Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Fungi Forays, Home-Made Apple Press

At last we seem to having a glimpse of the Indian Summer that the BBC keep talking about. When the rest of the country has bathed in gloious autumn sunshine we have had grey skies and damp air. However, today things have improved and the Sons have begun mowing grass for various neighbours to make silage. A busy few days are ahead of us.

With the damp weather it has been a bonanza time for fungi. On my daily walks with the dogs I have found many different varieties around the farm. I have taken pictures of many of them but identification is difficult. I think most of them are boletes, but further than that I cannnot go except to say that I think I found what are known as Plums and Custard and the deliciously malevolent sounding  Amethyst Deceiver. I have seen a number of enormous fly agarics and greasily yellow waxcaps. Apart from the large, easily seen fungi in the hedge banks there are also many tiny delicately gilled toadstools to be found in the fields of all shades from creamy white to dusky grey. I did find some field mushrooms yesterday but they seem to be few & far betweeen this year for some reason. I am certainly not confident enough to eat any of the other types of fungi , though according to the books many of them are edible.  We have eaten puff-balls & parasols in the past & I know shaggy ink-caps are supposed to be delicious, but I do prefer field mushrooms or cultivated shiitake!

The Farmer has spent  a great deal of time over the last few days in the orchards  up a step ladder harvesting apples. There has been a superb crop this year and in order to maintain our winter intake of vitamins most of the fruit is being juiced and then frozen. Also a lot of cider is being made!
One day when we are in funds I would like us to get a small pasteuriser rather than keeping the juice in the deep freeze. However until that time freezing will have to do.
The Farmer has built himself a fruit press which looks rather splendid and is very effective.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Robins Wood's Brilliant Blog, Learning to Knit

Please read Robin Wood's latest (Friday 23rd Sept.) blog posting. He is a man who talks so much sense and is out there practising what he preaches.
also see

I have been teaching myself how to knit again. Having learnt as a child though never really mastering it, I lost interest & always felt I was happier with a sewing needle than a knitting needle, however I am now really enjoying twisting a length of yarn round a pair of metal pins. The resulting knit is getting to look less & less likes a cat's cradle as I persevere and hopefully before too long I shall be able to produce a small garment for the Grand-daughter.
It has been so long since I did any knitting I have bought myself an excellent book 'Knitty Gritty; knitting for the absolute beginner' by Aneeta Patel. Its wonderful with very clear instructions, photographs and  simple patterns.
I was brought up in a family in which great-aunts & my mother knitted beautiful pullovers with Fairisle yokes and marvellous intricate Norwegian & Arran jumpers which seemed to be produced so effortlessly. I will be happy just to make a decent piece of plain stocking stitch!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Local Primary School Visits Farm, Australian Visitors

Last Tuesday, a grey drizzle-laden day,  a group of 5-7yr olds from our local primary school were brought to visit the farm. The school is only a mile away yet the children were brought in huge bus instead of walking down across the fields which would be so much more fun for them. However, they duly arrived fully kitted out in wellies & many of them with waterproof over-trousers which I was pleased to see. Despite the miserable weather the visit was great success with the Farmer marching them around the farm showing them everything from silage & grass to a new born calf out in the field with its mother & aunts which they were thrilled by.
 After walking up hill & down dale, which the grown-ups complain about more than the children!!,
lunch was eaten in one of the farm sheds after the obligatory hand-washing which the children find as much fun as anything else...washing in a trough of cold water after having queued up for a squirt of liquid soap and then being handed a length of paper towel seems to be quite an experience!

Again we were surprised by the fact only two children in a group of 35 from a little rural school, come from farms. When the Farmer went to the same school some 40-odd years ago the majority of the pupils were farm children. This is why is so important that we continue to have schools visit us and for the children to see livestock and machinery and feed-stuff in the proper context & to make the connection with the food that they eat..
This group took back to school with them a lovely collection of bits & pieces that they had garnered from the hedgerows; they had sloes, hawthorn berries, acorns, beech husks, fungi of various kinds & wisps of sheeps wool, real treasures that they guarded most jealously getting onto the bus for their return to school.

The following day we conducted another farm walk, this time for three adults who were holidaying in the area from Australia. They had 130 acres, (a mere garden by Australian standards of course!) which they were hoping to stock with cattle. They were amazed at how green Wales is, but then it never stops raining whereas in Oz it never rains at all! Or so we like to believe.
After a good walk round we all came into the kitchen for tea & cake and compared notes on life in Australia & Wales.
We love having visitors from around the world and as it is extremely unlikely that the Farmer & I would ever go to the Antipodes we do get an insight into a different world. We were particularly fascinated by one of our guest's experiences living out in the bush alongside an Aboriginal tribe who still lived in the traditional way with very little contact with white people.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Exmoor National Park, Cider Orchards & Marilyn Monroe's Dresses

The Farmer & I ran away to Exmoor last weekend! On the spur of the moment we decided to book a cottage and just go. The Sons were more than happy to be left in charge for a few days and so off we went. I managed to find a delightful cottage (http://www.the-malt-house.co.uk/) & the owners, though a bit surprised, were willing for us to arrive that evening and we headed off down the M4 after lunch. We had a very good run and found the tiny dot of the village of Exton where the cottage was located, without too much difficulty even though it was up a tiny lane in very quiet & secluded spot. Perfect!

As well as sleeping & reading a huge amount, we spent a lot of time exploring Exmoor, neither of us having been there before. It is lovely and though several places were heaving with 'charabanc outings' on the whole there were few people around. Porlock was a sweet place as was Dulverton. Dunster was beautiful but parking impossible & of course we went to Tarr Steps, the impressive ancient stepping stones across a small river which is a magnet for walkers. We approached it from the non-tourist side, i.e. the side without the pay & display carpark! and though it is a ford the Farmer would not drive through it in our 4x4 as he said would be showing off!

Although we are not church-goers we are church visitors ansd there are some lovely old & very interesting village churches dotted around Exmoor. They all had lists in beautiful script of the vicars who had served those parishes dating from the 13th century; I think the earliest one we saw was 1270 going right up the present incumbent who came in 2009. There was real sense of continuity in seeing the names of the men who had conducted the rites in those remote parishes over so many centuries.

The cottage was very comfortable & the Farmer was very kindly given the use of a music-room that was attached. The owner was a violin-maker & player and so he and the Farmer had good conversations.
I had the aurally interesting experience of sitting reading one evening with the Farmer playing some Bach in the adjoining music-room and hearing the bell-ringers practising in the village church which was only a 100 yards from the cottage. As I said aurally interesting, harmonically horrendous!!! not a musical experience I would want to repeat!

We left for home yesterday and on the way stopped at a cider orchard in Somerset (Pixford Fruit Farm, Bishops Lydeard) to buy cider (for the Farmer to compare it with his own !) and were able to go into the orchards to see the harvesting machines which the Farmer was fascinated by. The orchards were very beautiful with their serried ranks of trees many still laden with glowing red apples and others with the ground underneath carpeted with greenery-yallery fruit where the trees had been shaken ready for gathering up by the harvester.

We then made our way to Claverton just outside Bath to visit the American Museum in Britain. This is a place I have vivid memories of being taken to as child on several occasions & the Farmer had never been so now was our opportunity to call in as we were passing..more or less!
The museum traces the story of America with a display of rooms furnished in different styles showing the progress from the 17th century to the 19th. There was also gallery of portraits  in the folk art tradition which were beautiful.

But an unlikely bonus to the day was the exhibition about Marilyn Monroe. It was display of her dresses as worn in her most well-known films including this fabulous scarlet sequinned number from 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'.These gowns & other items from her home had been collected on her death and were now in private collection that has been loaned to the American Museum for a temporary exhibition.
The exhibition was superb, even the Farmer was impressed & its not really his kind of thing! The dresses were stunning and the work in them, the beading & embroidery was beautiful. The exhibits were shown with a background of songs from the films and further illustrated with the life story of this Hollwood icon & victim. I love the films, especially 'Some Like it Hot' & Sugar Kanes's little black beaded dress was in the exhibition.

After all that glamour it was back to the farm and family having endured horrendous traffic through Bath & on the motorway, crawling at 20mph much of the time! It was relief to get back onto our own quiet country roads and to find that while we were away seven calves had been born and the Sons had been kept very busy.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Darwin & Philosophy, Third Leaf Books

It was a very dark & stormy night & this morning I went out to inspect the damage with the dogs and found this large branch down in the big garden. It had not done any great damage & I am surprised that more had not fallen.
I always expect September to be fine golden days with the hints of autumn in the air. Not so this year, clearly. Is this blustery weather the tail end of the hurricane that that hit the east coast of America recently?

Yesterday the Farmer & I went to lunch with our friend & neighbour the Author & his wife, neither whom we had seen for a very long while.
He has just written a new book that has been launched on the internet as an e-book called  'Darwin Plus! Evolution, Science, Religion & the Paranormal...a Reconciliation'. A weighty title & a bit cranky (as the Author himself would be the first to admit!)  but do not be put off by this. It is extremely readable & very interesting dealing with beliefs, rational thinking & the materialism of science. The Author's style of writing carries one along with ease even when dealing with such potentially heavyweight material and certainly provides a feast for thought & debate.
This new work is a bit of a departure from the Author's previous books, though they do touch on his philosophies, in which he writes very entertainingly about his life as smallholder in West Wales over the past 30 years, 'Scenes from a Smallholding'  &  'More Scenes from a Smallholding' by Chas Griffin, published by Ebury Press.
The new e-book  is available from http://www.thirdleafbooks.co.uk/.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Local Agricultural Show & Rural Skills Displayed

For as long as I have lived in West Wales our local agricultural show has been held about 10 miles away. I will admit that we have not attended it for a very long time; it is always held on the first Saturday in September & Saturday is my busy day with cottage change-over & the arrival of new guests. In fact we last went to it in 1997 on the day of Princess Diana's funeral ( the show was surpisingly well attended, a great antidote to the general gloom of that day, though a minutes silence was held). However, this year (and apparently will be for evermore) it was held on a new site just half a mile from us, so we had no excuse for not going. Also the Sons had been asked to be stewards for the judges of the dairy & beef cattle classes. So, yesterday despite the very unfortunate heavy drizzle which continued throughout the day, we made our way up to the fields of our neighbour which had been turned into the venue for the 137th Annual Llandysul & District Show.
It was such a pity the weather was simply atrocious for such an event as the new site is excellent, being very accessible from all directions and with  superb views across the Teifi Valley. Nonetheless, a considerable number of people turned out to show their cattle, sheep & horses all of whom, people & animals, stood  for long periods of time in the persistent rain & got soaked. So much time & effort is put into preparing animlas for showing that rain cannot stop play.
As well as the livestock classes there is very serious competion in the horticultural section. There was a fine display of huge leeks, giant onions and smooth skinned potaoes and elegantly tapering carrots as well as magnificent dahlias, sweet-peas & chrysanthemums all having been so carefully produced for the show.The floral art section is always popular at local shows but my favourite group of entries are the childrens ones; a miniature garden in a egg-cup or a necklace made of sweeties where great ingenuity is shown, though I was surprised to see 'Any item made of Lego'!...not excatly a tradtional rural craft.
Some the most beautiful examples of rural crafts on show were the walking sticks. There were classes for Thumb Sticks & Shepherd's Crooks made from wood or with horn forks or crooks. They were stunning with some the horn being just polished to show up the natural colours or having been carved & painted as a curving trout or the head of a heron or a badger.
It is wonderful how much skill there is in the rural community that is only ever seen at small local shows.

We bid our French Student 'Bon voyage' on Thursday when we put him on the train to Plymouth and we are now back into our usual busyness without having to translate everything and being aware that many explanations are not really understood. Still despite the langauge difficulties I think the FS had good time here with us...on his last night we, with a group of friends went to one of our favourite beaches and had a picnic fry-up. We took our Canadian canoe as well which the FS thought was great; he & others paddled out where they were watched at very close quarters by a seal whioh was a binus for them all. We had a lovely time and watched the most spectacular sunset with the sun a glowing orange disc of fire dropping down below the horizon like golden penny into a slot machine.