It’s too cold for May. Things growing are in suspended animation, biding their time, waiting for warmth and rain. Instead, it’s windy and grey. The chimney booms with the sound of the air rushing over the roof, birds rise up from the field behind the hedge, try to fly across the garden and are beaten back to where they started by sudden gusts. The sun emerges for a moment but is swiftly covered again by layers of lowering cloud. Rain threatens but does not fall. Shivering, I put on the heating and think of making a fire, feeling the tension as my body tries to ward off the cold. Like the flowers in bud, I’m waiting for a change.
Posts Tagged ‘weather’
Today was a horrible day. Fretful and loathe to get up, I lurked inside for as long as possible before I faced the damp outside.
But eventually my aim to counteract the worrying that is going on in my head with some productive activity did win through. So, as well as food shopping and mending the garage light (changing the bulb – sometimes things are not as bad as I fear), I drove over to Triscombe in the heavy mist (ok, maybe it was low cloud) and bought some narcissi and grape hyacinths, anemones and aubretia to brighten up my dreary garden that just will not come into flower.
If you’re within reach, I can highly recommend them. Time has slightly stood still there and very lovely it is to and chat to Stuart about this and that, while you’re thinking about what to buy – even if it’s just bird seed.
The birds here seem very hungry, so I stocked up with so much that it came in a sack!
Then I went in search of lambs. Now, rather oddly, I saw the first lamb out in the fields when I was out riding on New Year’s Day. That lamb must be quite senior now that the countryside is full of actual spring lambs.
Things have been very tough for sheep farmers this last year (and not so hot for the sheep either). Wet all last summer, so lots of them (the sheep) are lame with foot rotty problems – they’re limping about all over the place, their fleeces sodden and muddy. This one is quite clean, although not pink as those that graze the red earthed land around here often are.
The horrible, long winter had temperatures that were well below freezing at night for long spells, followed by a very cold spring which led to sheep being buried in snowdrifts and lambs dying as they were being born. Luckily, it wasn’t that cold down here in the south west, but spring is still being held in abeyance by the cold and it’s windy as hell, or I should say, as usual.
So, anyway, here are some lambs. They brought a smile to my face with their silly antics – one of the lambs below is standing on its mother.
Last week, as the snow melted away, new life was stirring beneath the trees’ damp discarded leaves. It is spring in the middle of winter.
A rapid thaw was happening, the temperature having shot up from minus three to about five degrees centigrade overnight. Where I’m told there had been knee-deep snow yesterday, patches of earth were now appearing.
The house looked more or less intact. I’d remembered to turn off the water before I left, there was no burst pipe. On the other hand, the back door looked suspiciously wet and was hard to open. I put my shoulder to it and burst out into the soggy garden, shocking some birds into the sky. Above me, the gutter teetered at an unseemly angle and disgorged its melting contents straight at the door. In the garden, we’d lost a couple of tree branches here and there, nothing desperate and it will all make good kindling once it’s dried out.
The weight of the now rapidly vanishing snow had done other things as well. Along the lane, bits of hedge were looming forwards in the manner of a drunk sharing a confidence. Lonicera Nitida, sometimes known as boxleaf honeysuckle, is easy to shape and trim but, being a relative of the climber, it hasn’t got any what you might call ‘integrity’. Rather, it leans up against itself like a teenager during that phase where they cling to doorframes to stay upright. Weigh it down with a lot of snow and it’s gone – teenager to drunk in a week.
I had to do something before the forecast rain arrived. So I swapped my idea of walking in the hills for sturdy yellow work gloves, reached through the hedge as far as I could from the garden side and hoicked the spindly stems inwards. Then from the roadside, more than ankle deep in thawing snow, I shoved it upwards with an upside down broom. But it wasn’t enough, it had lost its grip, and some of its top-heaviness just had to go if the next snowfall wasn’t going to see it lying stretched out across the lane.
Now that it’s done, I’m thinking that the snow did me a favour, although I would have liked a walk instead of a sore elbow from wielding the shears. The hedge is now thinned out for a bit of fresh growth in the spring and should be all the stronger for it.
From the silhouettes of Italian trees to the spectacular giants of Lydeard Hill in Somerset, they are under threat and I am worrying about them; capturing their beauty while I can.
Last week, or it might have been the week before – I lost track over Christmas – the Girl and I went to Oxford. She had the loan of a car for a few days and, having passed her test over a year ago but not having driven much, she wanted to do a longer drive.
On the way, we left the motorway at the first exit and, as we were driving along a very unremarkable road, spotted this house with a model shark crashing through its roof. It’s quite famous and I’d seen pictures before, but it was still fun to see it unexpectedly. The Girl, who’d never heard of it, thought it was pretty cool. I expect the neighbours have got used to it now but there were a lot of objections when it first went up.
We both work at universities in London, so we should have known that anything to do with Oxford University was likely to be mainly CLOSED during the vacation. Nevertheless, we managed to dawdle our way around town quite successfully as it wasn’t raining. We did have to go inside a few times though.
This is a rather wonderful shop called Objects of Use, which sells rather old fashioned household items. I’m a fan of the kind of wood and natural fibre washing up brushes we used to have at home when I was growing up. They’re cheap, totally recyclable, and have heads that can be replaced, so I happily bought two and some spare heads for under a fiver.
To anyone who has attended a campus university, as both of us did, the idea of a university whose colleges and libraries fill a town amongst normal dwellings and businesses is quite odd. I loved my campus being self-contained. However, it does make for a beautiful city in Oxford.
It has been raining in the UK more or less constantly for what seems like months. Evidence was everywhere with flooded roads, allotments, cricket pitches and the River Cherwell being close to bursting its banks by the Botanical Garden. You wouldn’t want to punt in this weather.
Met Office records show that 2012 was ‘the second wettest year since records began’ (their records arbitrarily start in 1910 – records have actually been kept since the 1700s apparently). As someone remarked on Twitter, that is such a very British statistic.
Finally, cold and tired, we stopped for tea and scones at the lovely Grand Cafe, which has been the site of a coffee shop since 1650, before heading home. More about that in another post.
The weather is terrible, so I haven’t wanted to venture out – although loud drips forced me to go and clear some of the gutters before the house starts leaking. I was quite looking forward to being marooned inside with the radio, the fire, a good book and the internet. It always sounds like such a lovely idea – to have a quiet day doing nothing – but it’s just given me a stiff neck and has made me feel like punching something.
You’ll have paid your gardener, whom you’ve been eagerly awaiting for two weeks to give you a hand with the tons of stuff you can’t keep up with out there, and watched her drive away with your lawn half mown and her kids soaked to the skin, only to find the sun out 20 minutes later.
I feel a bit stuck – I’ve nothing to say really. It’s wet outside as so often these days and I’ve been dodging the rain to get my hedge cut and the cuttings cleared away. But a little ray of sunshine today was spotting my most elusive clematis, flowering high up in a tree at least 30 feet off the ground. It’s frustrating because it’s rather a nice bright yellow one – of course, I don’t know what it’s called.
That’s all for now. Here’s hoping for better weather soon.
I’d like to post something positive about this summer but the weather still shows no sign of improvement after weeks and weeks of rain.
I had very little inclination to make it down to Spring Cottage yesterday, given the wild weather forecast. But I worry when I know there could be problems I need to sort out. Plus, I need my fix of green, horse and a wider horizon.
The lane had flooded and I was reminded how precient it had been to check the Environment Agency’s flood risk map before I moved here. At almost the highest point around here, your ears pop with the change in altitude as you come up the lane to the cottage. Despite the extra effort required on walks and rides hereabouts, I’d rather not be down below in the little hamlet where most people round here live. It turned out that we’d had our own type of flood at the cottage though, with the ongoing saga of the leaking chimney.
Strong winds blowing from the south east meant that rain is still being driven in from somewhere. It’s even been getting in through the windows.
However, to look on the bright side, I have health and enough to eat, including these beautiful pale blue duck eggs that I bought at the farm near Nether Stowey (my Coleridge link – this is all much cleverer than it appears…) this morning. So I’m going put a bucket under the leaking chimney, light a fire to dry it out, curl up with my book and feel positive after all.
After a long, tiring day of strimming the banks at the back of the house, weeding, lugging around sacks of soil and manure, and putting up a reed-screen contraption thing to disguise the oil tank, I head off to the pub in the evening. I’ve stupidly forgotten to buy any food, even though I’ve been close to a supermarket earlier in the day. Sometimes life just feels too short for a huge shop and long queues.
I walk up the lane, taking real pleasure in one of the first good evenings in couple of weeks. I notice that a tree has come down up the road in the gales; its branches still stranded in limbo on top of the hedge on one side of the lane but its trunk now vanished, leaving a big, naked gap in the hedge on the other.
Swallows swoop, cows moo and lambs bleat. Somewhere, in the distance, quite far away, a dog barks. If you listen hard on a country evening, there’s always a dog barking somewhere.
One of the real blessings of living here is having a pub that does food within walking distance. It’s remarkable because there’s not much else within walking distance, unless you count fields and hedges. Well, there’s a letterbox, just past the farm, but it doesn’t do food.
I time it to arrive at the pub on the dot of seven – no ‘longer opening hours’ in this neck of the woods and I’m starving. I’ve been there waiting on the doorstep for them to open up before now.
Surprisingly, the pub is already heaving with people. Somerset time doesn’t always correspond to real time. Dave, the landlord, and Sue, who helps behind the bar but lives at the farm, are looking hot and bothered trying to keep up with the orders. The checked shirt and merino pullover crew are out in force. “There’ll be a bit of a wait,” says Dave. So I tuck myself into one of the few remaining seats – a chair by the fireside – with a pint of beer, The Guardian and my iPhone (they have free wifi intermittently when Dave forgets to turn off the router).
I sometimes struggle to explain the pub’s appeal but today I finally realise what it is. It’s that it’s an almost completely unreconstructed pub from the 1970s, all red patterned carpet, brown painted wood, horse brasses and ballads like Please release me always – always, without fail – playing softly in the background. No sawdust on floorboards and deafening conversation echoing around the place here. You get the drift?
Some of the customers haven’t changed either. Quite literally in the case of one of the elderly women sitting nearby, who is wearing an orange and brown flowered dress that she must have purchased over 30 years ago.
On quieter nights, when the customers all start chatting across the bar to each other, I’ve heard regulars say they’ve been coming here for 30 years and that neither the staff nor the menu has changed. It may not be very exciting but it’s good and reliable: scampi and chips, fish pie, cauliflower cheese, sausage and mash, steak and chips and so on. A bit of salad comes on the side of each of the oval plates, that can only be described as ‘garnish’. You aren’t expected to eat it because ‘five-a-day‘ hasn’t been invented yet. But, because I’m not quite a part of this time warp, I always do.
Driving down the M4 today, in Wiltshire, I had the sudden feeling of passing through an invisible curtain, leaving behind a cold, grey Spring day and passing into Summer.
When we arrived, the cats went straight out and lay down to enjoy the warmth. I pottered about looking at what had changed in the garden in the last week.
I’m thinking about converting those disused cold frames into raised beds for vegetables. I didn’t think this would work but I discovered today that they have drainage pipes built into the backs of them, so I think it might. I’m a bit daunted by the idea of ordering almost a tonne of topsoil.
Last year’s herb planting is looking fine, although I probably shouldn’t have let them flower but they’re so pretty. The strawberries are all in flower too.
The peonies are out and I must prop this one up before it bites the dust.
Now it’s nine o’clock at night but as the farmers are hell bent on working all the daylight hours, three, no, sorry, four tractors have just gone past. The birds are singing their last notes as the light fades. I’m tired but looking forward to tomorrow.
At long last, the weather was fine and springlike this weekend, after about five weeks of grey skies and rain.
I dropped by Nether Stowey car boot sale this morning – the first of the season – which was rather lame. A very poor turnout of sellers; about half as many as usual. I should think most people were so delighted to have some good weather for the first time in weeks, that they had other activities on their minds. I must keep going though as I’ve had such good things from there in the past: a huge fireguard, a tin bath, a great set of Hedgerow china for a song, and this Lloyd Loom linen basket/stool.
Entertainingly subtitled: ‘a Lusty product’.
I’ve finally done it up with some oil cloth from Norfolk Textiles (I’m obsessed with oilcloth) and some braid from V.V. Rouleaux and it now looks like this. I scrubbed it thoroughly but didn’t repaint it, as I wanted to keep its slightly worn appearance. But I find I neither like it particularly nor have any use for it, so I’ll probably give it away.
When I got back, I set to strimming the roadside banks, which is the perfect situation to encounter neighbours. (Round here anyone who lives within a half-mile radius is considered a neighbour as there’s no-one immediate.) I met two women passing today for the first time: one who lives in a house called Witches Barn (not sure about apostrophe) and the other, on horseback with two dogs running free (so brave, or perhaps, foolish), who is newer here than I am, which makes me feel better.
Having chatted with them, I thought, it really is a bit like The Archers, with local people being up in arms about a new anaerobic digester and various planning applications. “Where’s it all going to go?” One of them wanted to know. Where indeed? Into a big lagoon of slurry, possibly at the farm down the lane. Oh joy. It smells bad enough from time to time, as it is.
Then I lay about on the grass in the sun, listening to the birds and the tractor in the field next door, and weeded for hours and hours. Now I ache from bending and kneeling, as well as from wielding the strimmer.
This morning I went riding: sunshine, swallows flying up high, the ground finally drying out after weeks of rain, sparrow fledglings chattering noisily in the bushes, carpets of bluebells in the woodland for as far as the eye could see, the countryside really starting to brighten as the trees thicken with leaves and rape fields come into flower. And, when we got to Cothelstone Hill, the sheer pleasure of a rare, clear, 360 degree view from the Seven Sisters. Fabulous.
It was all great until Marmalade – a rather inappropriately named black and white mare – got thoroughly fed up with me while we were trying to close a gate (easier said than done on horseback) and suddenly took off at speed straight into a tree branch that caught me on the head, back of the neck and shoulder. You’re taught to bend forward when encountering an overhanging object; if I hadn’t instinctively done that, I would have been thwacked straight in the face. Thank goodness for riding hats too, although the impact rammed mine down so hard that one my eyebrows feels bruised. Anyway, I’ll live.
I find myself thinking that this place is has marvellously healing powers for the weary mind and soul, if not the body.
Gloomy and wet. The lane rainwater-full. Gales blow. Garden chairs crash and windows leak.
Floors washed, paperwork done, holes drilled and pictures hung. Even washing machine plumbing, long standing left, is ticked off the list.
Now feeling neat.
Casting my mind back to this time last year, the UK was gripped with royal wedding fever and a heatwave. Today dawned grey, miserable and windy, with a fog so thick, early on, that I couldn’t clearly make out the other side of the lane. Today, I was marshalling at Manor Farm’s Fun Ride, which raised over £1,000 for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.
I walked over the fields to the farm gritting my teeth and clad in so many layers of clothes and waterproofs that I could barely move, to help set up things for the event in a field so muddy, that tractors had to tow the vehicles in and out. People weren’t put off by the poor weather though, as riders are hardy souls, and about 50 people and horses turned up.
The event was for riders and their own horses, so none of Sue’s regulars rode but almost all joined in to help out in one way or another, like bringing cakes, bread and quiches for the cake sale, or putting up gazebos.
Unlike when you’re actually on horseback, when the best you can do is shout at each other over your shoulder, this was a chance to get to know a few riders who live locally. This kind of joining in is really important to me, as it’s hard enough to feel part of the community, when you’re not here all the time.
Once the ride had started, we were driven to our marshalling positions in the middle of nowhere, to point the riders in the right direction. Cue a further three hours standing in the cold. The fog dissipated mid-morning by converting itself into rain and then a dampness that forced itself right into my bones.
The expected ranks of horse-loving girls were padded out by all sorts today, from the very well-heeled – three generations of a family who turned up with an enormous four-horse transporter full of thoroughbreds, and people who talked about hunting, to a cheeky, young, overall-clad Irish jockey on a flirty little pony, who had broken three vertebrae at Wincanton recently and wasn’t back to racing yet. There was also an incredibly arthritic old chap, who had already ridden three miles to get to the start. He told us to just take his money – and by the way, he wouldn’t be finishing at the finish, as he would just go on home and he didn’t need a entry number, thank you.
The old chap’s gnarled hands and bony old ride put me in mind of the other-worldly horse and rider in Goethe’s poem Der Erlkönig. I think my mind must still be full of last night’s Radio Four drama, whose quite frightening ending (aided by award-winning sound design) happened just as my headlights were being bounced back at me by swirling fog as I drove over the Quantocks to the cottage. I’m locking my doors firmly tonight.