IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER: I love this time of the year, don’t you? The bleakness and gloom of the countryside has its very own beauty. Barren, twiggy trees, stripped of leaves reach out to us on either side of the road as we drive by, as if to remind us that this is their period of rest, a deciduous tree’s equivalent of taking time out to read the paper and put their feet up on the coffee table .Everywhere is cold and damp, and the dreg ends of fallen, brown leaves lay under trees like a wet army blanket. Deserted fields attract a crop of crows, and hedgerows drip with dew or rain, or the first few spots of snow. Only a few red berries remain to brighten them up a bit, but the birds already have their eye on them. My goodness though, the landscape is breath taking. Grey skies allow a little sunlight to filter through now and again, but let’s not get our hopes up, it won’t last. The weather is supposed to be like this. There is a muted silence in the air, full of expectation, and that muted silence is very special because it gives us cart blanche to be as cosy as we like once inside our own front doors. Lights come on, fires are lit, we turn on the stove, put a low light under a stew or place a few crumpets in our four- slice toasters. The kettle boils away merrily and we make time for a mince pie or a rock cake before dinner. We get ourselves a throw, find our slippers, and maybe switch on ‘Strictly’, or ‘Bargain Hunt’. If we hadn’t been out walking or riding through the lanes in the countryside we wouldn’t be half as appreciative of what lurks inside our own front doors, that familiar sense of being warm and being at home!