Snowdrops and Sticky Buds

Whilst there is snow lying on the ground and the weather is so cold, it’s almost impossible to believe that Spring is just around the corner.  There are sure signs of the coming new season however, wherever we choose to look.  Yesterday I came across beautiful snowdrops bravely defying the icy conditions, and sticky buds on the horse chestnut tree in the local churchyard.

Snowdrops
Snowdrops
Aconites and snowdrops
Aconites and snowdrops

A few days before that I found aconites and snowdrops peeping through in a shady spot around the roots of a huge old tree in the rectory garden at Glentham.  I’m taking heart from these sightings.  I just need to spot some lambs now – I’ll let you know when I do and then it will officially be Spring in my rural Lincolnshire world.

Pristine Crunchiness

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as being the first person to crunch through freshly fallen snow in winter boots.  It’s always been that way.

As a small child I would walk the fields and lanes delighting in that feeling.  I used to think back then that it was like being the first person to discover a new country or continent.   I was an explorer.

Footprints in pristine snow
Footprints in pristine snow

The first time I ever lived in a town I was 21.  We had a very harsh winter that year; the tyres of our vehicle froze to the ground.  And when it snowed I walked for miles to find a pristine patch in which to crunch my feet.  There was none.

Since then we have been fortunate to live in places with lots of opportunities to experience freshly fallen snow, when it does actually snow.  And today was one of those days.  It snowed overnight and again this morning, and I had acres and acres of the white stuff to trample and crunch my way through.  What a treat!

Would You Like Cream With That Milk?

Snow was forecast for today and tonight in my small neck of the English woods.   So looking into the fridge this afternoon I realised that Mr Midlife and I are all eaten up from Christmas and New Year, and therefore requiring a re-stock, especially as the girls and granddaughter are back with us again this coming weekend.  And living in a small Lincolnshire hamlet it is quite possible that snow could cause a travel issue for us.

Hence my hasty visit today to the nearest Big Supermarket, the one I dislike using, to stock up on essentials for the coming few days.  Meat was required, bread, vegetables and salad too, and milk and butter of course as staples.  The rest we could have done without but don’t like to – shampoo, toothpaste etc.

Browsing the meat aisle I found as usual that it was virtually impossible to buy British meat.  I wanted pork steaks – my family always enjoy pork and apple with vegetables and mash and a rich onion gravy.  There were no British pork steaks; this I find particularly offensive as my family until recently have been traditional English pork farmers.  This is what I finished up with.

Dutch and German Pork Loin Steaks
Dutch and German Pork Loin Steaks

I wanted sausage too as we like our cooked breakfast at a weekend.  British sausage?   Well yes to be fair – Leicestershire produced sausage made from 100% British pork.  Thank you, I’ll have some of those.

Sausage made with British Pork Meat
Sausage made with British Pork Meat

Bacon was required as well; only Dutch or Danish was on offer to me – shame on you Big Supermarket.

And then milk – we get through pint after pint of milk in tea and coffee and by the great big glassful when the little lady is in residence.  I picked up two large 4 pint packs of semi skimmed.

Semi skimmed milk - 2.27 litres for £1
Semi skimmed milk – 2.27 litres for £1

I personally prefer full cream milk but Mr Midlife switched to semi skimmed years ago thinking it better for his health.  I’ve never been convinced that less fat in milk is better for you; I consider that full fat milk always served my forebears well, they all lived to a grand old age drinking it, and I reckon it’s essential for small children to have proper milk for their growth.  I’m also not convinced that modern day full fat milk is in fact proper full fat milk, as I remember it, with cream on the top.  Which is why I went along with Mr Midlife when he opted for semi-skimmed.  My local Big Supermarket certainly does not serve me milk, blue top, green top or anything else, with cream on the top.  I have no idea what they currently do with the creamy top we used to get on milk; I can only imagine fat cats lapping up the profits from that elsewhere these days.  To be sure though – it doesn’t find its way on to my cornflakes.

And I just got really grumpy whilst doing the shopping because the things I wanted to buy were not available.  I wanted British pork steaks.  I wanted British bacon.  I wanted British sausage (I got this I think).  I wanted locally grown vegetables.  And I really wanted full cream British milk.  And I realised that to get proper full on everything British I really needed to shop somewhere else.  Sadly. Which culminated in this –

“Dear Mr Big Supermarket, I will be more than happy to pay the proper going price for proper British food.  Could you please stop offering me and my fellow ordinary British shoppers stuff from elsewhere across the seas when we already produce that very same commodity here in our own country.  We are an island.   I do not want to see foreign (that includes the EU) stickers on my food thank you very much, when I know that here in the UK we produce a large proportion of all the food our country requires.  I do not want to pay £1 for 2.27 litres of watered down milk.  I will gladly pay the going rate for proper full fat “cream on the top” pints like days of old.  How much do you think that will be?  You don’t know?   Well, simply go ahead as normal and dream up a price, just to discourage me.  Or preferably, and more honestly, ask the few remaining British dairy farmers to quote you a price, and go from there.  Please.”

I try to use local family butchers; our small market town has eight or so great butchers’ shops supplying locally grown meat.  The markets and family run greengrocers provide a very good range of locally produced fruit and vegetables.  Except that today I couldn’t go to Louth; I was busy doing other stuff to earn a living, to pay for our food.

And that’s where Big Supermarket wins.  Unfortunately.  We have inadvertently, which equates to thoughtlessly in truth, created for ourselves a world where we are dictated to by the big players.  We have allowed this to happen.  And now have to live with it.  Or do we?

No.  We do not. We absolutely must actively fly the flag for British producers and for independent businesses.  Buy food locally.  Give the supermarket a miss.  From now on I will try extra hard to do that more than I already do, because today’s shopping trip for everyday essentials has upset and annoyed me.

Local grown British vegetables in a family owned greengrocers shop
Local grown British vegetables in a family owned greengrocers shop

This week’s news was all about the UK dairy farmers, struggling to make a living.  They are not making a living currently though are they?  They are running at a loss.  And they are packing in.  At an alarming rate.  Terrible, terrible news.  Once gone, they can never be revived.  It’s not like stopping laying carpets for a living.  Or giving up painting and decorating.  In those jobs you could quite easily go buy more rolls of Wilton or a couple of tubs of emulsion if you decided to do so.   To become a dairy farmer from scratch would require huge costs and effort and the buying of a farm and acres of land and a milking parlour.  Oh, and not forgetting a milking herd you’d need to find and invest in of course.  It would be a whole different ball game wouldn’t it?  I’ll say again – once gone, our dairy farmers are gone for ever.  How much do you value your milk?

Or your pork for that matter?  Or your bacon?  Same scenario.   Or anything else that is intrinsically British?

If you care, change what you buy.   And where you buy it from.  That’s all.

Homemade Blackberry Wine – Cheers!

The first lot is bottled.  Yes indeedy.  Bottled.  I cannot believe it.

Last autumn was the first time I had ever attempted to make fruit wine.  And the primary prompt for the exercise was the overflowing plum tree at Home Farm. And since there was no longer anyone around to harvest the fruit, Mr Midlife and I went with boxes, bins and bags.  There really was a lot of fruit on Mum’s old plum tree last year.

I had to learn quickly how to make wine from fruit as it doesn’t keep fresh very long.  And once again the internet came in very handy.

Nectarine Wine and Sloe Gin
Nectarine Wine and Sloe Gin

There are different methods for different fruit; and various recipes from all over the world.  I started out confused and almost didn’t bother.  I’m awfully glad I did now. Winemaking is obviously a very precise science in some parts of the world.  It’s also a haphazard and satisfying rural pastime in others.  I decided to go with the rural pastime brigade.  As you would expect.

Fruit stained hands
Fruit stained hands

It tends to be a rather mucky pursuit too.  My hands were brown and disgusting for weeks; should have worn gloves I know, but the feel of the fruit on my hands as I cut and stoned and peeled and chopped was lovely.  It reminded me of the days years ago when I used to help my grandmother peel and chop the fruit from her trees for pies and to make preserves.  As children my little sister, brother and I spent many happy hours picking blackberries for pies and jams.  We were very good at it as I recall.  And we didn’t mind one bit going to school with purple finger nails.

It wasn’t just plums that we gathered in August and September last year.  Once I got started fruit picking I almost couldn’t stop.  It was like turning the clock back; I became a dedicated hedgerow forager.  I even got Mr Midlife involved.  We had a supply of bags in the car just in case we should spy a good crop of hedgerow fruit worth pulling over for when we were out and about.  We came across a bountiful supply of elderberries in a field near Louth which found their way into one of my large fermenter buckets by the end of the day.   We found ourselves unable to pass by a heavily loaded bramble bush without stopping.  Come late October the pair of us were harvesting the sloes from the blackthorn bushes around the fields at Normanby.  Those sloes are quietly fermenting in their bottles of gin right now.  They’ll be good to go by about Christmas time 2015.

Sloe Gin
Sloe Gin

So on the high up shelves in the boiler room there are a good number of demijohns wrapped in brown paper and dark coloured Christmas wrapping paper to keep the light out and the rich colour in.  It really is quite a sight.  I keep on taking them down and racking them off to a fresh demijohn from time to time as advised, and then putting them back up again.  Each glass container has a sheet of notepaper taped to it, saying what is in there and when it was started and so on.

Which leads me to tonight.  I was serving up a rather tasty bolognese for dinner which deserved a decent glass of red.

Glass of red wine
Glass of red wine

There was no red.  It was freezing cold outside and I couldn’t face a trip out to buy a bottle of wine for dinner.  Check out the wine is what I thought.  I looked at a balloon of plum – it was a bit cloudy still.  And then I recalled reading that a blackberry wine can be drunk really quite young, and when I stripped the paper back I was amazed to see that the wine had cleared beautifully.  So what could I do?  It had to be done really – some tipped into a couple of glasses, the rest into sterilised bottles for the wine rack.  Have to say it was a pleasant surprise.  For a young wine.  A tad sweet maybe.  But very good; it tasted and smelled of summer.

Sweet homemade blackberry wine
Sweet homemade blackberry wine

So I stand by my initial thoughts on winemaking.  You can make it a precise science or you can make it a hobby and have fun with it.  It was great fun this evening trying my hedgerow blackberry wine.  Roll on next summer I say, and fruit picking time again.

In Trouble Again

I’m in trouble again.  My attitude is not what it should be for a woman of my age it seems.  Yesterday, whilst out walking, I met a couple who told me about a walk they were doing.  They outlined the route and said it was a walk they often did and it took them about an hour.  I came home thinking I’d like to do that walk too.

Tealby - Out and about
Tealby – Out and about

So today I persuaded Mr Midlife to accompany me on this hour long hike.  All went well initially.  We parked the car at the same spot I’d parked at the previous day, we climbed over the gate and set off up the hill with our dog, Alfie.  It was quite a climb to the top, then the track meandered up and down the hills, past a ruined farm, until it eventually joined the Viking Way just above Tealby.  Once we reached Tealby it really wasn’t clear which road or lane we should take to lead us back to our car, so we took what looked like the most likely track and kept on walking.  It was very icy underfoot, and we slipped and slid along the lanes.

Tealby - Out and about
Tealby – Out and about

20 minutes later we were no nearer to the place we’d left the car.  We could see the road miles below, but couldn’t see a track to get us to it.  A couple of walkers coming from the opposite direction advised us that it would take another hour to reach the place we needed to be at if we continued, so we turned around and trekked back down to the village, knowing we would have to follow the main road back to the car.

Tealby - Out and about
Tealby – Out and about

No footpath along the main road meant we were risking life and limb and dog and Mr Midlife was less than happy by now.  A mile or so further on we reached the spot where we’d left the car, and whilst I was investigating the possible directions we could have taken to come back along, I spotted a couple of walkers over the road, unlocking the gate that we had initially climbed over when we had set out.

I called out hello and was greeted back quite politely with a question asking if we had walked up that particular track earlier.  Well yes I replied – the views were lovely.  Why do you ask?

I thought it was you, said the woman, you walked right by our house earlier.  I saw you.  Did you not know that these tracks are all private property?

Well, how could I know that, I thought?  I replied that I had been advised the previous day that the locals walked that way regularly, and that it was OK to do so.

No, it’s not OK she tells me.   And her husband is shaking his head too.    It dawned on me that this couple are the owners, the farmers who look after this land and all the sheep that graze it.  I could only apologise.

Meantime, Mr Midlife is busying himself with getting the dog loaded into the car, and removing his coat ready for the short drive home.  He’s absolutely not wanting to get involved in the conversation at all.

So the journey home consisted of one long lecture.  About trespassing.  About tramping through someone else’s garden.  We hadn’t gone through any gardens.  Just fields.  About invading privacy, and how would I like it if someone did that to me?  About being irresponsible.  There was no reasoning with Mr Midlife.  So I just listened.  And laughed.  Out loud I’m afraid.  Which really didn’t help matters.  But I couldn’t stop myself.

Tealby - Out and about
Tealby – Out and about

Anyone would think that we had committed a major crime.   We definitely had trespassed.  But unknowingly.  Mr Midlife’s argument was that all the way along the route he hadn’t seen a single Right of Way sign.  For God’s sake.

I am of the opinion that Mr Midlife began to panic when we didn’t quite know how to get back to our starting point.  You see, Mr Midlife likes to have things orderly and plans clearly laid out before embarking on any exercise.  Any deviation from this and his grumpy old man tendencies become very apparent.  And there lies the problem – I had a rough idea of the route we would take.  More than that didn’t seem necessary as we were never going to be more than half an hour away from the village anyway.  We differ in our approach to things.

In conclusion, the one hour walk we embarked upon took us over two hours.  What I estimated to be four miles turned out to be nearer eight.  It has been a beautiful day, cold, clear and frosty, just right for trotting up hill and down dale.  Will I be asking Mr Midlife to accompany me again on impromptu Lincolnshire Wolds walks?  No, I will not.  Don’t know what he’s done with it, but he’s definitely lost his sense of adventure.

A Grand Old Group of Girls

A Grand Old Group of Girls on a Christmas Night Out,, December 2014
A Grand Old Group of Girls on a Christmas Night Out, December 2014

It occurs to me that December just gone provided one of those rare occasions when a snapshot was taken of my whole group of best friends all together.  There’s usually one or the other of us missing from these group photos on our outings as someone has to steer the camera.  Unfortunately the camera used to take this was a phone hence the less than great quality.  Fortunately the very nice girl who brought our food was quite happy to take temporary ownership of my iPhone.

The picture above was taken when we all went out to a lovely restaurant in Lincoln for a celebratory Christmas dinner on 19th December 2014.  Well, I say Christmas dinner – none of us ordered the turkey.  I think we could all foresee lots of turkey dinners coming up over the following few days and decided to give the traditional fare a miss and have something else. We all had a great time, but then we always do enjoy each others’ company. Our friendship history goes back a very long way to the days when our children were all little and went to the same kindergarten and primary school together, which is over 25 years ago for most of us.  It really doesn’t seem that long.

And things keep on changing.  In just the last five years there have been university graduations; careers built; girlfriends and boyfriends gained and lost; several weddings and a good number of grandchildren born between us.  There have also been difficulties around our elderly parents, illness and death and care home incarcerations.  A lot has happened.  Life I think it’s called. So here we all are, pictured at Christmas time 2014.  I’m very happy to report that we have retained our sense of humour.  Some of us have developed an even dafter sense of midlife humour as we’ve got older.

A lampshade always makes a great hat ..
A lampshade always makes a great hat ..

When I look at pictures of my midlife friends together like this having a good time, I’m always reminded that within every one of us there still beats the heart of the girl we used to be. Here’s to the next time out – February I think it is for a birthday event.  Looking forward to it already.

Azubah Twigg

I had to go over to Louth yesterday to buy bread from the market.  Once the bread shopping was done I drove back over the hills, stopping off from time to time to walk a bit and to take photographs.

One of the stops I made was at Ludford, as I knew there was a dilapidated old stone and brick farm there that I wanted to capture.  I also visited the Parish Church of St Mary and St Peter in the centre of the village.  The church itself was locked, but I was quite content to explore the churchyard and look at the headstones and the stonework of the building.

The bell tower at Ludford Church
The bell tower at the church of St Mary & St Peter, Ludford, Lincolnshire

The church has an open bell tower so the bell itself can be seen, although it was difficult to get a good shot of it because of the surrounding trees.

What really caught my attention, however, were the old headstones that had been removed from the ground and propped up against the wall of a cottage which adjoins the churchyard.  I spent some time reading the engravings, and was fascinated to find that the name of one lady was Azubah.  This was a name I had never heard before, and I initially thought that she was maybe foreign.  I found her daughter’s headstone there too (Lettitia), and was able to establish that Azubah’s husband had been called James Wilson.  So the seeds of interest were sown.  Later on, back at my desk I googled some of these names, and the internet came up trumps as usual.  I was then able to draw together a small image of Azubah and her family.

Old headstones, Ludford church
Old headstones at the Church of St Mary & St Peter, Ludford, Lincolnshire

This lady was born Azubah Twigg in 1805 in Ludford, Lincolnshire.  Isn’t that a marvellous name?  She married James Wilson from nearby Binbrook in 1827, becoming Azubah Wilson.  They lived all their lives together in Ludford, and had 11 children.  None of the children inherited her unusual name though.   They were all given very traditional English names.  A number of the couple’s offspring died either as children or as teenagers, although I don’t know from what or exactly how many died.  Azubah also outlived her first child, daughter Lettitia Wilson, who never married.  Lettitia Wilson died in 1891 aged 64 and her headstone is also in my photograph.  Oddly, both Azubah and her husband James lived to be 90 and 87 respectively.   James died in 1887 and Azubah died in 1895.  They must have been extremely hardy individuals to have endured their tough life and the huge heartbreak of losing some of their children – unimaginable in this modern age of ours.

I now realise thanks to a Flickr friend that Azubah is a very old Hebrew name from the Old Testament of the bible, which means “forsaken” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament Azubah is the name of Caleb’s wife.

Churchyards really do provide a fascinating insight into the past history of families and villages.  Next time I’m over there I will look for the headstones of the rest of Azubah’s children.  I also want to know why the headstones have been removed and what the future plan is for them.  Finally, I have never known anyone named Azubah – it is indeed a rare and beautiful old name.  I should be interested to learn if anyone else has come across it anywhere.