Mud On the Road

we're about to go shopping in Salisbury...

Time Please

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

Seven Days, 168 Hours, 10,080 minutes... 

Mrs Bateman in close-up
Ephemeral beauty
  There was last Monday and there was a dog walk involving a fox which was, I assure you (several people have disputed this fact) bigger than Myrtle.

     I wrote about the dogs and the dog fox and posted it on here. My last post until today.

     There was a notebook with To Do lists scheduling domestic chores and the usual gamut of personal and professional objectives (finish book, landscape garden, tile bathroom, clean hen house, travel world, paint masterpiece) and the calendar outlining the week ahead and several pleasurable dates  involving getting all dressed-up and going Somewhere and having a lot of fun.

     There was the news, also on Monday 20th,  that Ray Manzarek, legendary keyboard player and founding member of The Doors had died, aged 74.

     My head was suddenly full of snatches of their extraordinary, other worldly music and lyrics from Riders on The Storm, The End, Waiting For The Sun, Hello I Love You, Love Street, People Are Strange, Light My Fire...

     Then, suddenly, without warning or notice, it was today.

     Where did all the time go? Where does all the time go? This year it seems as though time is rushing by faster than it has ever rushed before. Is it just me? Is it an age thing or the fact that I'm at my desk a great deal, writing and doodling. Is it because there has been so much rain that the days and months and seasons have blurred and run and merged like watercolours.

     And in the 'meantime', i.e. the last seven days, what, I should like to know, has become of my blog?

     Where are the nearly seven natty posts on this, my Mud On the Road website, deftly accounting, as they should have, for each of the intervening seven days?

     Where are the crisp,succinct summations of the passing highlights of days in the life of?

     Where are the adjective-infested descriptions and analyses of the low points?

Dog Fox, Lady Boxer

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

Dog Fox, Lady Boxer

    I took the two girl boxers up to Stockbridge Down this morning. If they were asked their opinion about being called ‘girls’, I fancy Myrtle, aged two, would shrug and say 'whatever.'

     Myrtle has all the qualities of an archetypal Catherine Tate teenager .

     Whereas, I rather think that Cally, the hefty matriarch,  thinks of herself as a 'lady' dog; possibly even a ‘dowager’ dog.
     Just that she looks like a prize fighter. She looks like a cross between John Prescott and Popeye on steroids. As boxers go, Cally is  a slow moving shed but without the attitude.

     We walked up to the top of the Down and admired the nearly-360 degree view and then took the Western-most path through to what I think of as the back of the Down. The back of the Down can also be reached via a small copse which is filled with yellow flowering gorse right now, or via a lower path, some three quarters of a mile long,  which winds Eastwards from the bottom car park.

     The ridge, which runs alongside the back edge of the down, is steepest here and gives on to a high pasture, currently filled with sheep.

     We emerged into this open area between the copse and the ridge and surprised a huge male fox which had evidently been hanging out in the scrub.

     He startled us as well.

     Thankfully Myrtle was on the lead – she's in boot-camp right now - otherwise she would have been introducing herself, close up and personal.

     Cally was off the lead but has none of her daughter's quicksilver speed and agility. Plus, Cally has all the reactions of the aforementioned shed.

   Cally did a sort of Scooby-Doo slow motion double take and ambled, half-heartedly towards the fence by which time the fox was half way to Winchester.

     I keep a fairly constant vigil for foxes at home.

     They occasionally lurk in the churchyard at dawn, or scamper across it late afternoon, heading into the woods. I'm never thrilled to see them on account of our chickens.

     This boy was bigger than Myrtle. He had a thick healthy looking pelt and a big swishy black and red tail. He'd have had our bantams for elevenses, in one mouthful, and I would not have forgiven him.

     But seeing him here, in the wild, this big native animal, doing its thing, that was pure pleasure.


Myrtle looking out from the man-shed
The dog fox was bigger than Myrtle. I swear.

Because the Woods Are Scary
Surrey Hills
But, I Am Not A Mote
I Love the M3
I Love the M3
Situation vacant
Fantasy Pub Landlady

Après Le Cirque

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

      I went to my first party in a teepee this morning. According to the tabloids and society pages, the likes of  Ben Fogle and Pippa Middleton were here yesterday! Clearly on some level I have arrived. Quite where I have arrived I'm not sure. And, as usual, I'm late. Ben and Pippa have gone and they left no trail.
      As Sunday lunchtime drinks go it was all agreeably Tatler and Harper's Bazaar.

     What to wear was an intsy-wintsy bit tricky.

     What does one wear to a teepee?  La Pippa wore beige.

     The invite warned about uneven ground, mud and a long walk from the main road if the weather was bad. The dress code stressed flats or wedges.

     But that was to do with the location: in the centre of the vast and enchanted forest that is Wherwell Estate – drifts of bluebells and, on the way in, clumps of grinning, happy locals,  pointing you in the right direction.
      In any case the weather has been fine today and, for once, there was zero mud on the road....if you don't count me and Shedley and my beloved Jalopy.
     As with the Allium mentioned in my Chelsea Flower Show post, I have no idea what the plural of one teepee is but there were three at least and I'm going for teepees.

     They are enormous great things, rigid and, happily, not reeking of leather, let alone rawhide-of-camel or buffalo as I'd been stitched up to believe. The interiors were  so cavernous they'd have made a Sioux squaw swoon.
      Inside there were hot braziers burning and copious amounts of champagne and extremely delicious nibbles being freighted about.
     These were the sort of nibbles you just don't magically conjure from a packet of filo pastry and a tub of cream cheese. These nibbles will make all future nibbles seem prosaic and yawny:  oysters and lobster and pâté de foie gras balancing delicately atop a shot glass of Sauternes. For example.

     On the edge of the drinks-party-teepee, a glamourous younger set, no less beautiful for being wearied by the night before, lounged on hay bales in white jeans and silk blouses and stacked stilettos very probably by Mr Blahnik.

     The fire eaters and the troupe of tumbling dwarves and the arrangements of scantily clad damsels with live pythons wrapped about their persons, they had all moved on...

      But the atmosphere in the teepee, at noon, on a May day in the middle of the enchanting forest, bluebells etc., was heightened by the knowledge that Le Cirque had been there mere  hours earlier, swallowing firebrands and tumbling and doing whatever it is that ladies with live pythons at a wedding reception do.

Happiness is cherry blossom in May
A curious swing

Surrey Hills
But, I Am Not A Mote
I Love the M3
I Love the M3
Seeing red
Motherly Red Mist
Bradley Wiggins claiming Team GB's 7th Gold medal, 1st August 2012
High Vizzers

Sticks & Stones

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

  I can confidently say that no-one has ever accused me of being an activist of any persuasion and definitely not a Tory one.
      I think of myself as an observer of the passing scene. If that makes me a passivist well then so be it. I shrug and say, ‘Phah!’
     But to be called a ‘swivel-eyed-loon’ by anyone, whether real or simultaneously imagined  by several hallucinating hacks, would I think be rather fabulous.

     To be called a a ‘swivel-eyed-loon’ with all that phrase’s flourish and invention, would attest to the fact that one has a pulse and is impassioned and red-blooded and believes, unlike the cynics and the armchair angries, that one’s voice can be heard and that, unlike the Westminster apparatchiks so bloodless and estranged from the real world, democracy is alive and kicking. Hard.

Hawthorn blossom at Stockbridge Down

The blossom is like snow against the May blue sky

Spring has finally sprung!

Because the Woods Are Scary
Surrey Hills
But, I Am Not A Mote
I Love the M3
I Love the M3
Situation vacant
Fantasy Pub Landlady

Three Yellow-hammers

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

 I heard a cuckoo for the first time this year while out running along Marsh Court Lane.
Gorse in flower up at Stockbridge Down
     Then, as I rounded the corner beyond Hooper's Farm, heading up Cowdrove Hill, I saw a Yellowhammer, joined almost immediately by two  others, one a young bird with a markedly more speckled head.

     It was in exactly the same spot where, last Summer,  I saw the first and only live badgers I've ever seen.

     The birds were in the middle of the narrow lane, pecking avidly at the ground, flying up into the hedgerow and then back down onto the black tarmac to feed. They made streaks of molten gold against the grey sky.

     At first I thought they were goldfinches. It was only when I stopped and watched them for a while that  I saw how canary-yellow their heads were – not a trace of red; just an impression of burnished russet as they took wing.

     Having never come across them before I looked them up in the bird book as soon as I got home. No doubt about it – a family of Yellowhammers.

     According to The Birdlife of Britain by Peter Hayman and Philip Burton (Mitchell Beazley Publishers Ltd. In association with the RSPB) – 'In flight the yellow head is very conspicuous. Also it may be the only clearly visible feature of the bird as it lands.'



Walking over the rise at Stockbridge Down

Stockbridge Down

Surrey Hills
 But I Am Not A Mote
I Love the M3
I Love the M3, I Really Do
Poppies, Cowdrove Hill
Time Please! 
Rise and Shine!
Rise & Shine!

No Nettles At Chelsea

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

There Are No Nettles At The Chelsea Flower Show

Wired and Wonderful
     We're going to an early evening party at the Royal Chelsea Hospital next week followed by an exclusive after-hours wander  around the stalls and exhibits of the RHS Royal Chelsea Flower Show. It's great fun and quite a privilege. You can't buy anything because the stall holders are shutting up shop, but there are no crowds and that makes it very special.

     We were lucky enough to be invited to the same party last year and I came home brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for our little garden. I always imagined that, one day, I would have a garden so beautiful that people would want to visit us just to see our garden.

Freedom From Frat Boys

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

Freedom From Frat Boys: F. Scott Fitzgerald & the Phone Box

Today, finally, after months of torment, I have finished and am done forever with F. Scott Fitzgerald.
     Today, when the rain stops, I am going on a voyage of discovery with two paperbacks in my bike basket. I'm going to find a red telephone box not far from here, where there operates, or so it's been whispered to me, a village book exchange.

Sometimes You Have to Break a Few Eggs

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

    I dropped and broke an egg today.

     I felt so bad. I'd gone out to the garden to check the nesting box. We always try to collect the eggs promptly because sitting on the eggs for too long can induce a spell of broodiness in a bantam.

     I found Delia sitting there looking fairly comfortable. I slid my hand under and felt not one but four warm little eggs.

     A four egg day. Fairly unusual for us as bantams are delightfully unpredictable in the egg-laying department.

     As a result perhaps or maybe just because I love everything about our chickens, the discovery of every single egg is a moment of pure pleasure. A miracle that I never have nor will ever take for granted.

     When Delia was ill a few weeks ago with a rancid crop we brought her inside. We fed her yoghurt instead of pellets. We kept her apart from the flock and the garden and the familiarity of the hen house. We induced vomiting in her poor chickenly self and even then, throughout this trial, darling Delia was stoically, as we later discovered, building an egg.  We know this for a fact because she laid it within an hour of being returned to the outdoors.

     The Small People came for tea today. They couldn't be less interested in the boxers, who are bit too bouncy for them and besides dogs are dull: everyone they know has a dog or two.

     But the Small People adore those chickens.

     When Beloved Sister suggested they all, including Go-Faster, pop round for tea I had a rush of blood to the head. I made egg mayonnaise sandwiches from bantam eggs and then unleashed a frenzy of baking upon the unsuspecting kitchen.

     I used large eggs from the Co-op for the cakes as the bantams' eggs are too small.

     I like baking. Sporadically. But I'm not a natural. I have to double check and weigh everything twice. The sponge itself was rather nice. Just that I over estimated a bit and made 48 mini orange and choc chip cup cakes for 6 people all based, as was the icing, on a Mary Berry recipe. I came a cropper with the icing and succeeded only in covering 24 mini cup cakes in a translucent, lemony gloop.

     As soon as they arrived The Nephew, followed by Little Niece, demanded to visit the hen house where they found a haul of three eggs which so thrilled the Nephew that he ran back across the garden clutching his fragile booty precariously to his chest and shouting for us all to, ‘Quickly come and see!’

(Oh dear God I sound like F. Scott Fitzgerald. I am awash with adverbs).

     The Aunt called, 'Be careful, it's very slippery. Don't drop them.'

     The Nephew knows better than to drop an armful of eggs. Better than his aunt who, as I said,  had already broken one earlier on...before artfully putting the other three back ahead of tea-time.

     Because  the Small People intuitively grasp how precious is each single egg; they derive such pure and boundless joy from the discovery of a solitary egg in the nesting box, never mind triplets. It would be such a shame, almost a crime, for them to come round to tea and find only wood shavings and a bit of the dry stuff from the day before.


The Test in February
Going Fishing 
The winning Australian exhibit at The 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show
No Nettles at Chelsea
Poor, kind Mrs Harris
Working From Home

Green Day

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

A School Reunion, Windy Weather & the Friday Fidgets

     Tomorrow I am going to a reunion at my old school. It's the first reunion I've been to and I'll be seeing people I haven't seen for 30 years.

     I don't know if it will signal the start of new things  or a line drawn under the passing of old. If I'm brave I'll write about it next week and tell you.

    For now I'm in a Friday mood, fidgety ahead of the weekend.

     The weather suits my mood. It's windy out there and the wind blows the chickens about the garden which makes us smile but patently does not amuse them.

     The wind  infects the boxer dogs, all three of them. They’re seized with a kind of capricious excitement. It’s as if someone’s sprinkled them with hot black pepper and spicy cayenne.
     They’re skittish, even bouncier than usual and liable at any moment to race round and around the garden at full tilt and in ever decreasing circles, the bantams flapping and rushing to get out of their way.

     I work at the top of the house, a few roof tiles and a short slope down from the Jackdaws who perch on the chimney tops, chattering, gossiping and grumbling from dawn to dusk.

     It's been wild up here for the last 24 hours; there are whistling and shrieking and banging sounds and the sight of things untethered occasionally flying past.

     This wind has come hard on the tails of the Great Greening which arrived, finally, with the first sunny day only one week ago. The blossom barely had time to flower - on many trees it has not appeared at all - so great was the rush and hurry of leaves.

     And now my rooftop view, due West, across the roof of the Church, past the golden cockerel,  above the chimneys and peaks of the High Street  and across to the iron age site that is Danebury Ring, my view is completely green, a glorious lush saturation of colour and with it the promise of Summer.


Green view
Blue Sky, Green Day

Surrey Hills
But, I Am Not A Mote
Eggs, by Floyd
The Good Workman 
Poppies, Cowdrove Hill
Time Please! 
The Test in February
Going Fishing 

Dear Councillor Gibson

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

Not In My Back Yard Please
 In which  I discover and expose my inner NIMBY and write my first letter to a politician.

Warning: this post contains  comment

    I'm taking a leaf out of Beloved Sister's book and writing to a politician.

     In this case it's Conservative County Councillor Cllr. Andrew Gibson, recently re-elected to Hampshire County Council, Test Valley Central.

     I'm going to write to Mr Gibson and ask him about the County Council's plans for the woods on the southern side of the graveyard. Both the woods and graveyard are on the rise to the side of us and therefore overlook our small house and garden.

     I'm going to tell Mr Gibson that, last week we awoke to the screech and tear of chainsaws chopping and hacking in the woods and this week we have been inundated by a tide of silent surveyors armed with their levellers and Theodolites and tripods.

High Vizzers, Gearless Couriers

A Bank Holiday weekend and that means the High Vizzers  are out and about in Stockbridge, in force, grouped in their familial clumps along the High Street all the way from The Strawberry Fox at this end to Robjent's and The Owl & The Pussycat at the other.

     From a distance the High Vizzers resemble a specimen of gigantic insect, a new life form  in which human legs and human arms and human heads have become enmeshed and wholly amalgamated with handlebars and spoked bicycle wheels and pedals.

     These new life forms, with their hard bug-heads and big, black, plastic eyes have multi-coloured Lycra legs and shorts and, in common with their city, brethren,  they wear the high visibility jacket. *Hence ‘High Vizzer.’

   The rural varieties most common to Stockbridge differ markedly from the more aggressive urban sub-species in both their calls and mercifully, the absence of antennae.

     Because the majority of the urban species is plugged, via  white antennae, or 'headphones,' into a sound-scape, usually delivered via an  iphone,  which has nothing whatsoever to do with the  real-world dimension through which they are travelling, usually at alarming speeds, and effectively disconnects their brains and receptors from that real-world.

     The confusion of data input to the central nervous system of the High Vizzer can, as has been discovered in urban habitats like central London, transform  the High Vizzer into a lethal weapon. It’s simply not possible if you’re being  assailed by e.g. Barry Manilow at volume 20,  to register any other aural information,  e.g. cars, buses, horns, sirens  or simply cries of pain from other, more gentle and law-abiding High Vizzers.

     The recourse to headphones has resulted in such a marked impairment of reaction that a sight now common to London is of that very particular breed, the 'Gearless Courier,' crossing traffic lights at speed on red, or ploughing ruthlessly though a zebra crossing filled with human beings,  all the while emitting the harsh and strangulated war cry: 'Out Of My ***king Way.

     Happily for Stockbridge, the rural High Vizzer and his or her family and friends,are more evolved than the 'Gearless Courier.'

     The rural High Vizzers have more finely honed survival instincts and well-developed social skills. They are notable not for aggression but affability, often expressed  on passing a bi-ped as a cheery, 'Morning-Coming-Through-Nice Day,' or, if the bi-ped happens to be in motion, i.e. jogging not walking, a sort of all-purpose, well intentioned, if slightly patronising, 'Keep up the good work.'

     This is a Good Thing because it is vital as summer gets underway and we jostle for space on our  increasingly congested roads, lanes and High Streets of So20, that we do all get along: pedestrians, motorists - bikers, scooters, tractors,  horses and High Vizzers.

     Not least because the High Vizzers,  spearheaded by the Great Progenitors of their species – Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins,  Mayor Boris Johnson -  are proving to be prolific breeders and their numbers are multiplying fast.

     Even I have resurrected my bike from the shed and am taking once more to the road.

     And it seems increasingly likely that, in the future,  the human will fully morph with the bicycle and babies will be born with their own helmet, handlebars, wheels, and stabilisers, front and rear lights, bar code  and insurance policy attached.

     Hopefully, by then, the Gearless Couriers will also have evolved and Baby-Bike's first utterances will not be war-like in tone but a cheery, 'Morning-Coming-Through-Nice Day.'


Green Mud
Dear Councillor Gibson 
Poor, kind Mrs Harris
Working From Home
Tail of the swarm on the bird box
Day of the Bee,  Part I
Rescuing the swarm
Day of the Bee,  Part 2

A Sorry Fermentation

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

In Which Shedley Saves Delia’s Life By Turning Her Upside Down

     We've learned to inspect our flock of bantams regularly. They skedaddle over when you call them and, when they're 'in lay' as they are right now, producing a steady two or three eggs daily between them, they will pause and crouch as you approach. We know they do this because they think you are a mighty cockerel...but it's gratifying nonetheless and has the added bonus of making it easy to pick them up and cuddle them and examine the flexing pink mouth that is their vent, the snaky legs and, most importantly, their crops.

     Delia alone consistently refuses our attentions and inspections and has to be snatched at and grabbed.

     Delia is our silver partridge pekin. She is very Madison Avenue in looks, with a splendid set of fire-engine-red wattles and a blood red comb which stands out  vivid and proud against her elegant black and white plumage.

     We named her when she was still a young 'pullet' after the cook Delia Smith. We imagined she'd grow up to be placid and round.

     Well, she's certainly a great waddling pudding of a bantam, rounder by far than Fanny, our golden partridge pekin. But where Fanny adores human contact and seeks to be picked up and petted and cuddled and enjoys nothing better than a ride around on Shedley's shoulders, Delia is stand-offish and temperamental. She's a bolshie girl, a Delia in Norwich City mode.

     We only got close to Delia when she was ill a couple of months ago. Her crop had become gravely impacted, the weight of it dragging at her darling little pekin breast. Her breathing was laboured and she had started to isolate herself from the rest of the flock.

     This was before our black hen Nigella developed a hernia and, at this point, we had not yet had a day's sickness in over two years of owning our flock. Suddenly we had a crash course in advanced chicken anatomy and biology.

     We contacted our chicken guru Miles Boarder who is endlessly generous with his time and advice. We consulted the internet and our various books. We brought Delia indoors to control and restrict her feeding, ensure she got plenty of water and keep her safe from predators.

     We put her on a diet of natural yoghurt, kale juice and chicken vitamins which she lapped delicately from a wooden spoon every 30 minutes.

     And amazingly she lived. She survived our amateur ministrations and returned to rude bolshie health.

But, as Miles Boarder warned, once the crop has become distended, it’s like a muscle which has lost its elasticity - problems will likely recur.

     Now she's poorly again. Now Shedley is watching You Tube videos to try and save her life...

      I saw Delia trying but failing to follow her friends up on to the raised bed where they like to peck and scratch.  I realised she'd become  front-heavy again: she could not gain altitude, couldn’t even get as high as the bench which we've put in place to help Floyd. Floyd doesn't do flying,  having been equipped with wings which are purely ornamental.

     We've diagnosed Delia with sour crop: she's full to brimming over with rancid, undigested, squishy stuff.

     She's a greedy girl and we think she discovered the grass cuttings, had a good old graze with the result that they've fermented inside her.

     She's resting up in our chicken sanitarium again.  She's on water with  a dash of poultry cider vinegar and she's back on the natural yoghurt which Shedley is pleased about because, with every large tub of Yeo Valley Organic yoghurt, comes the promise of winning £25,000 or one of two Land Rovers.

     So far we've only won 'Yeokens,' but you never know.

     'Land Rovers aren't exactly organic,' I remark to Shedley.

     Unlike the contents of Delia's sour crop which are memorably organic and which, thanks to the demonstration on You Tube, Shedley has just expelled from Delia. He turned the chicken upside down and massaged her expertly and probably saved her life and sacrificed to the subsequent spray he elicited from her,  a pair of rather good shoes but, we agreed, it was in an excellent cause.


I Love the M3
I Love the M3
Seeing red
Motherly Red Mist
Beam Me Up
Egg and Spam
Poor, kind Mrs Harris
Working From Home