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Birstall is an old, old village. It’s not that big, and has been getting a little run down, but in its heyday it was part of the pre-industrial textile trade and consequently home to some of the first Luddites. Now the market place, small though it is, has had a revamp and, today, played host for the first time to an Italian Market.

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Beautiful veggies. Just look at the shine on those tomatoes.

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Yummy pastries. These had chocolate paste in the middle and chocolate chips on top. I split one with my sister-in-law and my one year old nephew opened his mouth very wide for his share.

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Giant loaves of sourdough bread – yum, yum,yum. Perfect with the carrot and cheese soup I made yesterday.

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The olive oils were incredible, and I bought two bottles for Christmas presents.

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We were also treated to a couple of street performers with a wheeled gondola and a stereo blasting out Italian classics. Although possibly the funniest moment was when one of the Italian stallholders was heard asking what they were singing, so obviously these are ‘Italian’ classics a la England rather than your genuine article.

The Italian Market is on again tomorrow, so if you are anywhere near Birstall give it a go. The little cakes looked great, but I’d spent up by the time I got there so I decided not to torture myself by taking a photo. Sorry.

My Christmas countdown got a bit of a break yesterday when my friend, mother of Aragorn, took me and Sparks to Judy Wood along with her springer spaniel, Holly, and the depressed and anxious rescue Great Dane, Ben.

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Judy Wood is beautiful. It’s mainly beech, and the combination of Yorkshire light levels and beech tree trunks always make me feel like I’m in a cathedral. Sparky loved it because there were loads of great smells and sticks.

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Holly loves it because there are many puddles, ditches and surprise water holes, like this pool of stagnant water at the base of a tree trunk. Ben came along to see what she found so exciting.

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Holly never finds anything in the water, but she has an insatiable need to plunge into it in any which way.

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We walked up along the top edge of the wood, where there’s a nice easy path. Then I got my usual urge to have a look at the water, so we slithered and scrambled down the slope. Half way down I remembered that mother of Aragorn is eight months pregnant (and increasingly gripped by Braxton Hicks contractions). I made occasional amends by grabbing at the back of her jacket to try and steady her but she was on a roll, especially when Ben plunged down a near vertical slope to get himself a drink of water.

Ben, you see, is a special case. Holly and Sparky were merrily flying up and down sheer slopes to reach the beck; Holly plunging into the water for a swim whilst Sparky somehow managed to skip across with nothing other than wet toes. However Ben, as a result of his previous lack of care, has a very weak back end. He can make it down a slope, but is not so good getting back up. We had to scan the bank, looking for sufficiently shallow slopes for him to ease his way out of the water, then persuade him to walk along until he could get out.

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Bit like “the kraken rises” I thought. Holly tried to give some encouragement, but Sparky stayed well clear.

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Then he wondered off to do it again. Ben is definitely a sci-fi kind of dog. I think that Great Danes were perhaps the model for those Star Wars AT-AT troop carriers.

Yes, yes, I know it’s still only November, but my countdown is on as last week I spotted that our community Christmas tree had gone up on the corner of the cricket pitch.

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Once I’d spotted this one, I kept seeing them in every village I drove through. I should stop and take some pics of the Thornhill tree every week, to see what state it’s in – the local youth consider the height of entertainment to be pinching the coloured bulbs and smashing them. Last year, by mid-December there were only three lights left, right at the very top where no one could quite reach. At least the tree stayed nice and green, unlike the Lepton tree which shed all its needles the week after it went up.

It’s much colder, although not cold enough to freeze the mud. Occasionally we get a good drying wind for a couple of days, which helps. Most of the time I slither along telling myself that a winter walk is as good as doing aerobics on a wobble board.

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The horses are snugly rugged up out on the tops.

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It’s also cold enough for Sparky to look very peevish every time I stop to look at scenery or take a photo. After 30 seconds she starts to shiver dramatically. I would be more sympathetic if she didn’t act traumatised whenever we call her over to put on her hoodie.

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On the way home I made her stop again when I saw these spectacular holly berries. I must check m’mother’s tree so I can start thinking about outdoor decorations.

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Having a gander – do you get it? Or is that just a Yorkshire-ism? Anyway, I was out with Sparks and Pippa the other day when I spotted this herd of wild Canada (I think) geese feeding and honking quietly in the field alongside the track.

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For once, I had my camera with me, so I fished it out of my pocket and crept up on them as quietly as I could. The honking picked up a little and the flock waddled away from me slightly, but I kept moving.

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At this point Sparky, who had been keeping Pippa firmly in her place and sniffing to see which other dogs had been along recently, spotted what I was moving in on, fixed her eyes on the centre of the flock and started trotting towards them. Every goose head rose, the honking developed a definite note of alarm and, as Sparky moved into a sprint, they waddled rapidly across the field and took off.

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They looked magnificent (if slightly offended) as they swept round and down the valley, honking in outrage as they went. Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t up to the task of capturing that moment. M’husband has offered to buy me a new camera for Christmas, but I don’t think any camera of the size I like to carry would be up to scenic shots of geese and sky.

Brimham Rocks is possibly my sons’ favourite place in the whole world. Big rocks and woods. Unlimited climbing and shouting. Sparky is pretty keen on it too.

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Tucking into pasties, sausage rolls and soup up by the snack bar. The only downside to Brimham is that it is also popular with middle class parents of small children for many miles around, so when you’re queuing for your hot snack you hear many cries of “Alex! Put that down!” and “No, no, daddy carry!” Plus assorted toddler tantrums. However, if you are expecting, it’s a good place to go and work out what names to avoid for your little one.

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I love it because of the trees growing out of rock crevices. I am amazed by them, and can gaze on them with awe for ages.

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Sparky prefers the bits that have fallen off.

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Autumn is not my favourite season, as it reminds me that before too long I’ll be trudging through the damp dark misery of January and February. However it gains some redemption in that a) the colours are good and b) it means Christmas is coming. Which is why I particularly liked the pic I took today; a magnificent fir tree in lovely green, glossy glory, against a backdrop of flaming golden beech trees.

I have been on Amazon this week, buying Christmas presents. Books, jigsaws and DVDs are all excellent gifts, in my opinion. Far superior to toiletries and those gift packs you get in certain shops, where what you’re really paying for is a fancy cardboard outer which makes wrapping much easier. However the award for Christmas insanity must go to Pets at Home, whose Christmas catalogue contained a two page spread of gifts for ‘Puppy’s First Christmas’ – and all in those oh-so-tasteful cream and neutral colours which characterise Mamas and Papas baby range.

I shall keep my eyes peeled for more insane gift suggestions, also for the first house to put up a Christmas tree. I refuse to contemplate bringing in the tree or putting up decorations until the weekend before Christmas Day, however I love to look out for them in other people’s houses. My camera is poised. Await developments.

Thank god the US elections are over. I got so caught up in it yesterday (despite not living in the country and having no vote) that I forgot to get my MSc results.

Thankfully, when the result flashed onto my TV screen this morning I remember that I also had something to collect. The research project earned me 65 out of a possible 90, so I gained my Masters with a merit.

Consequently I’ve been searching for a suitably celebratory picture. I don’t have anything on this computer with an academic theme, but what I did find is this picture from 2005.

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That’s m’sister, on Doris, and one of the things that distracted me from impending results yesterday was going shopping with m’sister for the first time in ages (she’s not a keen shopper). We had a great time, and a good laugh, similar to this day three years ago when we took Doris out. The weather may be wet and gloomy, but I love being out with my sister and I get a big buzzy feeling – a bit like the relieved buzzy feeling I get for having gained the MSc.