Sunday, 28 September 2014

Tui in the Kowhai, and a conversation

Yesterday, early morning I ran across the lawn in my slippers (they got wet) and my dressing gown (also soggy) to take a photo of this chap. I had to use the 48 x zoom, hence it's not a Pulitzer winning shot. The reason the shot is special though, is nothing to do with the photo, it is to do with what happened as I was taking it. I heard a soft and croaky little miaow at my feet. There was my Ruppin, trying very hard to talk. I was so excited. He doesn't do this - even to hear him purr is rare. So I'm hoping aged nearly 3 that he is finally learning to chatter. I can't shut up our elderly cat, who is all conversation.

Poor lad is a late bloomer!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Remembering my dad Jim, one year on

Just over a year ago, I was going through my dad's papers on his computer and stumbled across this mini biography. I don't know when he'd written it, but I suspect he knew he didn't have long to live and he wanted to write things down. I was so grateful that he had. It was the week after he died, so I sent the text to my husband in NZ with some photos and he put it together as a handout at Dad's funeral.

I have read it many times since and reflected on a marvellous life lived in quiet obscurity, like many others of his generation. So here is Jim in his own words, followed by the Eulogy that I gave at his funeral.

I was born in 1931 in York to Alice and Cyril Barlow of “Richmondville”, Strensall York. I was educated at Strensall Infants School. It was an old school, but we were well taught and given the cane when it was needed - but it didn’t do us any harm. It was always cold in winter and we had outside toilets and cold water wash basins. We had goldfish and it was my job every week to change the water. During the holidays I took the goldfish home to look after.
I had a very bad attack of asthma, so lost a lot of schooling between the ages of 6 & 9. My mother, being an ex- teacher, used to get material from the school and teach me at home. My Grandpa James Barlow used to come and tell me stories and keep me entertained on his melodeon and singing folk songs. Our family doctor recommended I learn to ride a bicycle and take up cycling. This I did and was still doing it 50 years later.
I then went to the newly built Joseph Rowntree Senior School at New Earswick. I enjoyed my time there and took part in all the plays that were produced. We were encouraged to do music. I was in St Mary’s church choir at Strensall and chose the singing side, and this stayed with me right through my adult life. I was also very interested in drawing and sketching, so I went to the York School of Art for evening classes.

There was an active sports section and my main interests were cricket, boxing and fencing. Out of the three, I chose fencing. I was in the youth team and this is where I first met my wife Elaine, who was already a proficient fencer.
During the war years as a school boy we got up to all sorts of things. When there were any plane crashes locally we used to dash there on our bikes to see if we could get any trophies before the “officials” arrived. Having an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Post right next door to the family home, I got friendly with all the men, and was asked if I wanted to be a “runner”. Every time there was an air raid I had to pedal round the village on my bike swinging a rattle and making as much noise as possible. We never worried about danger as a boy in those days. I helped the local Royal Observer Corps with their Aircraft Recognition studies as we boys were very proficient at that, and also was an official “patient” for the Red Cross to practise on.
One weekend, while out on my bike, I heard a plane coming very low, and a Messerschmitt 109 came right up Station Road at tree top height. I could see the pilot very clearly and we later learned that he had shot the village postman in the next village as he sprayed it with gunfire. Strensall policeman PC Teasdale had a go at him with a rifle, which had no effect. To a young lad it was exciting stuff. We also had a search light and gun enplacement near to us, so I sometimes used to ride down there and take the “lads” some of mum’s baking - a thing they used to appreciate.
Grandpa Barlow and I were good mates and being a retired farmer he passed on a lot of good advice to me as a young lad. During the war we kept pigs, chickens and rabbits, grew plenty of potatoes and vegetables, and had a lot of soft fruit and apple trees. I used to cross Flemish Giant and Belgian Hares for the meat and got 2/6 each for them which was a lot of money to me.
My Dad did a lot of business at the Army Camp in the village and I used to help him deliver paraffin to the officers’ quarters. I remember Dad getting an order for 20 BSA Bantam motor bikes. My job was to unpack them. They came in thick cardboard crates and we and some of the neighbours made blackout boards with these for the house windows. We also had a Canadian Air force Base 6 miles away at Eastmoor Aerodrome. These lads were always coming to borrow cycles. Some used to stay and have a game of cards and mum made them a supper. A lot of them you never saw again as they were killed on bombing raids. We never had a cycle stolen; they always turned up, together with a crate of peaches, meat, or some sort of food, but never money. Great lads, but sad memories as well.
I left school at 15 and was hoping to be a commercial artist but, with so many men coming back into the business after WW2, the advice I was given was to get myself another trade and go back to it later. So I kept it as one of my inside hobbies and used to do a lot of sketching of my favourite film stars of the day. I took an apprenticeship in engineering with Messrs Cooke Troughton & Simms, Optical & Scientific Instrument Makers.
When I was 19 I joined the Royal (Auxiliary) Air Force until my call up at 21 for the regular service. I then signed on for four years as a Motor Transport Driver Mechanic. I was demobbed in 1956 as a corporal and re-joined the Auxiliaries of 609 (WR) Squadron until they were disbanded on the day I got married. During my service I fenced for the RAF in England and Ireland on a number of occasions. After my demob I went back to work for Cookes until we moved to Teesside in 1971.
I met up with Elaine again and we got engaged and were married at Strensall Church 3 March 1957. We had a bungalow built at Huntington, This cost £1650, a lot of money when my wage was £9 per week. In 1961 our lovely daughter Jane was born. In 1968 I joined York City Police Force as a Special Constable and was with them up to moving to Billingham.
I moved in 1971 to work at Hartlepool on marine engines. It was a massive company with trains coming through the shop to pick up work. It was very interesting but very cold working conditions. I was made redundant after 9 months. My RAF pal, who was in the carpet business in Hartlepool, then asked me to work for him as General Manager.
Elaine and Jane moved up from York after I got settled. We were in lodgings until we bought our house in Billingham on 5 February 1972 for £5000. It was short of a garden and I set about trying to find something as we had always been used to our own produce. In 1974 I was allocated an allotment close by with Billingham Allotment Association and have been on the site ever since and have been chairman for 10 years.
From October 1973 I was back in engineering with Steelcraft Precision Tools at Sedgefield until it went out of business in 1990. I took early retirement and had to go on Invalidity Benefit due to my osteo-arthritis. I have had no regrets retiring early as I have had a very busy life.
After I retired I took up genealogy to look into my family history. I already had a lot of information that my paternal grandmother left. I find it very rewarding and have found a lot of cousins I didn’t know about and long lost ancestors that I wish my parents had known about. I also took up drawing and painting again after 50 years. I joined a local art class and I have been exhibiting my paintings at shows and exhibitions for a number of years.
Since 1958 I have been very involved in music. I was a member of the Railway Institute Male Voice Choir and of York Light Opera Society, taking part in shows at the York Theatre Royal. On Teesside I was a member of the Billingham Synthonia Male Voice Choir as a soloist and member of the bass section. For the last 18 years I was their Treasurer, retiring in December 2007.
Another of my loves was my Morris Minor cars starting with my first one in 1963. I have owned and worked on rebuilding 3 right up to 2003 when I had to give my last one up as with having a false knee I was not able to drive it. I was in a Morris Minor National Club. We used to show our vehicles at functions all over the country. My “inside” hobbies are painting, philately and postcards.

The day of the funeral it was raining. The village church where the service took place wasn't large enough, and there were about 30 people stood outside in the pouring rain. There wasn't even standing room in the church. Dad's choir took up the entire nave and they sang a Welsh hymn that he loved. When the hearse arrived in the street where we lived, all the neighbours came to the gates to farewell him.

Dad shared everything he had and everything he was with whoever stood still long enough to receive. He couldn’t stop sharing – it was pathological. Potatoes were a case in point.
The first day I saw him in hospital it was “Thanks for coming love, now there’s a lot of potatoes on the garage floor that want brushing, washing, weighing, sorting and sacking – 80 pounds of them” There aren’t many left because he insisted on giving them away.
He shared his passions with me: folk music, opera, aviation, family history, antique fairs and daft jokes. Regrettably, his horticultural, artistic and practical skills passed me by, and when I married Simon, he realised I had married an equally hopeless case. Many a time in NZ I have said to my husband, “I wish Dad was here, he’d know how to do that”. He rescued many a person from their practical ineptitude.
He shared his considerable organisational and book keeping skills with charities, choirs, allotment associations and his family. In his last weeks he was planning and organising me and fretting about mum. He and mum had been married for 56 years but been friends for longer.
He warmly adopted all my friends into his extended family and I when I introduced him to Facebook, I found many of MY friends jumped ship and adopted him. He had friends all over the world and was Big Daddy to most of them.
To all of you here, we thank you all for loving us and supporting mum and I, especially in the last few weeks. We have reaped the friendship that Dad sewed amongst you.
Dad, you leave a much larger space behind in this universe than the one you occupied. Your love is our inheritance, I pray we spend it well.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Blossom rugs

We must have fairies in our garden, evidence of their housekeeping is everywhere. They are turning the garden into a blossom highway.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Wood pigeons and decadent desert

I may be creative, but I draw the line at wood pigeon pudding. No, I just happened to spot them in the cherry tree as I was serving up desert.

You tend to hear a wood pigeon (local name Kereru) before you see them. They are large, very large, and have a slow swoop and loud landing, as if the landing gear got dropped too late. They are heavy too. Many a telephone wire has sagged permanently when used as a habitual viewing point for the neighbourhood.

In an earlier generation the birds were hunted almost to extinction. No wonder, you could feed a good sized family with one of them! They were easy to catch due to their rather slow take off speed and lack of brain engagement. The pair who visited today normally hang out on our neighbours property, so it was lovely to see them bobbing together on a branch. I don't think they have anything to fear from Cumin as they are almost as big as her!

Tomorrow is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The food used to celebrate the New Year usually includes apples and honey. The desert which was being served when the feather bomber command landed was apple cake with honey caramel. I've never made the cake like this before (I usually omit the caramel), but it turned out to be finger licking good, even if it resembled a caldera!

So "Shana Tovah veh Metukah" to all my Jewish friends from Coneysthorpe.

Paddock Diary 5

I'm sad because the calves have gone. Norbert, Corbett, Albert and Sherbet have been sent packing, I assume to the meat factory. It's sad, as I enjoyed their funny faces over the fence. In their place are two sheep with their four lambs. We can practically time the hour for our evening meal. Once the lambs go hurtling across the paddock and doing their "stotting", we know its tea time. They are quite shy, so these photos were taken on a telephoto lens. Our tabby accompanied me to the fence to watch the sheep. I think he is still trying to figure out what they are.

It occurred to me yesterday, after taking the photo below, that we should have called Ruppin "Morse", he has so many dots and dashes!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Booty, Swag or What you Will

The weather is about to change. I needed sunshine this morning and so on the spur of the moment, we took off for a drive. I didn't want to fall into sad reflection about Dad, so we went for an expedition. We ended up in a small town to the north, about 40 minutes drive away.

Here are a few photos from shops we drifted into, views on our return, and the lovely bits and pieces we bought along the way.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Fairy Empress Tree

I have just found the first flower from the Empress Tree on the ground next to our garage. This tree must be around 25 feet high, but it is only 9 years old! All the vegetation grows quickly here, but this tree is scarily huge. It is not a native to NZ. In fact it is considered rather a pest tree internationally. The way it spread so quickly is because the Chinese used to pack their export porcelain in tea chests filled with the seeds of this tree to keep the porcelain safe. Talk about bio disaster.

Anyhow, I love it because of the flowers and the scent. Here is the fairy blossom that looks for all the world like a nymph wearing her outdoor hat and cloak.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The failure to be a cat, Part 1

We inherited our oldest cat (almost 14) from our former next door neighbour. He came as a "package deal" with his much more intelligent calico sister. Sadly she passed away 5 years ago. He was distraught, so we provided him a week later with a tiny bundle of ginger fur to love. After the initial terror (his, not the kitten's), he fell in love with the little scrap, and they have been best buds every since. Our third cat, a tabby, was purchased from the SPCA, with a view to apprenticing him to our loveable elder statesman. Twas not to be. He is loathed by Ms Ginger and ignored by our eldest, largely because he has no sense of decorum. Nose butting the old guy at 40km an hour, or stealing food or ramrodding awake a slumbering OAP is not the stuff of endearment.

In the last 24 hours I have seen ridiculous behaviour with Mr OAP and Ms Ginger. The latter managed to be oblivious to a large rabbit on the driveway yesterday. She was happily skipping towards the house with a rabbit in myopic hot pursuit. The bun swerved off onto the lawn before she was alerted to him. This morning Elderly Gent was to be seen sniffing the grass and sauntering around the lawn, surrounded by at least a dozen ground feeding birds.

At least our lonely tabby knows how to be a decent cat. Last night was the first night since the beginning of autumn that he has brought a live rodent into the bedroom. Husband slept through me charging around the bed with the large preserving jar until I'd cornered the wee thing behind his bedside table. It was duly evicted through an open front door and over the verandah. In the dark, I saw Mr OAP having a nocturnal saunter. I thought to myself, somewhat bleary brained "I hope that darn cat doesn't re-catch the mouse" I had noted its leg had been bitten so it may not be able to run fast.

This morning when I went into the kitchen I caught the shadow of a dead mouse in the corner of the living room, and a pleased large 14 year old cat parked close by.

Bless him, he thought I would like a nice mouse with my cornflakes, recaught with only three legs!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Feathers at dawn

This morning I drove my husband to the railway station before 7am. There is only one train a day to the city, so you have to get there on time, or no worky!

Where we live, there is a fast running stream with a good solid over-bridge. This morning as we approached the bridge (newly painted), I was reminded of a comment I made to the council workers who refreshed the white paint work a few weeks ago. I had slowed down as I approached the bridge, wound down the window and said to the painter "Beware of the killer ducks". He laughed - I was serious!

This morning in the middle of the bridge there was a stand-off between one of the white ducks and a pheasant, who wasn't sure whether to run or take on the indignant mass of fluffed up white feathers guarding its territory. We had to edge slowly forward, as neither side looked like it was going to back down. Fortunately, there was just enough room to drive between them. Looking in the rear view mirror seconds later I could see this argument was continuing and showed no sign of being over soon.

The things you see!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Bursting blossoms

The plum trees are attracting finch from all over the neighbourhood, greenfinch, chaffinch and goldfinch. I think my neighbour's bees were responsible for the hum as I took the photos. So that bit of the garden was high volume and high activity. The rosemary has also started to bloom. The flowers are really exquisite.

This afternoon as I trimmed the edges of the lawn I came across a large clump of violets having a good old gossip in the borders. This really brought a smile, as they were the flowers I was regretting leaving behind in our previous garden.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Des Res

This morning I washed the front of the house. It's exhausting work. One side done, three to go. I had just packed away the mop and bucket and was standing back admiring the bright white woodwork, when who should start sweeping around on the veranda but the two welcome swallows from last year. Advance warning of a lot of muck and mess as they build their nest. However, this is a small price to pay for being host the them and their adorable rowdy progeny.

The tuis have produced a carpet of pink flowers on our driveway as they have pecked at them for the nectar. I gives all the trunks a pink skirt swirling at base and is rather charming.

So, the diary of spring starts. I will keep a record of the bird nests and varieties this year. Welcome to the desirable residence.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Love is in the air

The birds at Coneysthorpe are going crazy, so spring and LOVE must be in the air. At great risk to life and feather, our welcome swallow was collecting twigs on our long driveway and doing a bit of sunbathing as well. She obviously hadn't seen our cats rolling around enjoying the sunshine at the opposite end

Many of the native trees are producing flowers, which I'm still trying to identify,

Thankfully, the plant which arrived as a gift with two lovely friends who visited this week is easily recognisable. I love cyclamen, and will probably plant it in the garden, in the hope that it spreads and multiplies

Wishing you a flower filled week, wherever you are.