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.