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Monday 1 January 2024

Thoughts From A Devonshire Farmhouse - January 2024


Hello and welcome to my new style ‘newsletter’ and thank you to all who have re-subscribed from the previous version. I am a little disgruntled that Mail Chimp has taken Tiny Letter over; Tiny Letter was simple to use, Mail Chimp isn’t, so I have had to devise a different method of staying in touch with you all. I hope this solution works. *fingers crossed*.

(If you have found this page on my blog and haven’t already subscribed to a monthly ‘please remind me’ email,  see below for details.)


I’m not sure what I’m going to write about each month, probably random topics as I think of them, and which I hope you will find interesting, even slightly amusing. My aim is to produce a simple ‘essay’ type post, something like Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America which ran on BBC Radio from 1946 to 2004, making it the longest running speech radio programme hosted by one individual. The present day Radio 4’s A Point Of View is similar, but hosted by different writers each week.

Alistair Cooke
 (public domain)

For those who don’t know, or don’t remember, Alistair Cooke was a much loved British journalist who presented his broadcast in the style of a letter, using a diversity of interesting topics which often rambled off sideways into something completely different but always ended up at the original topic again. The American comedian, David Sedaris has a similar format, although his essays are usually humorous. His subjects might not appeal to all tastes but I find him hilarious. Who would have thought that the topic of the male version of the ‘She Wee’ could be so funny? Try this excerpt of him reading aloud (links will take you to You Tube or Wikipedia.)

So, here is my attempt at something resembling the interesting essay:


Have you ever really stopped to look through, out of, into, any window? Your own house windows? A car, train, bus, aeroplane window? A big window, little window. Square window, round window?

Who remembers the classic UK children’s BBC TV show Play School where the young viewer was  asked, “What window shall we go through today?” This was my first realisation that windows came in all shapes and sizes, and through them, all sorts of things could be discovered. I must have been about four.

We take windows for granted. In the past, windows were mere slits or crude holes in a wall, covered by an animal skin or by sheets of oiled parchment. Neither did much to keep out the cold or let light in. The Tudors had those diamond-paned windows, pretty but also chilly. By Dickens’ time there was the ‘bubble-glass’ as in the windows of the Old Curiosity Shop. I admit I have not read the book, I find Dickens a tad laborious. Someone on the radio (I forget who) recently mentioned A Tale Of Two Cities: “Great opening, super ending but skip the bit in the middle.” (Not exactly a quote, but you get the gist.)

During King William III’s reign in 1696, the Window Tax was introduced into England and Wales, and into Scotland in 1748. It wasn’t repealed until 1851. From 1798 until 1926 the same tax was brought into France, a fact I didn’t know until researching for this post. The tax was one of those silly ideas that politicians occasionally dream up, the aim being to target the rich, but of course it hit the poor hard. The wealthy merely bricked a few windows up and came to no great harm. The poor suffered from health issues due to lack of light and fresh air.


Portland Street, Southampton, UK
(Wikipedia, public domain)

Eyes are said to be the Windows to the Soul. With my impaired sight, caused by Glaucoma, my vision is permanently wonky and misted as if a fog is masking the view. At least I do have sight, and one ‘window’, although off-kilter, is not entirely bricked up.

I’ve given up trying to keep the windows of my old farmhouse clean, they are somewhat rain-spattered. The front kitchen window is mud streaked. Mab, my black-and-white cat lives upstairs and will only come into the house via the always open bathroom window, accessed via the roof of the porch. She uses the adjacent kitchen window as a springboard.

Even in Walthamstow, where we used to live, Mab preferred to use a window. She would appear at my study window and meow, knowing I’d give way and let her in. Why do we pander to cats, I wonder?

at my study window back in Walthamstow

Sybil, the white-and-black cat lives downstairs. They hate each other. Fortunately, because of their living arrangements, they rarely meet so we don’t have fisticuffs (pawsicuffs? Clawsicuffs?) The two cats remind me of the old ladies in Cider With Rosie. Granny Upstairs and Granny Downstairs  - and never the twain shall meet.

The porch roof in the background with the bathroom window to the left

There was no problem with the two cats before we moved here in January 2013. Both lived together quite amicably in Walthamstow, London, but the impasse occurred after Sybil went missing for several months. We searched for her, then reluctantly had to accept that perhaps she had met with some fatal outcome. Turned out that she’d decided to  live with some neighbours. Changing her mind when they moved away, she came home. Hence the squabbling. I’ve no idea how they came to the agreement of Upstairs/Downstairs. Perhaps the dogs mediated?

I heard recently of a college study into cat behaviour. (One of those studies that makes you think, ‘Have they not got anything better to research?’) The conclusion of the study was that cats enjoy retrieving things as much as dogs do. The difference between cats and dogs? Dogs must be trained, cats do it themselves. IF they want to.

Like I said, who thinks up these things?

The only problem with the muddy pawed kitchen window is when the sun is shining. (Recently, not that often,) for the glass is intricately patterned with paw prints. You don’t notice them when it’s raining. Sunshine is lovely, but it does rather highlight dirty windows.

I will add that the bathroom window isn’t exactly open. It is, but we have a false window fitted on the inside which has a cat-sized hole at the bottom for Mab to use. The only difficulty is if I forget to alert a visitor using the bathroom and a cat suddenly appears from nowhere. Surprised heart attacks have only just about been avoided.

I’ve noticed that both cats avoid the geese. I guess they think that Devon has much bigger birds than the sparrows in a London garden which is the size of a postage stamp.

The geese

The windows of our house, built in 1769, puzzled an architect friend. The lintels above each window are all different, which is, apparently, unusual. “It’s almost as if,” he said, “that this was a show house, you know – you can have this, this, or this style.”


January 2013
not very clear but the downstairs lintels are all different

Windows for the PC is an entirely different subject and I’d hazard a guess that none of us want to go down that route. Why does it always update unannounced  and gum everything up when you’re in the middle of something vitally important? And why, just when you’ve finally got to grips with Windows x it then changes to Windows x2? At least that irritating Clippy thing eventually vanished, so there's some compensation.

From my bedroom windows I can look southward and watch the hens scuttling about in the front garden when they are let out of a morning. They are Pekins, with fluffy feathers and look all the world like little Victorian ladies wearing feathery bloomers. When they run they seem to hitch up their bustles and waddle away. The roosters resemble the way Charlie Chaplin used to walk. All they need is a bowler hat and a cane to twirl. 

Pekin Ladies

Through the other window I look north over ‘my’ part of the Taw Valley, or watch the Tarka Line train trundle along a huge curve in the track. A pity I can’t quite see the River Taw – when I can it’s after a lot of rain and the river isn’t where it is supposed to be. It’s because of this stretch of the river that I called my self-publish venture Taw River Press. 

Taw Valley View

With my wonky sight I can no longer see the stars clearly, but I do enjoy lying in bed at night and gazing out at Orion bright behind the Field Maple and the Old Oak  where the Tawny Owls roost. The full moon shines in, although there have been some nights when I’ve woken up and thought an outside light had been left on. I’ll not fall for it again, sneaking around in the dark in PJs and slippers to investigate is no joke.

Windows caused much consternation when my mother was alive back in 2008. She was highly irate; someone had entered her flat without permission and altered her windows. “I don’t want my windows changed. I want them put back as they were. How dare someone do this without my permission!”

What on earth was she talking about?

It turned out that a curtain hadn’t been pulled back, which gave the appearance of an altered window, although this was minor compared to the accompanying issue of what turned out to be a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) which can affect mental thinking if untreated, similar to dementia symptoms.

I only discovered this, though, when watching an episode of Doc Martin on TV, where the Doc (played by the wonderful Martin Clunes) diagnosed the condition in an elderly lady. This, combined with the results from the GP, explained everything. I had the opportunity to thank Mr Clunes for this eye-opening insight when I bumped into him (literally) at the All England Showjumping Course, Hickstead one summer. He’s a lovely gentleman. Very tall.

Martin Clunes
'Doc Martin'

(public domain Wikipedia)

Windows. Perhaps we ought to take a moment occasionally to fully appreciate them? I have a theory though.

If you only clean them on the inside, not the outside, you can see out but others cannot see in.

OK, I accept that the theory might be flawed...


“I live in a very small house, but my windows look out onto a very large world.” Confucius

“Despite having seen a fair amount of the world I still enjoy travelling – I just have an insatiable curiosity and love looking out of a window.” Michael Palin

“As authors evolve and try to chase the precedents that have shaped their work, it sometimes becomes a matter of identifying the shadowy figure in the back row of the mental photograph, or of grabbing at the tail of a memory that’s slipping out of the window into thin air.” Virginia Wolff

 “The advice I was given was to make sure to look out of the window occasionally. It’s something no astronaut ever gets tired of doing.” Helen Sharman


lege feliciter
(read happily)

Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse 
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  1. Enjoyed this post immensely Helen - especially as the sun (for once) is shining through my windows and illuminating all the grime left by three weeks of nonstop rain!

    1. Thanks Annie - dull day here, trying to rain, not that I can see much through my (ahem) not very clean windows!

  2. This has been a lovely read, early in the morning because a raucous large group of corellas woke me up.
    I tried seeing them from the window, but they were not on the ground, so I think the tree was where their activity was.
    Looking into houses at night when the curtains are not drawn and a room is lit up can bring surprises to a walk.

    1. Oh I agree about looking into a house at night through an uncurtained window - it all looks so cosy, warm, welcoming and loving (especially at the moment when all the sparkly Christmas decorations are still up!)

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed your first 'newspost'. Your sense of humour never fails to give me chuckles.


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