The autumn song of a male robin hangs in the air. The swallows left just two days ago following a last minute feeding frenzy in the valley below packing in the fuel for their long journey. It’s a glorious morning. I feel very small.
There’s a dark place that I visit from time to time- in recent weeks I’ve been there quite often to wonder, to pause, to reflect on friendship, life and my place in it all. I have felt curiously out of step with others as if inhabiting a different world in a parallel universe. No-one reads this blog so I guess I am just recording my thoughts so that in the future I can look back and remember. The only place that makes any sense at all is here- Fforest Cwm. I feel deeply rooted and increasingly have no wish to go anywhere at all. I know these feelings will pass in time but for now, the pain is very real.
Almost all the swallows- at least forty have fledged here this summer- have now gone but there are three youngsters who have only just left the nest. I hope someone will show them the way- maybe someone will do the same for me.
1947. The streets of Lytham, a small market town near Blackpool, are thronged with people trying to catch sight of a young bride. The guests have already arrived, amongst them a famous American jazz singer, Turner Layton. A friend of the bride’s parents, he is well on the way to selling almost ten million records, including As Time Goes By. At last, she appears, happy, radiant,beautiful, her father at her side. My mum.
She died on July 9th, 85 years old.Dementia robbed her of the peaceful, dignified end that she so richly deserved. She was so frightened. But my sister and I held her hand until her last breath had passed. I didn’t think I would ever write about her death in a blog. She wouldn’t have approved. But I just want to record that the ward that she died in at Blackpool Victoria Hospital was so wonderful, so different to what we were expecting, it took my breath away. A young healthcare assistant- she was probably less than 20- sang to my mum, held her hand, wiped her tears and comforted her as best she could. A young woman, a quarter of my mum’s age, took the trouble to download some songs that she thought my mum would like (from the Sound of Music) and sang to her all day. Such compassion. Such love. Astonishing. Our NHS. It can still shine. Turner Layton would have approved.
After a stressful time trying to find a suitable nursing home for my mum who has late stage vascular dementia, we jetted off at the end of June to a wonderful converted shepherd’s shelter high in the mountains of Northern Mallorca, near Soller and Fornalutx. Although excited about our return to this beautiful corner of the world, and obviously looking forward to some chilling out time with Steve, I knew I would find it hard to switch off from worrying constantly about my mum and this proved to be the case.
The house, as always, didn’t disappoint. It’s high up in the Tramuntana Mountains with just sheep and donkeys and olive groves for company. The views, especially at night as the sun sets and the bats gather in the caves behind us, are breathtaking. I felt myself unwind in the baking heat- you couldn’t rush about- so we swam, sauntered around the wonderful town of Fornalutx and travelled by boat to our favourite bay, Cala Tuent. This stunning beach has the high mountains as a backdrop. There are no bars, shops or indeed anything at all to detract from the clear, cold water apart from the odd Muscovy duck bobbing about- I kid you not! Which reminded us- had Jemima hatched out her eggs at home? Sadly not. 46 ducklings last year. This year- none. Jacob’s fertility is now in question…
But, of course, my mind constantly wandered back to wondering what the latest news was about my mum…and when my Iphone was stolen from my zipped up bag as I carried it on my shoulder whilst visiting Palma, I have to say I went into panic mode. Yes, only a phone. But it caused us such stress; our dependence on this technology is frightening. Not being able to contact my family was suddenly all important. When I then developed crushing chest pains a few days later with all the symptoms of a coronary, I realised just what anxiety can do. It turned out I was having an oesophageal spasm- the symptoms are identical to a full blown heart attack and are totally scary when you find yourself unable to speak or move…
So an eventful time. Phew. And my mum? Back in hospital. The nursing home couldn’t cope with her dementia. The search goes on.
Less than 24 hours to go and the madness begins! The countryside has dressed in her finest to welcome Hay’s visitors from all over the world- the hedgerows are bursting out of their seams, the hills are bathed in sunshine, the town is buzzing with activity. Wonderful- just fabulous. Steve and I have tickets so far to see Judy Dench and Benedict Cumberbatch – we’ve been very restrained on the ticket-buying front because with my mum poorly in hospital we don’t want to plan ahead too much. Anything could happen…
We’ve just returned from a flying visit to London to see War Horse (for Steve’s birthday)- second viewing for me and as good as the first time. London was great- but it was just fantastic to return home to Hay. It looks more beautiful than ever.
When we checked our emails, there was good news! We (The Byre at Fforest Cwm) has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence by Trip Advisor- one of the first vacation rentals to receive one because until now only hotels and restaurants and bed and breakfasts have received certificates. So- onwards and upwards. We must be doing something right!
In the woodland opposite our farm, our neighbour has been busy for weeks- the previous farmer had neglected the wood for years and the ground was overgrown with bramble, fern and branches brought down from storms over the past few years. We watched as the oak, ash and chestnut trees were thinned. I have to be honest and say that as spring approached I was concerned that too much was being removed. Diggers and JCB’s crashed through the paths of the Iron Age hill fort. It looked, at times, as if it would never recover. But then the miracle happened. Light flooded through the canopy. Bathed in warm sunshine, for the first time in many years, the soil was warm and moist. Ten days ago I was watching a red kite circling the woodland. Surely there was now a blue haze where before there was only patches of brown and green? A day or so later there they were- thousands of bluebells emerged, their delicate heads gently nodding their approval. We hadn’t seen them in over twenty years. No words needed.
After reading Chris Packham’s horrifying reports of the bird hunting in Malta, the sound of the cuckoo’s call echoing across the Begwns this week was poignant. We take bird song for granted. Here in the hills above Hay on Wye, with very little sound pollution, it’s easy to identify many birds. Our world would be so much the poorer without them. A flash of yellow as I feed the hens- a yellow hammer, taking advantage of any dropped seed.
Above, the chattering of swallows at last as they check out last year’s nest. Moments later- a curlew, its shrill call sharp, swiftly followed by the hammering of a woodpecker.
As I stood admiring my new horse in the sunshine this week, I suddenly heard the sound I have been looking forward to for days- the chattering of swallows. Looking up, I spotted three, swooping and diving as they inspected their old homes in the barns above our farm. I watched for quite a while; the sun was warm and the Black Mountains in the distance stood out clearly against the cloudless blue sky. Then, as quickly as they had arrived they disappeared. I walked down the hill quickly, hoping that our barns at home would also be welcoming the arrival of these amazing birds- last year the parent birds raised ten chicks; they all fledged. But I was to be disappointed. All week we have watched and listened but so far only one scout has appeared- last night, as I supped a glass of wine in the evening sunshine, a solitary swallow circled the house several times before heading off down the valley. Perhaps the cool easterly winds are holding them back…
New season- new arrivals. Jennifer and Jill arrived a couple of weeks ago. They must be the friendliest hens ever. Refusing to remain in their run, they run around the farm yard and garden all day. Jennifer likes nothing better than a cuddle and prefers to roost in our porch at night, flapping at the windows if we forget to leave the door open.