We’d had the expected call earlier in the week, so everything was organised for the Saturday. A necessary advent calendar event, impinging on the usual pre-Christmas rush, such as exists even in these rural parts.
A clean indoor hurdled pen was set up, fresh hay strewn, and as light was failing, half the flock were walked along the green lane.
Individually marching the 3 horned lambs, straddled, or saddled, behind the house and into the pen was a potential worry, but they were all extremely calm, and settled quickly in their little indoor group.
All were indeed typically quiet and calm throughout the process, until each lamb left the harem. Baleful bleats then rang in our ears each time, as fool, or fools, a hunched threesome, slowly moved towards the double, green, cart-house doors.
So there was a palpable lightening of mood within 12 hours, on the sunny, frosty Sunday morning as we headed off to Aberglasney’s excellent Christmas fair.
Mince pies and mulled wine.
Gifts were found. Excellent locally roasted coffee, frothed by those cheery Coaltown boys from Ammanford, and prize winning local honey bought. Back home, and before lunch the bigger fool nipped down to the wet meadows to check the other half of our small flock. Older ewes and ewe lambs.
Having worked at areas of weak fencing recently, I wasn’t convinced that she had escaped. Might she have got tangled in brambles? A quick check through the wood on the far side of the stream found no trace. A quick glance over the still frozen pond gave no clues. Why no noise?
The remaining lambs and ewes were all grazing, calmly.
A Christmas flock, angelic in their serenity. Why wasn’t there more commotion? A single sheep quickly becomes very agitated. And noisy, and often elicits a flock response.
Returning to enlist Fiona’s help, and having checked we could scout through our neighbour’s wooded marshy areas and having alerted them to our missing lamb and fears, we went back down the hill for another look.
Fiona found her, hidden behind rushes.
Not drowned, but three quarters under.
Cool head and shoulders woolly dry, but stiff.
She’d wandered onto thinning ice,
And burdened with that sodden fleece,
Was doomed, no chance of struggling out.
Fiona hauled her out and beached
Before I got there, but she’d long gone.
So, with her dead weight carted up the hill
Earth scooped indecency, we headed up the mountain.
Tailing Westward hurtling-black backed starling flocks,
Between the cropped fawn olive fields and
Spruce bare shelter belts which screen
The oven. Set remote, in hidden cwm.
Past the row of five long foxes,
Stiff rusted, all stretched out, attention grabbed.
How long had hounds been run?
To reach the waiting guns and join this
Silent, chilling, Advent scene.
This unfamiliar territory.
The concrete yard, and there, behind the unmanned heavy metal doors,
The forms to fill, and there, that old familiar stench of death,
Of memories stretched back five distant decades,
The illumination of the knacker’s trip,
The deep brick pits of rotting bodies, dead, yet living
Filled with dyed, and squirming, maggots,
Shiny thousands, grubs, soon destined
For an angler’s barbs.
A necessary trial, with Elfed, on a black-leg bullock,
No anxious anthrax paranoia, just the deep skin emphysema-taut, swift death,
Beneath its crackling, tense clostridial stretched skin.
This pm check, a swift examination, and yes, my very own, seared scene
To test my teenage mettle, for future shielded worlds.
Of blood, and guts, and flesh and death.
If vanilla plain won’t tempt your chub,
Try pretty pink, or flashy yellow?
To cut the gloom in murky waters deep.
But this, all this, too gruesome,
For our still, half sleeping, sodden lamb.
But this, it had to be. Her final resting place,
Carefully, lifted down. On cold flat concrete laid. There,
Between another smelly bloated steer and stiff horned ram.
Legislation now dictates, this fiery furnaced end.
Better as things used to be.
Hidden, silent on a hillside. Just
Picked clean, by eager beaks, and teeth.
Nature’s way with fallen fools.
The scavenger survives.
The molecules reworked.
Home, past dusk’s black swirling gathered murmuration,
The light’s dipped, swift, behind Preseli’s distant silhouette,
And Robert’s witch flowers wait, unpeeled,
Alive and red.
And for those interested in the literary handle for this piece, by this fop, or fool,
Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism (1709):
“No place so sacred from such fops is barr’d … Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead; For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Or click below for Ted Hughes’ take on Crow.
On a lighter note, following on from my endorsement of Jakoti hand shears in my previous post, and still being up for outdoor gardening work, I’ve discovered that they’re just as brilliant at light work pruning, up to about 7mm stem thickness. So, are perfect for working our hollies into mushroom forms. Why? I hear you cry at the screen. Why not leave them alone!
Well, as with most unplanned things, in our unplanned garden, we had a holly binge years ago, buying lots of small plants from the excellent, and local, Welsh holly centre. Click here for more. Planted in various areas of our then fairly undeveloped garden, for several years they grew slowly, as hollies do. Some were moved within the garden as design ideas changed, but gradually as is the way with trees, root systems developed, and annual growth accelerated. In most cases they’ve been planted far too close to other trees or shrubs, which have an even greater potential size, so I decided to start pruning them, in a fairly random way, just to limit size.
Two years ago we’d visited Tyntesfield House, where we’d seen hollies shaped into roughly mushroomed forms. Click here for more. This had given me a nudge into trying to shape ours this way. I could claim that it was all a long thought out plan, but in truth it wasn’t, though having sculpted several wooden mushrooms around the garden, having a few living mushroom forms, seems entirely in keeping. However, unlike wielding a chainsaw, regularly shaping a living tree takes much more patience, and there will be at several least years when, frankly, a potential eventual mushroom is very definitely only in the eye of the enlightened, beholder.
However, progress is now being made, and the Jakotis are brilliant for at least two reasons. Firstly, they are operated one handed, so are capable of subtler touches than with my old pair of two handled shears, but also require much less effort, so the whole process does indeed become more contemplative. It’s easier to step back and assess progress, and also seems easier to collect at least some of the clippings, either into a hand held tub, or a large tray placed on the ground, which saves a bit of effort and time clearing up later.
This work has also given me a great chance to appreciate the subtle variations of many of the holly leaves, which inevitably with time, become a little smaller as pruning continues to produce multiple peripheral growing tips. The downside to all this, is that berries are few and far between, but gold and ivory trimmings give a real visual boost almost anywhere in the garden right now. Certainly, for winter garden interest, if you can bear the multiple year wait for real progress, hollies are great winter garden subjects.In my case this year, given the fairly mild weather, I’m trying a few cuttings alongside water bottles in the big bag bottle bank, where I’m hoping that the already emerging daffodil foliage will give a little shade early next year. And if all fail, most garden visitors will be none the wiser.
Many weeks after sending the designs and placing the order, a brown UPS van sped up the track at dusk, to be greeted by a mud spattered, rain drenched, beanied, labourer. Safely inside the house the black plastic cocoons were carefully slit open, and 140 metres of pristine, multi-coloured crepe de chine fabric, was revealed.
Our latest batch of silk had arrived, and always the first job is to check for quality issues – not as easy as it seems, since the 5 rolls, 1.4 metres wide, need rolling from one cardboard tube onto another. Still, at least there was no pressure to make any up, until I rashly commented that maybe we should work on the new designs first, and never knew when out biggest retailer might want to reorder.
Jane from Etcetera in St. David’s has sold lots this year, and wanted some more. Preferably within 48 hours for final Christmas purchases. Normally the sole domain of Fiona, I felt that with such an urgent task, I should volunteer my newly honed deftness with shears, so indeed my task was the first one, of cutting each scarf individually along a 1 mm thin white line, with her quality dressmaker’s scissors – quite scary since each line is 1.5 metres long, and an offline waver slip-up, would wreck two scarves. Still, as with the holly leaves, a great way of experiencing what they are like close up. Coincidentally, this was the first time our printers sent us a sample of all the current designs, to check for colour matching – a real issue with such a product, since machinery, and inks are constantly changing. Even a minor change can easily alter the aesthetics of what had taken us hours to perfect.
Spread out on our bed, it was really satisfying to see how what had started as one of my ‘good’ ideas to add on to a moth image exhibition at Aberglasney gardens, has gradually developed into a vibrant, unique, and colourful design range, over many years. We still find it just as exciting as the first time we made a sale, when we hear that other complete strangers seem to enjoy them as well.
Next in the making process, is Fiona’s careful edge seaming, then label punching, stamping and hand writing each label (far too critical for my illegible writing to pass muster), thread tying and label attaching by which time the scarves are ready for sale. With Christmas post delays, another trip down to St. David’s was necessary, just 2 days after the silk arrived. For any readers interested in what the designs are like, do have a look at our separate webpage, though this doesn’t yet include decent photos of the latest new designs, which will require a suitable weather window to photograph. Our new tulip, and cobweb designs both feature in this post, although photographed under poor flash conditions.
Finally, this post is illustrated with several images captured by a recently acquired Bushnell Trail camera, which has already given me a lot of insight into the goings on in our meadows, when we’re not around to disturb the native wildlife.
This was all prepared, and ready to go, but before I could fit in the images, a lurgy struck a knock-out blow. Rapidly realising the aching joints, sore throat and cough, heralded worse to come, for 4 days I physically could do little else than lay spread-eagled on the bed. Even having the radio on was too much intrusion. It was more comfortable with eyes closed. The constant headache created a novel sense of consciousness divorced from normal brain activity – what was going on up there? Gulliver very ably held down by viral Lilliputians battling it out with home grown phagocytic fighters with tankfuls of novel chemicals sloshing around no doubt.
Any form of controlled thought proved impossible.
Keyboards of any kind were a no-no.
Thankfully things are now on the mend, though last night’s sheet drenching sweats were a little unnerving, not to mention (and I hope of a temporary nature) apparently virtual reality style dream/doze sequences, with vibrant colour tinted monochrome clarity and full surround sound. If I’d wanted this, maybe the autumn’s mushrooms would have been an easier way in. As it was, to have a bat flying round my ears with wing beats was vivid enough to have me shouting out at 2 am this morning.
Fortunately the hordes of wall climbing black centipedes or tadpoles didn’t seem quite as threatening. Poor Fiona who is following me 3 days later on this trip, was fortunately saved some of the full impact, having sensibly relocated to the guest bedroom. So I’m hoping that such apparent hyper-aesthesia either is short lived, or if not, I can do some brain training to take me to more enjoyable places. (Anyone with any knowledge or experience of similar viral related hyper-aesthesia, do feel free to share it).
Oh, and whiteness? Nothing to do with frost, ice, snow or even snowdrops, for now.
The title of another Ted Hughes poem from his River collection.Thanks again to Mark, for alerting me to this. You can’t hear Hughes reading it, but the text is available on line if you click here. I own this excellent book but wouldn’t want to copy it, but it’s well worth reading, for its broken parasol imagery. How he saw this without frame freezing, I just don’t know.
I wish anyone reading this before the 25th, a very Happy and peaceful Christmas.