September 2011

7th September


Sniff - not such a great start to the month... thanks to a streaming cold, I missed one of my favourite Frei Co events, Ledsham Fayre, and poet Peter Wyton's appearance for Towton Battlefield Society on Monday. Hey ho - but it means I've been spending lots of time curled up on the couch with a box of tissues, watching the annual invasion of our eight-legged chums....


I'll spare all you arachnophobes out there a photo - but as you may know, the warm spring has made 2011 a bumper year for spiders! And if you're petrified of the current plague, I'll pass on a seasonal tip I'm assured actually works: put conkers in the corners of your rooms (apparently they hate the smell and will stay away).


I wish I'd known that during the decades I spent scared rigid of spiders. I've no idea where the terror came from... certainly not inherited from my parents. Dad had seen (and probably eaten) a lot worse things during his WW2 experiences, and Mum could scoop up great hairy horrors in her bare hands and toss them out of the window without batting an eyelid (while me and my strapping six-foot brother cowered trembling in the corner). I was never quite as phobic as some folk; I could cope with pictures, rubber fakes, and the little tiny 'money-spiders'; but anything the size of my little fingernail made me uncomfortable, and as for bigger... I'd be literally petrified, sweaty-palmed, shaking... forget catching them under a glass, I couldn't go anywhere near them! It made life very difficult when I started living alone - not to mention embarrassing, when I had to ask neighbours in to get rid of them for me! Which brings me to the point of this entry: I am living proof that arachnophobia can be overcome...


I started working on it when I got my first house. It had a big garden that needed maintaining - and as I wanted to do it myself without being in a constant state of terror or running shrieking back indoors, I simply HAD to get used to creepy-crawlies! I started small - handling spiders just a tiny bit bigger than I liked, and gradually working up... also watching the ones I found outside - like the big hedge spiders, which are amazingly beautiful if you can bring yourself to look close. I still never liked handling the whopping wolf-spiders you find round the house - although I managed it once when I had to rescue one from a real arachnophobe's kitchen sink! - but by degrees, I found I could catch them under a glass.


Then I started watching them, safely trapped; then one night, lying on my futon, a monster walked by on the skirting board a foot from my nose. Once upon a time that would have had me screaming out of the room and unable to go back and sleep in my own bed. But this time, when I thought, 'Shall I get up for a glass and chuck it out- nah, can't be bothered', and left it to do its spidery thing, I realised - I WAS CURED!!!


From then on, spiders became fun. Sure, they still have the capacity to startle me when they scuttle out unexpectedly... but I've become very fond of them, and enjoy watching them prowl round the house. Yup, Helmickton's a spider-friendly zone... we only bother evicting them when they trespass too cheekily - and that's mainly so as we don't step on them, or squash them against the sofa cushions, rather than through distaste. So, in homage to the present invasion, I thought I'd share with you the revised version of a little poem I wrote back in 2002 - it even won 3rd prize in a national poetry competition! Just click to read - if you can bear it...

12th September


We had a very appley time this weekend - the first trial of the fruit-processing equipment Mick's parents gave us for Christmas! So, having recently been given a shed-load of apples, Hubcap decided to try his hand at making cider... quite a long, sticky process, and this is how it went:

cider apple sorting cider kit cider pulp milling cider pulp

Picking out rotten apples, slugs and other grot        The gear: pulping bucket, juice bucket & press


Far right: Pulping the apples with a gizmo attached to an electric drill - and proudly displaying the results!


Below: Mick 'presses his cheese' (ooh er, Missus!) till the juice runs into the bucket... and at the end of the day, decanted into demijohns with yeast added, that's what we got...

cider pulp pressing cider

It was a pretty labour-intensive job, and extremely messy, with bits of squished apple flying everywhere - I was very glad he'd decided to do it out of doors! But it was fun operating the fruit press, and the freshly-squeezed juice tasted amazing - sweet, zingy and flavoursome, totally unlike the stuff you get in cartons and bottles. We resisted necking it fresh, though... this batch was destined for cider, all 3 gallons of it! And by the end of the day it was safely installed in the kitchen, blooping away in its demijohns... I'm curious to know what it'll taste like, and what its percentage alcohol will be when it's fully fermented, but I won't find out for several weeks yet. Still, even at this early stage it has a dangerous look... like the sort of scrumpy that makes you fall over after half a pint!


In the meantime I'm having to make do with last year's bramble and elderberry wine - which has matured into a beautiful fruity smoothness. Quite a talented brewer, my husband...

20th September


Gosh, I don't know if I'm coming or going... have been keeping some very strange hours this past week, partly due to the sniffly remnant of my cold, and partly to being in an Angorian writing frenzy... I'm well into Chapter 16 of Book 2 now, and on track for publication early next year!


But I did break off last week for a little foray to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, to help out with a forthcoming programme on BBC 4 (provisionally titled 'Bullets, Boots & Biscuits' or 'How To Go To War'). Sadly for my media tart tendencies, I wasn't in front of the camera - but our re-enactment kit was! I'd trucked some stuff over - the kind of things one of Henry V's soldiers might have carried or used at Harfleur - to illustrate an interview with our chum and fellow TBS member, battlefield archaeologist Tim Sutherland:

armouries filming

There's Tim (he had a streaming cold, too!) on the left, with my padded jack, doublet, and a selection of our cooking pots, crocks and medieval spoons; on the right, director and cameraman Anthony Barwell, with co-director Jeff Wilkinson; and in the foreground, archery kit and Mick's helmet, which you might recognise from other pics on this site! It was quite funny to think of our kit going on TV... although from past experience filming with Roger Keech, the 2 hours of footage Anthony shot will probably only boil down into a couple of minutes on the programme. Still, we're looking forward to seeing it, and spotting our bits and pieces - it should be broadcast some time in October.


26th September


When all our Frei Compagnie events are such fun it seems unfair to single out one for special praise... but the weekend we've just spent at Bolling Hall was (apart from Palm Sunday) the highlight of the season for me. The building itself, with its medieval, Civil War and Georgian/later history, is incredible - and worked very well with our show. Inside in the house-body, with its marvellous stained glass armourial window, we had Lady Frances working on her calligraphy (joined by Doctor Neil with his medical show on Sunday). Outside, we set up a nice little camp under the trees next to the building: the kitchen (ably staffed by Alex), TBS tent, and Des's armoury and guns, plus a small archery/gunnery range. The formal knot-gardens in front of the Hall made a perfect setting for Stu and Dean to do their combat displays (aided by Squire Doggett!) - and the patio was ideal for the children's bill-drill, which attracted probably the largest 'army' we've ever had on an event!





On Saturday, we enjoyed near-perfect autumn weather and a large, enthusiastic crowd... then repaired to the house-body for our end-of-season feast - a great extravaganza of medieval foods, complete with after-dinner entertainment, including Hubcap (aka 'El Gusto') knocking 'em dead (almost literally) with his rendition of the popular medieval party-trick  'Leap,Whistle and Fart'! Then I read a ghost-story to get us in the mood for the climax of the evening: a 'ghost walk' around the Hall by candlelight! Alas, I didn't see any myself, although sceptical husband had a couple of weird encounters; first a door slamming and rattling behind him for no apparent reason; and upstairs, the sound of someone breathing as if asleep in the four-poster bed against which he was leaning - he said that made the hairs rise on the back of his neck! But all I experienced were feelings of intense sadness at some of the tragic stories our guide Paul related... and almost unbearable discomfort in what I can only call the 'Red Room': a ghastly boudoir done out like a miniature whore-house with crimson brocade walls, curtains and hideous gilded canopied 'passion couch'. Apparently certain, ahem, activities have been seen and heard on said couch... but to me the room was like a horror movie set - anything less erotic I simply couldn't imagine. Gosh, was I glad to get out of there... and I suspect we were all quite relieved to go home at the end of the evening rather than camping in the Hall overnight!


But ghosts or no, we were back again bright and early (or rather, dull and rainy) on Sunday morning to do it all over again. And despite the miz weather for the first part of the day, we got great crowds again... 1471 visitors counted into the Hall over the full weekend - not including those who just stayed out in the grounds watching the shows! So a real success all round - needless to say, we'll be going back again in 2012. And I can recommend Bolling Hall to anyone for a visit - the grounds and building are beautiful, the collections and period furniture fascinating, and the staff incredibly helpful and friendly. You can find further details on the Bradford Museums website... including of the next event, 'Dark Gatherings', on Hallowe'en (Monday 31st October), when you can go along between 5.30 - 8.30 pm and take a guided ghost tour - if you dare!

armoury doc neil doggett2 combat2

The Doctor is in.....                                   Dean & Stu fight...                                           Squire Doggett...                       L - R: Hannah, Tall Mike, Stu and Des in the armoury


See a report and more pictures in Bradford Telegraph & Argus!