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Farewell to Nelly

After fourteen and a half years of faithful service, it is time to say farewell to Nelly, my seventeen year old Toyota RAV4 car. It was love at first sight for me, when I bought her in 2001. I had been looking for a four-wheel drive but didn’t want a monster truck spewing diesel pollution, and the three-door cherry red petrol RAV4 was perfect for me. When I got her she had 9,000 miles on the clock and was in pristine condition. She leaves me somewhat the worse for wear, with chips out of the bonnet and rust patches on the outside of the wheel arches, and over 180,000 miles on the clock.

Nelly has got me through ice and snow, gale force winds and driving rain, driving hundreds of motorway miles to work and back each day, carrying bootfuls of animal feed and bedding, taking poorly chickens to the local vet and me to the weekly supermarket shop. I think she deserves a rest.

I was very upset when Phil, the ace car mechanic, told me back in February that she would be unlikely to pass another MOT without considerable work being done on her suspension and gear box, and she has been telling me for some months now that it is time to go. I have put it off for as long as possible, but winter will soon be upon us, and I need something I can rely on up here in the wilds.

So today, I hand her over to a garage in part exchange for a Mitsubishi ASX four-wheel drive. It is not exactly what I want – it is diesel (yuch!), it is black, and it is bigger than Nelly. But I need four-wheel drive, and the choice is limited at the smaller end of the market. I intend to keep it only until the next Mitsubishi Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV) is released because that is what I really want. Nelly will be sorely missed, but seventeen is a good age for a car these days.

Goodbye, Nelly.

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An Ordinary Man

Today would have been my Dad’s ninetieth birthday. He was eighty-six when he died, a good age as they say, and at least a decade older than either his father or his grandfather.

Nan and Grandad with Socca the golden retriever sometime in the late 1940s

Nan and Granddad with Socca the golden retriever sometime in the late 1940s

He was born in 1925 to William (always called Bill) and Lucy Ellen (always know as Mum, or Nan, or Nell – in fact I did not learn her full name until after she had died). For the first couple of year’s of his life, Dad lived in a small cottage on Crimp Hill Road, but by dint of saving and scrimping granddad acquired the wherewithal to buy a brand new semi-detached house on Straight Road, named Rosebank. This house had a long narrow garden, where granddad grew vegetables, three bedrooms, a parlour and a Sunday best sitting room that no-one ever went into! The house cost £370 in 1928.

Aged 3 years

Aged 3 years

Granddad worked for the Post Office erecting telegraph poles, Nan preserved the fruit and vegetables from the garden, made jam, chutneys, and the most delicious cakes, all in a tiny galley kitchen that would fit into my own kitchen five times over! I especially remember her lardy cake, spicy bread pudding, and my favourite Victoria sponge.

Mum and Dad on their wedding day

Dad was not academic, but he was technically minded, and in his teens he studied to become a draughtsman for small instrument manufacture. He was taken on as an apprentice by Hawker Aviation, and since he was in a reserved occupation did not serve during the Second World War, instead he worked on the Hurricane plane. In 1945, he was called up to National Service and, like his father before him, served in the Royal Signals in the immediate aftermath of the war. After demob in 1947 he went to work at the tank factory on Chobham Common, where he met my Mum.

I never asked him why he switched careers from designing instruments for military machines to watchmaking, but around the time of his marriage in 1951 he went back to college to learn watchmaking and was afterwards taken on by Dysons of Windsor, a well respected local jewellers, as their in-house watch repairer. He worked for them until 1968 when they finally closed their workshops and helped him set up as self-employed in the garden shed. He became well known in the village, and beyond, and there was a steady stream of work in the years that followed. Dysons continued to supply him with their repair intake, but his reputation was such that he had plenty of other work. He told me that Michael Caine’s chauffeur had brought watches to be repaired on a couple of occasions! And that the odd royal watch had passed through his hands. He treated them all the same.

In the army, 1946

In the army, 1946

By this time, we had moved back to live in my grandparents house, they having found it too much to look after and having moved into a ground floor flat in the village near to my Aunt. Dad remodelled the garden, removed the lovely Victoria Plum tree that had been damaged by lightning, and turned much of granddad’s vegetable garden to lawn. Weekends were spent digging a pond, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, tending tomatoes in the greenhouse, much like millions of other people. As well as dogs, Dad liked keeping fish – the pond in the garden was for goldfish – and the birds my Mum loved, such as canaries and zebra finches. He was good with wild creatures, befriending an injured jackdaw, and adopting other birds that no one else wanted, such as the Silkie cockerel Chicko and his sister’s budgie Freddie.

Just as he was about to retire and enjoy a well-earned rest, he instead spent a year caring for my Mum during her last illness, so he never got to experience the sightseeing, the country walks, the quiet companionship, all the things that they had promised themselves they would do once he retired.

He lived a further seventeen years in the house granddad had bought for £370 until age and ill health forced him to move to a bungalow. The day he left the old house where he had lived for almost his entire life, I remember he turned the key in the lock and walked down the path without a last glance back.

So, today would have been his ninetieth birthday. His was a quiet life, no great deeds, nothing really to be remembered. Eighty-six years as a son, husband, father, draughtsman, watchmaker. An ordinary man living an ordinary life. Happy birthday, Dad.

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Knitting with Memories

I do a lot of lace knitting. I also knit a lot of fairisle. Both types of knitting are characterised by repetitive patterning across each row, typically following a chart to use the correct lace stitch or colour. On any one row, one may be required to repeat a specific sequence of stitches 20, 30, or more times, and keeping track of where you are in the pattern can be difficult without some assistance. I use stitch markers to help me work such patterns.20150404_074556

There are many kinds of stitch marker available, from a short length of coloured yarn twisted into a loop to an elegant silver charm. I have bought a few markers in the past, but when I realised how simple they were I decided to make my own utilising my jewellery making experience and skills. I had been sorting through my jewellery box with a view to pruning my collection of cheap and cheerful earrings, when I had a lightbulb moment – dismantle the earrings, attach them to new 8mm silver jump rings, and turn them into stitch markers. This worked surprisingly well, each pair of earrings yielding 7 or 8 markers. My hubby applied his electronics soldering skills to close the gaps on the jump rings, making them perfect for trouble free knitting.wpid-20150402_143331.jpg

My idea had been successful, but I wanted (and needed) more markers for large complex shawls, so I again raided the jewellery box, this time looking at old unworn pendants and charm bracelets. Mum and I each had a charm bracelet back in the 1960s,  when such things were fashionable, but neither had been worn in decades. Some of the charms, such as the silver scooter, were too spiky to be useful in knitting, but most of the others were perfect. I cleaned them all in silver polish, and made them up as for the cheap earrings. They are great to use, but I was unprepared for the emotional side effect. Each time I used one of the silver charms or pendants, it triggered memories of mum, of my childhood, our holidays, celebratory meals out.

In use on my latest shawl is a filigree ball, a St Christopher,  a pair of engraved teardrop earrings,  and half a dozen silver bracelet charms. Every one brings back strong memories and adds an extra dimension to my knitting. I am literally knitting with memories.wpid-20150401_221157.jpg

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Long Time No Post

I can’t believe it is nearly a year since I last posted anything on this blog! It’s not as though I haven’t had the time. So much has happened in the last year that I’m not really sure where to begin, but here goes.

I got married! After 16 years of living in non-connubial bliss we decided to throw a party for our friends and relatives, and tacked on a marriage ceremony just for the hell of it! It was a fun day. I made my own outfit, a silk trouser suit and top, with a Nehru-style jacket. It was lovely, though I do say it myself.  That took weeks and weeks of careful cutting and sewing, but I loved every minute of it! I also made the silver filigree bouquet, hair ornament and groom’s buttonhole. My silver earrings were made in Holmfirth using small leaves from the Holmfirth fig-tree. Our wedding rings were also made in Holmfirth by the hugely talented Jacqui Laithwaite-Rawes at Silver Dream Studios. The party was held at Holmfirth Vineyard, a truly stunning restaurant overlooking the Holme Valley. It was as local as we could make it! We didn’t have a honeymoon immediately, but went sailing in La Gomera (the Canaries) in November as a honeymoon-cum-birthday holiday.

Shawl with knitted-on border in Rowan Kidsilk Haze

I have taken up Lace Knitting with a vengeance! I took a one-day course at Up Country in Holmfirth and it really helped me to understand lace-knitting charts, so I made a simple triangular shawl in Rowan Kidsilk Haze as my first attempt, and I am now close to completing a more ambitious project, a 6ft-diameter spider’s-web shawl, also in Kidsilk haze (I will post a picture of that when it is finished). This shawl is a good deal more complicated that the first one; I am working my way up to being able to make and eventually design more complex pieces. I love the challenge of knitting or crocheting complex patterns.

On top of the eight chicks we hatched last year (see Hatching Times and Croad Langshans blog posts last year) I decided to try it again this year (2012). We were about to sell our Cream Legbars (Luke, Baby, Blossom and Amy) because of conflict with our Croad cockerel, Angel – another story another time. So I popped 6 of their eggs into the incubator, and five of them hatched! So now we have two Cream Legbar Cockerels and three little ladies. They are about 10-weeks old now, and cute as buttons, but we won’t be able to keep the cockerels because of Angel, so are looking for good homes for the two boys (any takers in the Huddersfield area?). Next Year, I might try some of the Croad eggs, although I’m not absolutely sure Angel knows what he is doing in the sex department!

Our temporary next-door neighbours decided to move away just before Christmas, and since they could not take their three hens to their new home, decided to offer them to us. And so we acquired three more Warrens – Katie, Florence and Camilla.

Gracie in April 2011

On a sadder note, we have had a good deal of illness and death amongst the flock. It was probably this more than anything that stopped me blogging, I was just too sad. Ethel had died on 14th July (see Farewell to Ethel blog post) and another of our rescue hens, Gracie, continued to give us cause for concern throughout the summer and in late September we brought her into the kitchen to keep an eye on her as she seemed a lot worse. On 27th September 2011 she died in my arms having suffered a heart attack in our kitchen during breakfast. Paul came home early from work so that we could bury her next to Ethel.

Lily when young

The very next day, when I went to open the henhouses, I found Lily (not one of our rescue hens) semi-collapsed in one of the nest boxes. I had noticed she had been a little subdued the previous couple of days but having been concerned with Gracie I had not given Lily much attention. I was at a loss to know what the problem was as she had been eating and drinking fairly normally, and she had no obvious signs of peritonitis, egg-binding, worms, or anything else I could think of. I took her indoors and made a nest for her in an old washing-up bowl and placed her in the sunshine whilst I got on with my day, checking back on her every half-hour or so. At about 3pm she died quietly and with little fuss, having slept most of the day in a patch of sheltered sunshine. We had bought her at the Penistone Show in September 2008, so at the time of her death she was about 3-and-a-half years old. Paul had to come home from work early a second evening for another funeral. It was a massive shock to lose two hens in two days.

Ginger and her scraggy tail

Ginger and her scraggy tail

October and November 2011 were fairly uneventful (apart, of course, for the wedding!) but Ginger stopped eating and started to look off colour in early December. I treated her for worms, and when that did not have much effect, decided on antibiotics. We kept her in the warmth of the kitchen and gave her lots of TLC, but she was lonely without her friend Doris (and Doris was anxiously looking in the nest box every morning for Ginger), so Doris came to live in the kitchen too, keeping Ginger company. During her enforced stay away from the other hens, Ginger’s tail began to grow, after over a year of scraggy feathers constantly being pecked out by other hens, and she finally achieved a proper tail. Sadly, she never got to show it to the others, as she died on 23rd December, with her friend Doris beside her. She had enjoyed

Ginger (top of the picture) and her new tail

freedom for nearly 15 months, a record for a rescue hen where the average is closer to 3 months. And she got her tail at last.

So, a mixed year. Lots of joy, lots of sorrow. Arrivals and departures.

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Farewell to Ethel

Dearest sweetest Ethel,

I knew something was wrong with you on Thursday, when you didn’t want to come out of the hen house in the morning, and when I proffered sunflower seeds, your favourite breakfast snack, you looked under my hand not at the seeds. Then, instead of stepping demurely down the steps from the house, you executed an inelegant banister-slide, landing in a heap on the ground from which you picked yourself up and tottered off. I suspected blindness immediately, but was shocked at how quickly it had come on, because you had seemed fine the previous night. I brought you into the kitchen to be company for your friend Gracie, who was off her food and very lethargic. You ate Gracie’s unwanted food, and did not seem to have a problem with your appetite, but both you and Gracie sat or stood for lengthy periods with your eyes closed and heads bowed. I wondered if you had acquired a heavy worm burden, as I had read that there were worms which attacked the eyes. But you had no discharge from your eyes, they remained bright and well coloured, but you patently could not see. I scoured the internet, and checked various books for help, but could not find anything, although I did read something about blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency in its turn caused by a heavy worm load. Everything seemed to be pointing towards a worm infestation, and I wanted to start you on Flubenvet, but by this time you had lost your appetite. On Sunday, we put you outside to enjoy the warm sunshine, but you were having a hard time walking. You made it to the far side of the garden and hid under your favourite dust-bathing bush; you seemed to be content, and Ginger was keeping you company, but when I went to pick you up to bring you inside in the evening, you did not appear to be able to stand. It was shocking to see that you had gone from a seemingly healthy hen to blind and paralysed in 4 days.

On Monday morning I took you to the vet. We saw Cat, who had treated you successfully during your illness in February. Your comb was completely flopped over one eye, and when I lifted you out of the box onto the examination table, you could not stand at all. Cat carefully examined you and found a lump in your abdomen, and said that it was probably Marek’s disease, a form of cancer. Such devastating news, I could not help but weep. Cat gave you a couple of antibiotic shots and a multi-vitamin injection, and I took you home. I don’t know how I managed the drive back to the house. I sat you on a cushion with water and treats close by, and put you in the sun to enjoy the warmth and fresh air. Gracie and Ginger came over to sit with you or stand close by that afternoon.

We did this each day, putting you on your cushion in the sun or shade, where your feathers were ruffled by the breeze and the sun shone on your beautiful feather markings. Each day, when I got up and went down to the kitchen I expected to find that you had died during the night, but each day you were still breathing and responded to my voice when I came into the room saying “It’s OK Ethel, it’s just me!”. Each day, Gracie came to sit or stand next to you, keeping you company. I spent more and more time sitting with to you, talking to you, stroking your neck and tickling your wattles. I hope it gave you comfort. By Wednesday evening you were showing signs that your heart was affected, your flopped over comb had turned purple and your breathing was laboured. I could not put off the decision any longer. That Thursday was a lovely sunny cloudless day. I gently washed your bottom and put you onto a fresh towel on top of your cushion and carried you to the car for your last journey. I sat next to you stroking you and talking to you all the while Paul drove us to the vet. Cat was very gentle, and I was able to hold your head and stroke your neck as she injected the anaesthetic which put you to rest. I hope that those final moments were not painful but a blessed release.

We took you home and dug your grave next to Letty’s, under the hawthorn trees. One final cuddle, and then we placed you on a bed of straw and covered you with earth and a ring of stones. I planted a pot marigold amongst the stones. The other hens watched, a little subdued.

I don’t want to remember you as you were that last week of your life, but as the gentle happy hen you had been before. I miss your voice, a soft trill almost like a cat purring; I miss you coming over to me and cocking your head to one side in the hope of getting a treat. I miss your gentleness, the way you and Gracie walked around the garden together, dustbathed together, shared a nestbox at night together. She misses you too; she comes to find you each afternoon, and searches the garage and the hall looking for you. Ginger now keeps her company at night.

I am sorry that you didn’t live to celebrate your heniversary, a year’s freedom from being a barn-hen. The first 72 weeks of your life were hellish; I hope that the 40 weeks you spent with us – eating grass, dustbathing, and feeling the sun on your back – more than made up for it.

Goodbye Ethel, sweetest of sweet hens.

 

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Packing up and moving on

Today, I have been sorting and discarding. It is 4 months since Dad died, and two since we cleared the last box out of his bungalow. Since then, the boxes and bags containing the remains of his life have been sitting in our hall, collecting dust. A cold frosty January morning seemed an appropriate time to make a start and deal with them.

Some of the contents have gone straight into the bin – why on earth did I not throw them away months ago? Some have made me smile – photographs of long forgotten holidays with Jason the lemon labrador, the jackdaw Dad saved and reared, the Silkie chick he took in and looked after as a pet. Some have stirred painful thoughts – finding among a pile of papers my mother’s death certificate and the clinical definition of her last few months and eventual death, carcinoma of the colon.

Much of the crockery – tea sets, cake stands, mugs – is all going to the charity shop next time I go into town; I repack those things in paper and re-box them. Some pieces – Mum’s favourite Cornflower dinner service, a few decorative bowls – I will keep as they hold many happy memories of the special occasions when they were brought out of the cupboard for Christmas and birthday parties, wedding anniversaries, Sunday lunch. The Cornflower set was expensive to buy, but Mum wanted it above all things, and it was bought piece by piece until she had a substantial dinner service. Every breakage was mourned, especially when Alfred Meakin stopped making that design. The plates (in three sizes) have survived surprisingly well, the cups and saucers less so. The gravy boat has been very useful, as we are partial to homemade onion gravy and we use the plates for our toast in the mornings, so I suppose the service has now been demoted to everyday crockery. But that’s OK, I believe that things are made to be used not left out of sight and mind.

The most moving discovery has been a cardboard Callard and Bowser chocolate and candy box from the 1940s. It contained every card – birthday, christmas, anniversary, baby arrival – my Mum had received plus quite a lot of the ones she had sent both to Dad and to me when I was a child. Everything from her 21st birthday in 1949, right up to the early 1990s. The box is full and so I cannot add my own considerable collection of cards from (and to) loved ones.

One day, our hall will be empty again, and we shall be able to get out our front door without tripping over another box. The memories will all be tucked away in cupboards and drawers, and we can move on with our lives. But not just yet.

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The old house

Life has been a whirligig these last two months – packing for a house move, moving, unpacking. Not me, you understand, my Dad. He is finally selling the family mansion (3-bed semi-detached) and moving to something more manageable. The house was once my grandparents’. I lived there for the first four years of my life and the last four years as a teenager; granddad and grandma had lived there since the early 1930s; my father had lived there since he was four years old. The house has seen a lot of history, family comings and goings; tons of vegetables and fruit were grown in the long back garden; thousands of bottles of preserved produce had been stored in the cupboard under the stairs.

Nan and Grandad with Socca the golden retriever sometime in the late 1940s

Now, someone new will live in it, probably knock down some walls, add an extension, dig up the garden. I wonder if they will find the remains of the old Anderson shelter my granddad dug at the beginning of WW2? It was buried deep, it seemed to me as a child – lots of worn steps down to a dark cavern. There were the remains of the wire bed springs – two bunk beds on either side of the cave, and a small entranceway where, I believe, the portable commode had been placed. I don’t know how often they actually used the shelter, although some bombs fell in the vicinity I am told, so perhaps there were a few long cold nights sheltering underground. Granddad used it, after the war, as an onion store as the wire bed springs were perfect for drying out onions. When my parents refashioned the garden in the late sixties, they dumped lots of rubbish down the steps, removed the door and covered it in earth. Now it has a fish pond over it, a rockery and some small shrubs.

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