above the opposite slope of Maen Amor.
I am not sure what the dog made of it. I paused for a moment and thanked the Great Moo Moo for his blessing.
Later, much later, we came back down the mountain because I have to go to work in the morning.