There are several parts of Yorkshire and indeed, of the rest of England, where you can see examples of a magnificent breed of cattle, the venerable Highland Cattle. I used to enjoy spotting them living amiably outside the sadly abandoned Saltersgate Inn – a landmark that all visitors to the North Yorkshire Moors may have had the good fortune to have experienced in the past, standing guard as it did at the foot of the infamous Devil’s Elbow that cradles the Hole of Horcum, on Levisham Moor – possibly my most favourite place on Earth.
The Saltersgate Inn was a white-painted brick building with a truly fascinating history. Legend has it that the pub, built in 1648, in a post-Civil war climate, soon became a smuggler’s haunt, largely due to its location, far enough away from the smuggling hides along the East coast – Robin Hood’s Bay is one very famous example – frequented by those who wished to turn their ill-gotten gains into cash with no questions asked.
By the eighteenth century, it was constantly being raided by customs officers who were rarely able to catch the miscreants in the act of selling their wares. One night, after yet another fruitless search, one brave, but ultimately rather hapless customs officer decided to lay in wait, hiding in the nearby barn for cover. He hid amongst the hay, waiting for the illicit smuggling folly to resume, which of course it surely did after an hour or so. The unnamed officer pounced upon the unsuspecting criminals and proceeded to arrest them, as he was authorised to do. Unfortunately, he was greatly outnumbered and was quickly clouted on the head with a heavy bar stool; the poor man was instantly killed. Wading through the pool of his blood, the rascally smugglers decided to bury his remains under the fireplace and the legend was born when the landlord vowed that the fire should never be allowed to go out, so that the body would never be found. Locals lived in fear that the dead man’s ghost would be able to begin haunting the pub. Many sightings of this ghost have been reported through the years, none of which have been substantiated.
I remember vividly that the Saltersgate was the point that escaped boarders Nicky Lavery and Carole Binns reached before being caught after their daring adventure one dark, rainy evening back in about 1976. They were contemporaries of mine at St Hilda’s school in Whitby, some twelve miles or so across the formidable, stark moorland landscape, which was also home at the time to the equally infamous ‘Golf Balls’ at RAF Fylingdales – the first line of defence during the Cold War as the early warning station for the Northern Hemisphere (so we were always told in such dramatic fashion!). For two young teenagers to travel unnoticed and without any sort of protection for such a distance over such inhospitable terrain was quite an achievement and they were held in high regard by many fellow boarders at school, much like the heroes of ‘The Great Escape’ although perhaps not so rugged looking as Steve McQueen, who was one of my film idols at the time.
For many years after I left school when we drove over the moors to visit Whitby, I looked forward to seeing the Saltersgate Inn as the landmark that denoted the edge of the Moors. The hugeness of the sky, the purpleness of the rampant heather and the sheer loneliness of the place has always inspired me, replenishing me with air to breathe like no other place on this earth that I have been to. It is a magical and wonderful place.
In the fields just by the inn there were also, for many years, a herd of Highland Cattle. Most notable for their large, formidable looking horns and great shaggy russet-brown coats, these hardy animals have been bred in rugged farmland for hundreds of years, possibly as far back as the 6th Century. It always seemed fitting to me that these impressive beasts guarded my most holy and revered place; their majestic presence lent credence to the stories of old that ran amok in my imagination even then.
They are the nearest thing we have in this country to those truly sublime creatures, the North American Bison who once wandered the Great Plains in times gone by, unfettered by man, lords of the land they roamed without impunity. Ah, but I wish I could have seen them!
On a recent journey to Scarborough, we came across another small herd of Highlands and I simply had to stop to look at them, say hello and feel a connection to them. They were happily chomping on silage, taking only a brief moment to look up from under their shaggy gaze to notice my arrival. I had to take a picture of course! I think I might frame this one and put it up on my wall one day.
Thanks for reading!
‘Eye Spy, with my little piggies, something beginning with Red!’ Scarlett exclaimed from the back seat of the car.
It had been a long journey.
‘Something beginning with ‘Red’?’ I asked, checking that I understood the parameters of this game.
Clearly I don’t, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.
‘Yes, Nana. Something beginning with ‘Red’.’ She replied, very chirpily.
Hmmm… let me think…
‘Is it in the car Scarlett?’ I enquired, in a vain attempt to narrow the possibilities down a tad.
‘Nope’. She replied, with much more than just a hint of satisfaction.
‘Is it outside the car then?’
The puzzled look on my face probably means more to you than it did to her.
‘Is it at your house?’ I ventured, hopefully.
Is it at Nana’s house?’
Can you give me a clue? I was beginning to sound a little desperate.
‘Nope’ she replied, steadfastly.
‘Is it by the seaside?’
‘Is it in the supermarket?’
‘Is it in the garden?’
‘Who’s garden?’ – AHA! I was getting somewhere? I cast about frantically in my grey matter to weigh up the odds…
‘Your garden?’ I tentatively offered.
‘Erm…’ she teased.
There was a big smile on her face now.
‘Is it in Nana’s garden then?’ I was getting a little frustrated.
‘Maybe’ came the reply.
‘So… it’s something beginning with ‘red’ and it’s in Nana’s garden?’ I wanted to confirm before we went any further.
‘Yes’ Scarlett purred.
‘Is it a flower?’
‘Can I eat it?’
‘But I can!’ Scarlett declared, delightedly.
I should have known.
‘Is it a strawberry?’
‘YES! Nana, you’re SO clever! How did you KNOW?’ The joy on my two-year-old granddaughter’s face was so precious and wonderful, all frustration simply disappeared.
Of COURSE it was a strawberry! How much fun is Eye Spy with two-year-olds?
Thanks for reading!
Unwieldy, unshaven, untidily attired,
Surprisingly spry as he re-trod his strides
Back down the neatly manicured garden path.
Smiling warmly, turning through the gate
The Traveller bestowed his kind kismet
Upon the fertile fellow, frantic for fortuity
to finally end this crushing, overbearing burden.
“Good Luck, my friend!” The Traveller called, cheerily,
as they parted ways, diversely empty-handed.
Tzigane lilting, lingering loftily on the breeze.
Hope afloat within him,
A surely sympathic staff to speed his journey.
I know it’s a bit of a break from tradition for me to post a poem, and especially one with no pictures but it’s just been one of those days and this fleeting encounter feels like some kind of destiny. We need a little good luck right now. I’m convinced we’ve been visited by a guardian angel this morning. I can hear Ravel in my head, an exquisite Hungarian violin haunting my thoughts.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
It’s been a while hasn’t it? There are a bunch of reasons why I have taken a hiatus from writing this blog which have little to do with why I’m pumped enough to resume today. On the basis that I’d prefer to write about something I HAVE been doing, rather than something I haven’t, just go with me here, OK?
So, a million years ago my lovely nephew, Lee, and his then fiancée, Lyndsey, asked me if I would be willing to take some pictures of their upcoming nuptials and given that I had done the same for his little brother a couple of years ago, I said ‘Yes’ of course. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? I’d be honoured, of course. So, I’d agreed.
And in any case, it was months away and I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. At all. It’d be a cinch.
It’s possible, you might just be picking up on a teeny, tiny, almost insignificant amount of anxiety on my part about this project. I don’t know why. It’s just an ‘Ely’.
(What in Heaven’s name is an ‘Ely’? I can hear you asking… well, I could direct you to a very funny book entitled ‘The Meaning Of Liff’ that I read, way back in about 1982 I think, which had definitions of a whole bunch of ordinary words that gave an insight into that very vexed question, ‘What, if anything, is the meaning of Life?’. It was a chortlesome volume that held my attention for many a long moon – as you can probably tell by this lengthy reference to a single definition held within it’s covers. An ‘Ely’ was defined as ‘That slightly anxious feeling one gets when you realise that something is amiss, very definitely, but you cannot quite put your finger on what is actually wrong – you just KNOW that something is amiss.’ See… don’t say this isn’t an educational blog – you’ve probably learned something new today. You’re welcome.
So, I’m having a bit of an Ely, but since I can’t quite say why, I push it to the recesses of my convoluted grey matter. Which is actually a very scary place to be. You really don’t want to go poking around with any kind of a stick there … seriously, you must have something way more entertaining to do than exploring the deepest crooks and nannies of my mind – unless you’re a psychoanalyst of course. Then, I could understand your unnatural interest in my mental machinations.
Sorry – I’ve been losing it a fair bit recently. It’s probably best if I return to the story for today eh?
So, I’ve agreed to take these photos and it all starts getting very *REAL* when we go and visit the venue and walk around the lovely grounds, inspecting the log upon which Lyndsey wants to sit, displaying the elegant bridal gown to best effect, looking wistfully off into the distance whilst a gentle breeze playfully catches her veil and causes it to billow gracefully… I can do this.
Of course I can.
I am the master of Photoshop.
I can make things happen, even if they didn’t really happen that way!
Or can I?
So, I don’t know who was more nervous that lovely sunny Sunday morning last August. Yes. You heard right. Last AUGUST.
Good things come to those who wait. That’s my defence. And I am sticking to it!
As I drove down the motorway at some ungodly hour (to be with the bride as she gets ready for the day) I am going over and over in my mind what to do. Which lenses to use for which shots. When to send the ushers out to get the next group of people. What to do if the children are uncooperative. All bases are covered – I have pieces of paper with every moment planned, in triplicate, to ensure that everything goes swimmingly and I don’t do the unthinkable and, you know, screw up or anything.
And actually, for the most part, I didn’t.
Unless you count the bit where my camera did the implausible and decided to stop working properly just as I start to take all the pictures of the family groups… and I realise that the last 80 or so pictures were taken at an entirely incorrect setting. They’re all s**t. Blank. Mahoossively over-exposed so that all I can see on my display screen is a big white blur. For eighty shots. ‘Cos of course, I was so busy, I forgot to keep checking in between each different setting that I’d not done something stupid like nudging a button somewhere.
But you see this is where being an extraordinarily organised ex-primary-school-teacher comes in very handy. And an ex-girl-guide to boot.
That’s their motto.
And now it is mine.
I had a plan B. Actually, I had plans C through Z as well, if truth be told, but I didn’t need any of them, so we can all heave a great sigh of relief as plan B was the Get Out Of Jail Free Card and I was enormously grateful to my FAB hubby as he had been snapping away with camera B, you know, JUST IN CASE. And Camera B (my daughter’s Nikon, set entirely on automatic, so that it was completely foolproof. Lesson learned), captured all those moments I missed. Beautifully in fact.
So now all I had to do was edit the 2,245 images and create a perfect album for Mr and Mrs Lee Deaves.
It’s taken hours and hours of staring at my screen, sometimes replacing pixels here and there, knitting images together, brightening faces, fixing intrusive lights or bags or whatever else to come up with these, my favourite images, which have made it to the album.
I am very proud of it.
And I loved doing it.
Which is actually what it was all about. For me anyway.
I hope you enjoy seeing these images – I’ll put a link to the album here, (be patient, it takes a while to load ‘cos these are some quality images people!) which I hope you’ll go and visit, but I’m including my most favourite pictures here too – thanks for being gorgeous subjects Lee and Lyndsey! And, congratulations too :)
… and the final log photo…
Of course, no wedding is complete without a couple of bloopers… so, the log was located in quite a boggy area of lawn and the bride had removed her own shoes, so they didn’t get dirty. My able assistant (and rather FAB hubby) came to the rescue by offering his shoes as a substitute as the bride toddled off the the next location, under the romantic, wide-boughed tree – the groom simply peeing himself with laughter!
And the final word must go to the bride’s mother, Pat; this picture says it all I think!
What a great day – thanks to everyone, but especially to the wonderful bride and groom who were marvellous subjects. Let’s do this again sometime eh?
Well, that went well.
It’s been a week of good fortune so far in the Gregory family. Good news for our daughter who has secured a fabulous step on her ladder to success which is likely to involve her moving back to London and jetting around Europe and the US doing what she loves and is brilliant at – publishing books. She’s a very private person so I won’t go on about it too much here, just enough to make it clear that I am very proud of her.
Good news also for the GUS.
It was a tense weekend, with sessions in front of the TV, watching the ‘How to pass your practical driving test’ on repeat for most of Saturday, followed by a couple of hours more rehearsing for battle in the chariot on Sunday.
I was mindful of his first attempts at driving, which involved a turquoise, cerise and gold coloured ‘Li’l Tykes’ vehicle, powered by a pair of very sturdy little legs, in a somewhat haphazard fashion around the large living room of our various apartments in Hong Kong – some of the rooms were large enough to cope well, some weren’t. I do recall (vividly) Toby’s elder sister, Natalie and her teenage friends attempting to squeeze themselves into said vehicle to provide an exemplar for the little chap; indelibly etched upon my memory are the sights of Elle (who was actually mostly small enough to sit reasonably comfortably in the tiny driving seat) and Tom (who, frankly, wasn’t) with legs akimbo protruding from the non-existent windscreen and a backside hanging out of the equally hypothetical rear window, which gave new meaning to the word ‘booty’.
Thankfully, these long-buried anamneses have not adversely affected the GUS’s will to learn to drive, although I suspect there may be some therapy bill in the future for ironing out issues raised by such recollections!
In the US, young drivers can begin ‘Drivers’ Education Classes’ in many high schools – I’m not certain, but I think they have to be at least fourteen and a half years old to begin learning to drive. I’ve always thought it would be one very important thing that here in the UK we could consider. Get ’em whilst they’re young and perhaps this will result in more careful drivers when they eventually obtain a full driving licence. It’s not common practice here though, since in order to drive any vehicle at all in the UK the driver MUST have reached the age of seventeen (or, in some exceptional cases usually involving an enhanced mobility component, sixteen). Farmers children can and often do learn to drive tractors at an earlier age, which I think they’re allowed to do on private land (i.e. around their farm) but unless you have some exceptional reason for needing to drive at a younger age, seventeen is the magic number for young motorists here.
So when the GUS reached the designated number of days upon this Earth, he sent off for his provisional driving licence and studied, off and on, to pass the theory test. More off than on the first time round as I recall… but that obstacle was cleared in a matter of two or three months and since then he’s been revving up the Astra on a regular basis with those badges of progress emblazoned firmly on the front and rear of the vehicle – the dreaded ‘L’ plates.
We tried the magnetic ones to start with. Twelve sets of little white squares fluttered joyfully into the ether, freed from their entrancing tethering before we gave in and stuck the markers to the car. It may have been a tad embarrassing to careen around in a carriage marked as an inexperienced coachman, but such is the lot of parents – to do what needs to be done and be thankful for the opportunity.
The day finally came yesterday when the GUS would be tested on his SACKs of motoring proficiency. For those who aren’t teachers, I should probably explain what SACK means – it’s an acronym that stands for Skills, Attitude, Concepts and Knowledge. It’s always made me giggle to think of students carrying around these ever-growing hessian duffel bags filled with parcels labelled ‘Skill: can type quickly’ and ‘Attitude:is considerate of others’, as well as ‘Concept: understands how to walk across a road without dying’ and the inestimable ‘Knowledge: reads at level 43(b) with great expression’, as if this is any use to anyone, except for OFSTED inspectors, but I digress once more. I’m not supposed to be moaning about the burden of teachers any more. Or maybe I will moan thus, but not today.
He’s a good driver. He can make the car go forwards AND backwards at reasonable and responsible speeds AND he knows where to find the tyre pressure requirements at a glance (which, incidentally, was more than I knew until Sunday, perhaps an indicator of how useful this knowledge actually is when you’re driving!). He’d overcome his fear of heeding his father’s advice to make it obvious when he’s looking in the mirrors so that the examiner cannot be under any impression that if there was a twenty-foot tall green and purple dinosaur strolling somewhat inexplicably two cars behind, then Toby will have definitely have made eye-contact with it and have a fully-formed plan of action to deal with any unheralded flight of fancy that it might take.
He was ready.
He passed. First time. With only three minor errors.
Way. To. GO!
Clearly months of driving back and forth to York along the infamous 64 has its advantages – experience will always stand you in good stead. I’m really very proud of Toby for this success – job well done. Onwards and upwards from here!
Thanks for reading again my friends – looks like we may crack a milestone sometime very soon – almost ten thousand hits already!
My gorgeous grand-daughter, Harriet – whom regular readers will know already as ‘Harrie’ – has just had her fourth birthday. For once, I’d managed to get her present in the post so that it arrived in good time and she could open it on her actual birthday morning. I won’t crow too much about how great an achievement this is for me, but it’s not happened many times before and I’ve been a grandmother now for over eleven years; there are four grandchildren with a total of twenty-six birthdays so far and I’ve probably managed this basic requirement about four times in all. I know. I’ll stop beating myself up now.
So, Harrie has reached this grand age of four and I was immediately swept back nearly thirty years when her mother was hopping from foot to foot almost every day after her third birthday, begging to know ‘Is it my birthday tomorrow?’. Every. Single. Day. For a YEAR. The final six weeks after Christmas in the run up to her birthday was relentless – ‘When it’s my birthday, I want to be a banana’ she declared emphatically. For some reason that I could not fathom for the life of me, Natalie wanted to BE a banana. She loved them. She loved the colour yellow more than almost everything else she knew of. I’ve spent the afternoon looking for a picture of Natalie when she finally reached the longed-for day, wearing her brand new bright yellow trousers, sweater and matching gilet (it WAS the ’80’ folks!) and the most magnificent, enormous smile on her face. It looked remarkably like this one of Harrie.
Harriet is modelling her new birthday treasures – upon her head you will notice a rather exciting cycle helmet, of an ‘Alien’ design. Note the three googly eyes, green and purple pokey horns and wicked sharp teeth that complete the additional protection should Harrie fall from her bicycle or scooter. This was a present from another family member and I think goes particularly smartly with her new quilted jacket, made with great love by her doting Nana (that’s me, in case you were wondering!).
I came across the two ‘crocodile teeth’ (as Harrie describes them) pink toggle buttons in my spare button jar a few weeks ago. I’d forgotten they were there but recognised them instantly as the spare ones that Marks & Spencers’ always provide with their garments. They had come from two pink duffle coats that Natalie and her sister, Donna had worn when they were about six and eight years old (respectively).
This old photo shows the original coat. (It’s a good job I’ve learned to focus the lens better these days!).
I dug around in my stash to find other scraps that would make a good match and then stitched together strips to make these brightly coloured squares, creating a cheerful top-side for the jacket. I decided on lining it with some of the pretty butterfly fabric that I used to make a dress for Scarlett last summer and as a couple of my other fabrics had butterflies on them, decided to use a butterfly embroidery stitch to decorate the quilting.
I’m pleased with how the garment looks. I’m thrilled to bits that when Harrie opened it, she squealed with delight and donned it immediately, over her pyjamas and then wore it for the rest of the day. It doesn’t take much to make us both happy!
I’m thinking of maybe doing another one of these jackets and posting step-by-step instructions to make it, which I’ll maybe do when I’ve finally finished the cushions I was making for Donna’s Christmas present!
Thanks for reading again!
A new piece of art this evening – a simple digital collage from our walk in the woods a couple of weeks ago. I love the way the light found its way through the trees, creating an atmosphere of serenity. I hope it gives you peace to see it.
The Grown Up Son, I’ve decided, should have a new moniker since ‘The Neanderthol’ is outmoded and has outgrown its usefulness as a descriptor, although a few of his grunts still suffice to communicate a fairly wide range of subjects quite a lot of the time. That’s probably testament to my ability to translate these gnarly grumbles into meaningful utterances, honed by many years of teaching small children to get along with each other, as much as anything. Anyway, GUS seems as good a name as I can muster and henceforth this is how I will refer to my big boy. I’m sure he’d prefer ‘GUS’ to ‘Big Boy’ any day. Please, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that!
So, GUS came home from the education establishment yesterday all abuzz.
Actually fizzing with what might, in other circumstances, pass for actual, tangible enthusiastic excitement.
Yeah, I KNOW!
Hence the need to adapt his sobriquet to something more appropriate.
I needed to sit down, so overwhelmed was I with this development, even before he told me the reason for this one-eighty in attitude.
When his sister was his age and indeed from being about 11 years old, she was always abuzz with too much frenzied fizzing and was regularly marched outside with instructions to ‘go pop’ which was the best way to curb her excess energy. She’d go out onto the apartment’s playground and jump up and down for five minutes straight, whilst waving her arms around maniacally and squeaking, squalling and just occasionally shrieking at such a high pitch that only dogs could hear her. Fortunately. Another outlet for her massive energy was lots and lots of sports – hockey, rugby, basketball or pretty much anything that involved chasing around after a moving object. Hmm… I wonder if she was a dog in a previous life perhaps? She WAS born in the Chinese Year of the Dog, so maybe that explains it.
Where was I?
Oh, yes, the EXCITEMENT.
So, there my precious GUS was, literally hopping from foot to foot, bursting to tell us how his rather extraordinary day had panned out.
You see, the day had come when he connected the dots.
For several years now, GUS has expressed his ambition to become an Actor. Please, whilst you read that, can you do me a favour? when you see the word ‘Actor’, imagine the magnificence that is Brian Blessed reading it aloud. ‘ACT-ORRRR!!!’ he would boom, magniloquently. That’s how I want you to hear it in your head, every time you see that word in this story. It’ll lend a little je ne sais quoi to the proceedings, that I hope will make the experience more joyful for you, dear reader. GUS has,in more recent times, begun to diversify this aspiration into directorial channels but acting, directing, being in the business of making films is where it’s all at for him.
Actors tend to hang out together for a variety of reasons, most usually because they want to promote their latest creative project, either for their own benefit or because the studio behind the project says they have to. Either way, there’s a LOT of networking when you get into this line of work.
‘So, I was chatting with Elijah Wood and Celyn Jones this afternoon, about their new movie, ‘Set Fire To The Stars‘,
which is about the tumultuous life of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas…’ GUS began with a combination of words that simply blew me away. I mean, ‘tumultuous‘? I didn’t even know he knew that word! And then ‘Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas‘? Four more words in a sequence that I never imagined he would utter. Maybe the years of banging on about culture have not been in vain after all…? But then. THEN. That’s when the penny dropped.
My little boy had spent the afternoon chatting with Frodo Baggins.
What else is there in life?*
I guess that when your offspring go, well, springing off into the world of men and elves, then these experiences become quite commonplace. And so the FUN begins!
*Honestly, I’ve had to promise not to get star-struck ever again. I’ll never get a mention in the Oscar speech otherwise.
Thanks for reading again my friends!
From a great writer, about two muses whom we all miss now. Thanks Andy, for writing this and saying it all, so succinctly and beautifully. see – I needed far more than the requisite seventeen syllables just to say well done!