We bumped into Frank this morning, shortly after daybreak. We had an inkling he was somewhere close when the sheep on both sides of the road all broke in to a trot towards the gateways where, a few moments later, Frank appeared on his quad-bike pulling a trailer of hay and sheep-nuts.
Frank farms at the head of the clough, right up onto the moor where, probably exclusive to the Roaches, rain falling on the eastern flank drains to the Irish Sea and on the western slopes, follows a tortured route through the Midlands to the North Sea.
Frank is one of those people essential to Britain’s upland scenery. A diminutive, wild-haired, gnarled-faced upland farmer, thin and wiry as a willow sapling and every bit able to bend double, heaving bales of hay and sacks of feed, day in, day out.
He’s always cheerful and chatty, even when he’s clearly rushing to get the sheep sorted out before being off to work.
Most days when we are out and about we see Frank doing his “other job” – the one that earns the money to subsidise his lifestyle tending the sheep and stewarding our wild countyside. The life into which he was born all those years ago, but which today is even less profitable than in days long gone. By day, Frank is a haulier, driving his big red lorry hither and thither, loading and unloading, collecting and delivering.
Picture the idyll - farmer and dog striding across breeze-blown grass and tussock, flanked by quietly grazing sheep in their summer coats on a warm June day. Butterflies ascend and flit over the heather and larks sing to the wind.
Except, up here in the Peak District, like in Britain’s other wild upland places, not every day of the year is a “June” day. Up here, farmers repair walls in the wet and wind with freezing fingers. They spend endless time collecting sheep which have strayed due to some thoughtless “townie” failing to shut a gate. Driven by the welfare needs of their flock, they are out at the crack of dawn to tend their sheep, whatever the weather forecast said last night about "avoiding unnecessary travel". These are the men (and even a few women) who are made of steel. Not just any old steel either. This is top quality, high tensile, spring steel. The sort that mankind relies on to take immense loads, to bend and flex and not to fail.
How old is Frank? I don’t know. He looks older than Gandalf, maybe even Methuselah.
He told me once about driving the lorry out from their farm during the fierce winter of 1963 – so he’s at least 8 years older than me – which makes him mid-70s minimum.
Will there be other “Franks” 20, 30, 40 years from now? Now there’s a challenge to some young farmers!
This tale of woe started on the night I brought my daughter home from a long spell in hospital, just before Christmas. I’d delivered her back to her home & made sure she was comfortable and, about 8pm, set off home in thick fog.
Halfway there, a set of weirdly unequal headlamps came out of the fog directly towards me, careering from side to side and clearly out of control. I stopped quickly and there was that familiar crumpling sound as the oncoming vehicle gouged into the drivers door and along the side of my car. The miscreant didn’t stop and I gave chase – not a very long chase as the very badly damaged car had clearly become undrivable and ground to a halt only a few hundred yards from the impact. (Unknown to me at the time, this car had collided with a bus and destroyed the driver’s compartment, shortly before I first saw it)
To my surprise, a young woman jumped out and ran off through the fields into the darkness.
To cut a long story short, she was rounded up by a couple of Police dogs and charged with a long list of offences for which she was sentenced last week to 12 months prison, suspended for two years, a 5 year driving ban and a alcohol rehabilitation order.
My car wasn’t badly damaged, just a big groove along the two doors, but two new doors had to come from Sweden. Hence, by the time the body shop took my car in for repairs last week, the winter storm was being forecast. The Beast from the East blew in with howling wind, plummeting temperatures and swirling powder snow drifting over the moorlands.
For the second time in two winters, I was now without my 4x4 Volvo (a veritable snow-tractor) and driving a two-wheel drive hire car with auto transmission, entirely due to someone else’s stupidity. Not a hope in hell of making a trip from home, 1100 ft above sea level, to Roachside which is almost precisely the same elevation.
Now the water supply at Roachside is a feat of technology, being pumped up the hill through two of our own pumps, one of which is in a little housing down the fields from the cottage. It is very substantially insulated. But, of course, if no water is passing through the holding tank, the temperature will slowly decay to whatever the air temperature outside is. It’s vulnerable! I’m acutely aware of this vulnerability and when we have very cold nights coinciding with no-one staying at the cottage, I drive over and run the water for a while to keep things safe.
Obviously, this week, it has frozen almost solid – the nightmare scenario. The tank was bulging with a giant ice-cube of about 250 litres volume.
A potential £1000+ bill to replace the pump & ancillaries?
As I write this, my little mountaineers petrol stove is humming away inside the pump house slowly, ever so slowly, thawing the place out.
12 months prison, suspended for 2 years? Grrrr….
With the approach of the day when “real” guests, as opposed to friends & relatives, arrive at Roachside, Scout and I set off to buy the “proper pottery”.
When we purchased this cottage it was well equipped with plates & mugs etc., all from IKEA.
Nothing wrong with that, you may think, but this is North Staffordshire.
This is the county of clay and coal. We are but 10 miles from the Potteries and the most fabulous collection of ceramics anywhere on the planet (at the City of Stoke Museum). This is where Wedgwood, Spode and Minton crafted the chinaware which adorned tables of palaces and banqueting halls all over the world.
My late wife, who spent 25 years in service of Royal Doulton, would never forgive me if I had Chinese-made plates on display!
We’d perused the various manufacturer’s wares a few months ago and settled on some “Blue Speckle” ware from Steelite. (We liked their Craft series better, but at twice the price, it seemed risky to have expensive plates in a kitchen with a hard tiled floor!)
Off we trotted to their shop in Trentham Village and collected six of everything and took them back to Roachside where we had emptied the cupboards and removed a few months dust from the shelves.
Carefully unpacking the bubble-wrapped ware, ready for washing, I noticed that each piece had two sticky labels stuck onto the underside. Those sort of nasty sticky paper labels which have horrible glue and must never be allowed to get wet because they form an immovable furry lump.
It took full two and a half hours to remove these hateful bits of paper.
Why two labels on every piece?
Why can’t easy-peel labels be used?
Why are these labels attached to concave surfaces, which mean they can’t be scraped off with a knife blade?
Who in the pottery industry controls such decisions?
Can they be sacked?
Phil is one of my oldest mates.
I was a Guard of Honour at his wedding 50 years ago, when he was my Scout Leader, and later we worked together for some years in the gas industry.
He turned 70 last Friday and several of our colleagues thought it would be a good way to celebrate if we went out for a walk on the hills. After a few locations were discounted due to some of us being a bit less fit than we’d like to be, it was decided that we’d meet up at Roachside and take a wander over to the Ship Inn for some lunch.
Early morning the weather was pretty dreary, but after we’d all gathered, had a cuppa and those who hadn’t been to Roachside before had had a good look round, the sun had come out and a gorgeous day stretched out in front of us.
Off we went and it wasn’t long before one of our number, who’s not been too well lately, was obviously having breathing problems and making very slow progress. Hence, it wasn’t a difficult decision to just walk to Roach End and back down the road to have lunch at The Lazy Trout.
Now when five old blokes get together for lunch and there are three items on the menu which all have “pulled beef” in their title, you can guarantee that something like an episode of “Last of the Summer Wine” is going to unfold.
Now I have to say the ladies in The Trout are brilliant. They are patient to a fault. They don’t mind taking orders from people who change their minds or want something extra with this, or don’t want tomato with that.
Our waitress really got the measure of us, in a very good-humoured way. After about six attempts to clarify what we wanted, with four of my vocal buddies chipping in simultaneously, she handed one of my mates her tablet thing and said “do it yourselves”!
I just knew I should have taken a notebook and pencil
Since I learned to cook, about three years ago, I've developed a bit of a repertoire of regular dishes which will sustain life, not take long to prepare and cook and which Scout will eat (being a Princess of Noble Blood, she has certain expectations.....).
One of these dishes is Toad in the Hole.
How did a dish made of humble sausages and simple flour batter come to acquire such a name? Even in the most eclectic of ethnic food markets, I have yet to see sausages made from minced amphibians.
Whatever, it's simple and, with the right tasty sausage, very welcome after a day out on the snow covered moors.
We'd got a few locally sourced Minted Lamb mini-sausages left in the fridge, left over from a couple of days ago. Perfect for a slightly unusual minty-twist on the regular Toad.
I lobbed these little beauties into a (as I thought) Pyrex dish and whopped them into a hot oven to brown. I then whipped up a creamy batter with the last of a bag of flour and an out-of-date egg. (When do eggs actually expire? We've used them weeks after the sell-by date and they seem pretty OK.)
Sausages browned, I rearranged them in the dish, nice and evenly spaced, and slowly dribbled the batter over the top.
There was a sound like a stun-grenade, followed by the sound of shattered glass ricocheting off walls and pattering onto the tiled floor!
So, maybe the glass dish wasn't one of those "shatter-proof" ones after all.
What did we do? We went to the Ship Inn for Sunday lunch, of course