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“Summer” Anthology April 29, 2016

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Just received advance copies of the anthology I have a piece in:

SUMMER: AN ANTHOLOGY FOR THE CHANGING SEASONS

Publication date: 19 May 2016

List price: £12.99
ISBN: 9781783962440summer
eBook ISBN: 9781783962457
“Spring” is already out and I’m enjoying that on Kindle, but it’s a bit special seeing my own work on the page in Summer.
my piece started life at Farlands Cottage on the River Kinder in the Peak District.

Find out more and buy from the links on

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Farlands Journal, November 2013 January 2, 2014

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So glad to have this time-out at Farlands already planned. Although the notes have been sitting on the laptop, since getting back, they’ve had to take a back seat:

Sunday 17th – Bluetits for Breakfast

And chaffinches, robins, nuthatches. Then the great spotted woodpecker. The bird table is perfectly placed to watch from the dining table. This has to be the warmest, most comfortable, best-appointed hide I’ve ever spotted from. Not exactly taking turns, but establishing a pecking order – until the magpie came by. He soon took the hint though and left it for the smaller birds.SAM_0442

So far, the turkeys are proving more biddable than I expected: Four of them, and a decent sized paddock to spread themselves around, but they still go round as a group, weebling and obbling, and flapping their wings when they get agitated. That seems to be the key – keeping them calm and harnessing their pack instinct and curiosity, so that one moving in roughly the right direction persuades the rest to make for the coop at bedtime. And what a coop – made out of reclaimed materials, both windows are made from glass-paned hardwood doors, complete with stained glass and

letterbox. Their louvred front door provides ventilation and shelter from the elements.

In the morning, they come out stretching their wings and having a good shake to start the day. Then it’s a drink they’re after: heads down to sip a mouthful, then up to swallow it down, their long necks pulsing waves of peristalsis.

Turkey house from reclaimed materials

Stylish turkey house

The chickens are always welcoming, especially if you’ve interesting treats. They come running as soon as they spot me, and several are now happy to help themselves from my hand. I love the contented burps and burbles they make.

Not quite so keen to roost while there’s still a bit of light in the sky, they seem to have stronger minds of their own. Then the Warrens – the chunkier of the two breeds – seem to shuffle the smaller bantams along the perch, giving them less room than they would like. So a bantie will flap off the perch with a cackle, which will set off another one or two. Until from five in the coop and one to persuade in, now there’s only one inside and five to convince. But as the light goes, their instincts cut in and they want to be roosting above ground, safe from predators – which is why I’m trying to shut them up for the night. So at last, we’re on the same wavelength and as I lock them in for the night, they continue their comfortable clucks & chucks and shuffles as they settle.

Took my elevenses outside this morning – well wrapped up. The woodland around me is full of life – even as the leaves are falling. The Kinder river is out of sight, but noisier than in the summer. There’s more variety of colour now – reds in the small-leaved cotoneaster, yellows crisping to browns in the horse-chestnut, and across the valley, russets and gingers in bullion-stitch and French knot cushions.

Monday 18/11

For two days, the turkeys have been good as gold: coming running to greet me, and popping into the coop at bedtime with weebling half-hearted flutters. So I left them a little later this afternoon, and then the low cloud dropped even lower, bringing damp and darkness. The turkeys had put themselves to roost on a log-pile at the bottom of their paddock and didn’t like the idea of stepping out in the twilight, so took a little persuasion and it became just like rounding up silly sheep. Any move in roughly the right direction was good – especially if all four were making it. But there were the odd individual dashes for freedom, which on the whole, I redirected. They made straight up the incline towards the coop, rather than choosing the steps, but who cares – a shortcut is a shortcut, when all’s said and done, so I followed, until both feet slipped from under me. I dug in my staff and ended up flat on my face, muddy tracks up the length of me. – and four turkeys looking at me.

Well, after our extended exercise round the paddock, they finished with a lap round the coop, up the slope, and in.  Tarah!

After that, the chickens were easy – the dying light was their instinctual reminder to roost away from predators, so all they needed was the door shutting. So with mud peeling off me like falling leaves, and the temperature falling fast, it’s Turkeys 1, Julia 2.

Tues 19/11

Above the breakfasting birds, the sun is shining through a windbreak of light-starved pines, onto russet bracken-covered hillside – still sparkling with the last of the overnight frost. Every now and then, a short-lived gust finds its way into the valley – its path marked by a gentle spiralling shower of desiccated leaves.

small black horned sheep

Hebridean sheep?

stone cottages

Hill Houses hamlet

SAM_0465

hoar frost on peaks

Hoar Frost from Hill Houses

Into the afternoon and there’s still a clear blue sky, with little wind – is there more frost to come? The walk to  the hamlet of Hill Houses exposes more north-facing hills still covered in hoar frost.  And also a small herd of diminuitive black sheep with curved ribbed horns. Hebrideans, I think – although I thought their tails would be shorter.

Hill Houses is big enough to be on the ordnance survey map, but you wouldn’t find it on a road map. Almost untouched, one of the houses has a date stone – 1723. Some of the homes look as if they might have been longhouses – where family and livestock would have been under one roof – sharing warmth. As well as being stone buildings, the track is cobbled. Well looked after, it would be easy to imagine yourself travelled back in time.

Wed 20th

The forecast snow fell as biting, driving rain, leaning pliable plants and ripping others. I found 2 eggs in the hen house today – the biology’s clearly saying this isn’t the time to think of chicks.

Treecreeper or nuthatch? Both is the answer – with the sun behind them, the shape and size are similar, but a clear view shows the nuthatch to have much brighter plumage. The nuthatches often come to the bird-table too, but the treecreepers seem to stay on the trees that bit further away.

Then the gusting wind blew the clouds over, replacing them with golden couple of hours. Only for the  low cloud to seep back bringing early dusk. Heavy overcast sky properly threatening snow now – 1pm and the lights are on. Grey squirrel in pine stand is made courageous by the failing lights – flicking his tail as he skips in and out of sight.

Closing up the chickens in the sleet, they’re not daft, 5 are already in and perched, 1 out found a  chicken hidey hole under the coop. I develop another new skill – nudging chicken bottoms.  Helped her make her mind up.

Then by 7pm, I’m peering out at an icing sugar dusting of snow, glittering in the light from indoors – no other lights in the valley, to betray signs of civilisation. Wind’s funnelling up the side of the cottage. Indoors, a log fire, although it’s not really needed.

Thurs 21/11

Taking chickens their elevenses, I heard sheep being moved on the hillside above. A couple of men and a dog ‘Away! Away!’ Half a dozen sheep split off from main flock and fled down into the wrong valley at its most precipitous. Technical shepherding term rang across the valley: ‘Oh kin ell!’ Looked like an early lunch stop to see if wanderers would rejoin flock of their own accord. Sheets of rain and rainbow swept briefly over the top, to be replaced by fleecy cumulous clouds against cerulean sky

Friday evening: took the torch round the building after hearing a noise, hoping for some interesting wildlife, but finding only frost on car – the day I left off the screen cover.

Sat 23/11/13

Broke the ice to refill chickens’ and turkeys’ water bowls. Big bright jays are flicking around after acorns.

After the hardest frost of the year so far, I came across a dead sheep: already, scavengers have called  – tufts of wool are pulled out & fluttering.  Nature clearing up after itself.

I came across a field of rainbow sheep – near the Hill Houses Hebrideans: a single badger-face – coffee table of a sheep; several Jacobs, plus odds and ends of other breeds I didn’t recognise. Is this a pen for rare-breed rams that have already done their duty? While I was working out what I was looking at, a farmer rattled in with a ram for the Hebrideans – this late in the season? That would make an April lambing. That’s what Eva’s doing this year, as opposed to the usual February. Brings home how knife-edge farming and smallholding can be: lamb too early and the unpredictable weather kills your newborns, too late and the price at market goes down as the neighbouring farmers get their lamb to market before you.

Looking back at 19 June, Farlands July 16, 2013

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Another warm, dry afternoon after so many cold miserable days – perfect for listening to the post-lunch tune-up while M packs.  The lambs and sheep punctuate the birdsong as usual: hearing the ewe answer its errant lamb adds that “all’s well with the world” dash to the composition.  I could easily drop off too, but settle for closed eyes while I recreate the valley image from the sounds.

Until the sheep down the lane up their act: no longer gaps between the wobbly bleats and throaty mothers’ ‘mehs’, the calls overlap and take on an anxious tone.  Sounds like they’re being moved.  Yes, definitely more lambs and mums joining in.  Definitely down the lane we need to be driving along to catch M’s train.  The single track lane with drystone walls on either side.  Time to investigate – lean over the five-bar gate, I think.  The good news: they’re coming up the lane towards and then past us.  Decent sized, sturdy sheep, with broad backs like coffee tables.  Encouraged on by a sheepdog and the two young men we’ve been seeing working the farm across the lane.

moving lambs at Farlands

moving lambs at Farlands

I say we’ve been seeing them, but perhaps its more accurate to say they couldn’t help but notice us as they went about their work: driving the landrover from one field to another, there we are, sat down in the middle of the hillside, catching our breath.  Then later, wool-gathering across the clough.  Yes, gathering real wool, just like the 16th century origin of the phrase.  Weaving erratically back and forth across the field, gathering the shed tufts of wool, with little to show for the effort.  Except M and I were very satisfied with the results of our labour, and it’s since been scoured in the washing machine.

Oh, and then the eccentric lady townies popped up to ask them who we might tell about the one-eyed distressed horse:  fast-pacing along his paddock, tossing his head from side to side and whinnying.  If you’d asked us to explain beforehand how to tell if a horse was distressed, we’d have looked at you gone out, but there was no mistaking: this horse was distressed and we couldn’t distract him from his upset.

Well, they might have been tolerantly amused by our involvement in country life, but they obliged and directed us to a stable just off the most chocolate-boxy hamlet: gritstone cottages and hollyhocks.  The horse’s owner was there, currying another horse, not at all put out at our taking an interest.  This bay had come out of the paddock for a wash and brush-up (not correct terminology) and our one-eyed friend was missing his mate – who was going back down there shortly.  So all soon became well.  I missed the opportunity to ask how he lost his eye – so mortified, I’d described him as ginger.  Everyone knows horses are chestnut.

But enough wool-gathering and back to the sea of sheep swimming past our cottage: The ewes have done this before and head the tide.  Some are even a bit blasé about it and stop to nibble the roadside plant-life.  To some, as always, the grass is greener on our side and they make determined efforts to breach the gritstone wall, but these are chunky beasts and don’t have the jumping ability of the Ronaldsays.  They also have handy steering devices: the shepherds take them by the horns to point then in the right direction.

Day later, describing this at Pat’s Woolly Day – a gathering of six ladies each with spinning wheels of five different designs, the call goes up, ‘What breed?’.  Knowing the breed of fleece you’re spinning is important to these ladies: it tells you how long the fibres will be and how fine, how much crimp will be in the wool and even how much lanolin will be in the wool (up to 30% in weight).  I hadn’t known that it’s common to spin wool straight off the sheep and then scour it in the skein.  We decided that with their horns and black faces, these were most likely Swaledales.  But that will wait for another time.

spinning and wheels

spinning and wheels

To finish Wednesday: we enjoyed the spectacle – rare for us, but just another day in the life of a young farmer.  The sheep cleared the lane in plenty of time for us to get to the station, leaving me quietly glad that they had ground their droppings into the tarmac.  Beneficial as it would have been on the allotment, sharing the journey home with a bag of sheep droppings might have been taking the re-use, recycle mantra a step too far for this Marie-Antoinette.

Afternoon Performance at Farlands Cottage July 2, 2013

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18/6/13:

Sitting in the sun after a virtuous uphill and down dale couple of hours around Kinder Reservoir:  the terrace in front of the house looks across the River Kinder to our own amphitheatre. A cushiony canopy of tree tapestry creeps up the valley side opposite, no two trees alike in colour or form.

On the buttercuppy terrace below, blackbirds and thrushes pull up worms, nuthatches nip in and out of the shrubbery and a little chestnut-mopped still-to-be-identified bird zips past and disappears.

Most of the performers in today’s show are staying out of sight, though and it’s being acted out in the whole hillside in front, below, behind me, and half a mile on either side.

Way off to the left, a cuckoo calls frantically, moves on and calls again repeatedly.  Away up on the moor, lambs raise their heads and bleat out for mothers they’ve lost sight of.  Deeper reassuring answers follow – all’s well up there, before the harsh grating sounds of pheasant interrupts from the moorland.  At my feet, bumblebees mumble in the late May blossom.

Away to the right and handy for the bird table, blackcaps sing their boundaries and then a family whisks in and out of the Cotoneaster.  That answers an earlier mystery: the chestnut-headed bird is a young or female blackcap.

Again, the cuckoo calls – the middle of June and still looking for a mate.  Late, like the May blossom, after the cold spring.  Now, a male lapwing repeats his peewit call.  He’s quartering his territory in the sky and showing off his flying skills.

For brief seconds, a silent bullfinch flits onstage, to be replaced by more leisurely cabbage white butterflies, already discouraged by netting on the vegetable plot.

Underneath the brocade of sounds, the river mutters and gurgles from the reservoir, hushing and shushing past mossy water-rounded rocks and boulders.  Then the wind moves round and sets a stand of trees silver-leafed with its whispers and murmurs.

Our anonymous bird from Sunday threads through the show, taking its turn, moving and repeating the recital along the valley: a whistling, whirring warbling throaty call.  Eyes half-closed, I consider whether this might be the black grouse we saw on the moorland at Christmas.  Except that the mating calls from their leks are meant to be confined to dawn and dusk and its mid-afternoon here.  With the sun heating my bare arms, I resolve decisively that I’m too relaxed to research and investigate.  Instead, I allow the fearless wren’s peeping diversion, signalling his disappointment at our invasion of his territory.  Which sets off the blackcaps again, after a couple of short trills like a stubborn car engine coughing into running.

Deep, calm breaths sample the sun-loosened scent of herbiage on the lower terrace.  Close at hand, a healthy ash tree, delicate but tall, sways with its feet in the river.  Sycamores to either side suggest there’s been human habitation around longer than Farlands – it’s a safe timber for making spoons, food containers, and toys.  Further still into the auditorium, a single horse-chestnut is well beyond the stage where leaves resemble new green gloves looking for an owner.

Birdsong ceases in an instant – an alien intrudes: the workday helicopter stashed by the reservoir starts up, the rhythmic sounds of the rotors bounce off a bunch of valley sides, disguising the exact location.  As it rises, the clatter becomes less muffled and the echo splits, crosses and veers at different frequencies, reaching our ears like Surround Sound.  Still a member of the invisible cast, the reverberation follows its pull-off behind and to the right.  This close to the Pennine way, I’d bet on the hopper holding footpath-repair materials.

Above, a disturbed heron glides silently past before gradually, the concert begins again, only to be drowned out moments later by the helicopter returning, recharging its hopper, and leaving again for the next valley over.  Each time the concert reopens, it takes a more strident tone in competition and desperation.  Our signal, with the weakening of the sun’s warmth, to retreat for the day.