Thursday, 24 October 2013

A response to Russell Brand who lit the touchpaper of revolution last night



What Russell Brand said on Newsnight last night has struck such a chord with people.  (as has his related piece in the New Statesman) So it made me wonder how we can make the change, make politics and politicians focus on the things that matter – people, humanity, the planet, and turn them from their increasingly venal practices. 

Those who are disenfranchised and disenchanted are from a vast political spectrum from UKIP to communism and everything in between and beyond.  There is no single new political party that could be formed that could deliver the revolution that’s required, the complete reworking of our dead in the water system.  So I offer up this alternative for our collective consideration.

We create a people’s manifesto for government.  We set a number of clear expectations of what we want from our government that they are duty bound to progress and achieve.  Call them rules, call them objectives, call them outputs, call them outcomes, call them goals, call them must haves, call them targets, call them no-brainers, call them whatever current Babel talk fits the bill, but make them the only imperatives, and the things that we measure government against.

I have hoiked these ten rules for politicians out of my head as starting points and they need
much debate and refinement, but I offer them, notwithstanding, as something to chew on. Cry against them as naive and socialist, but naivety may be what’s required here.

  1. Ensure that the most vulnerable in society and those teetering towards vulnerability are the first priority for support and guidance.  We are working towards being a place where vulnerability is minimised and opportunity is equalised.  This is a FIRST PRIORITY and the needs of other groups become irrelevant in the face of vulnerability. The others can stand up only too well for themselves.
  2. Delete choice from the menu: we do not want choice in education or health – we want the best possible health and education for all. Make our National Health Service and our Education system the best in the world.
  3. No-one should be homeless or be bringing up a family in a B&B.  Homes are needed for everyone.  This might mean that no-one has more than one home within the UK.
  4. Profits should not be made out of natural resources that the whole world needs.  Government should be running the utilities and transport systems with all profit ploughed back into those systems to make them the best they can be.
  5. Create a moral touchstone within political decision making.  If you can honestly say and prove wherever possible that the decisions you are making will improve the lot of society, then that is probably a good decision.  If you have whispering doubts, say so, discuss them and make better decisions.  There is no longer a party line, there is just government for the betterment of society (yes, it does exist).   This moral touchstone is critical in making decisions that impact on the environment.  You can not make decisions that will enrich the pockets of the few whilst ruining the lives of many, now or in the future.  We must hand over a planet that is healthier than it is currently to future generations – making things better, not worse is your mantra.
  6. Regarding the environment you must make decisions that are scientifically, not politically based.  Do not ignore the advice of world experts on climate change, Bovine TB, fracking (etc etc etc), unless you are able to show that their advice is based on inadequate evidence.  Do not be bullied by lobbyists – we are not interested that your future consultancy career depends on them, your political career depends on US.
  7. Whenever corporate bodies pit themselves against individuals, believe in the David and Goliath principle and do not be swayed by men in suits, not until they also abide by a people’s manifesto (and even then, be wary).
  8. Remove religious considerations absolutely from decision making – we ARE a secular society and no group should be able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious belief.  We are all equal.  No religious schooling (people can do that in after school hours if they wish), no right to say women can’t be bishops or that being gay means you can’t have absolute equal rights. 
  9. Stop using others as reasons for failures in society.  Single mothers, Moslems, immigrants, women, homosexuals, it goes on and blooming on.  Prejudice under the aegis of a honeyed rational voice is the lazy way to hide failures in other parts of the system.  Do not go down this route, it is a dead end and leads to horribly frightening consequences.
  10. Become a politician to make the world a better place.  Retire from politics knowing that you did make the world a better place.  You will have our thanks.
I'm tempted, in complete contrast to Brand, to make a rule for the rest of us... perhaps voting should be compulsory...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Back to the land

I've been ruminating.  Spending too much time with the cows, obviously.  But it's not possible, so I find, to spend too much time with the cows.  And that's the point, or at least I'm getting closer to it.  The point is, why do subsistence farmers spend their whole lives trying to get away from the land and acquire a modern lifestyle (you know, things like easily accessible and more varied food, water on tap, a pair of trousers, education), whilst those who achieve success in their modern lifestyle yearn to get back to the land?
Working every hour of daylight to reap a harvest barely adequate for your own needs, literally breaking your back to support a family, it's not surprising that subsistence farmers crave a less knife-edge existence.  But why do so many people have such a strong desire to get back to the land?  Is there some sort of as yet unfound rural gene?  A farmyard chromosome?  Is modern, urban life ultimately so unsatisfying that we require, after all, a simpler life dictated by seasons and the inevitable turn of sowing and harvest?
The stories of celebrities turning farmer are endless: Jeremy Clarkson, Rosie Boycott, Alex James, Jody Scheckter and Janet Street Porter, to name a few, and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Adam Henson and Jimmy Docherty are household names. And the only difference between most celebrities and the rest of us is that they have the money to do what the rest of us would like to do, only more quickly, on a more lavish scale, and certainly with more help (aka employees).
So, is the meaning of life only to be found in growing your own herbs,  rearing your own pigs and plucking an egg fresh from the nest?  Have we all been watching too many episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford?  Are we succumbing to some ghastly social engineering of bucolic brainwashery?  I don't think so. 
There are times in life when your gut twists with worry and working at a computer or hanging on the phone to yet another call centre worker is no balm.  But walking the land, breathing the air, handling livestock, producing your own food, working outside til dark, having something beautiful to wake up to in the morning, these are things that genuinely do ease stress.  It's not about brain (city) versus brawn (country) either.  I have found nothing as intellectually challenging as farming; there is always more to learn, more to observe, more to discuss.  And as for brawn, I'd rather handle 150 sheep than fill 150 boxes for an office move, any day.

Of course, living in this beautiful place, running a farm, I enjoy that happiness that only the land and nature seems able to give, and have been lucky enough to realise it.  Running our smallholding courses, we meet hundreds of people who are also convinced that an office based life is basically drudgery, no matter how well paid, and that wielding a shovel or a sledge hammer is truly satisfying if that shovel is being used for some smallholder or farmer task; a pickaxe used for mending roads on the other hand is just hard labour.
Can I pinpoint why we want to be on the land, want to farm?   Well, discussing it with our course participants and friends, there would appear to be some fundamental truths, not all of which would be shared by some large scale commercial farmers, many of whom seem to never eat their own produce. But that aside, what are those drivers?
  • Having an absolute sense of the seasons soothes in that it creates routine as well as change -  there are summer tasks such as haymaking that happen every year, but then you shift to autumn and your chores alter, keeping your interest, calling up different skills.  I suspect people thrive on this mix of routine and variety.
  • Being in control of your own life and not worrying about starving as a consequence - in tougher times I might not be able to buy a pair of shoes but there's always meat in the freezer and veg and fruit in the garden.
  • Knowing exactly where your food has come from, what it contains and what you are putting in your family's stomach - and rearing and growing what you like to eat best; asparagus and steak, chillis and cheese, petits pois and omelettes.
  • The absence of concrete, and therefore of the manufactured.  When I'm in the city it feels as if I'd need to dig down for yards to find earth. At home there is soil, and the grass grows up to the front door.  I know that a farm is a completely man-made environment, but if farmed sympathetically it develops with, not against nature.  Lay a hedge as a livestock barrier and it regrows, sprouting green a few months later.
  • The annual round of birth - lambing, hatching, calving, farrowing.  It might be destined as meat but there is real joy in being responsible for healthy births. And death too; on a livestock farm it is inevitable and with that comes, perhaps, a more relaxed acceptance of your own mortality.
  • An extraordinary sense of achievement, not just once in a blue moon, but regularly.  Every egg you collect, every lamb or calf that grows on well because of good husbandry, the hedges you lay, the wildlife that thrives, the trees planted, the orchard that fruits.  So much more rewarding than a "well done" from a boss. So necessary to a worthwhile existence.
  • And you get that sense of achievement because it's challenging.  It's not easy, doing many of the jobs on a farm.  You need a number of skills and a can do attitude.  It doesn't pay to be smug (is it ever?) because there will be something even more challenging just around the corner that could well trip you up, financially or literally. 
  • Time.  Yes, we can work very long days, but if it's a nice day we can take the dogs to the beach or up on the moors.  We can stop and chat with friends not for two minutes but for an hour, if nothing is too pressing.  The to do lists are crazy, but if it's monsooning it down, you go and do something in a shed or the house. 
So, do I think that everyone wants to live on the land, given the chance? No.  Do I think that everyone wants to get soil under their fingernails? Definitely not.  Do I think living in the countryside is better than living in a city? For me, definitely yes, but for you, possibly not.  But do I believe that there is something in most of us that is incomplete without nature? Oh yes - look at the popularity of gardening, parks, nature programmes and rambling.  And do I think that the next logical step for those who can make it happen is a patch of land they can work and rear things on?  Yes, yes yes.  And that's why I can sit in a field with my cows for the longest time, wondering about their herd instincts, their communication, their hierarchies, their lives.  I have so much to learn. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Not another resolution

When the ground has turned into Willy Wonka's chocolate river but I continue to refuse my Oompaloompa stripes and add to the poaching, rather more time is spent indoors than desirable. But it feels like a fitting beginning to a new year, taking it a bit easier for a change. The bringing in of the new cows to winter accommodation means the morning chores take a couple of hours, a significant increase, mostly spent dealing with muck of one variety or another. So I still get that morning blast of fresh air and exercise, but I'm currently hibernating from then til 4.30pm when it's time to do all the evening livestock stuff. Most of my arts clients aren't back in the swing yet either, so I actually have some time on my hands.
It's a wonderful feeling, after what has been the most extraordinarily busy year. And what's particularly pleasing is that it's quite clear that the plans for the past few years have been mostly achieved and that 2012 needs to be a year of polishing what's already there rather than creating new baubles. I don't say it will be a year of consolidation (I truly hate that word; to me it means stasis, can't be botheredness, a lack of imagination and joy), but I hope it will be a year of pulling together all the things set up in recent times and making them work just that bit better.
So there is no overly exuberant wish list for 2012, no ridiculously ambitious plans to shove three years' work into one. If I'm part of creating any new baubles they'll fundamentally be someone else's - supporting a smallholding dream here, a sustainable arts organisation there.
But then again...

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Cows, cows, cows, cows, cows, cows, cows, cows...

You get the idea? We have COWS! The glorious, wondrous, huge, beautiful, desirable, brilliant, scarily large, extraordinary tasting Devon Red Rubies. A small pedigree suckler herd, which we hope to add to before the winter kicks in.
There's matriarch Willow with her new bull calf; Bollie, a year younger also with her calf; and Peaceful, a heifer with some growing to do before she has a calf of her own.
For now, Bollie and Willow leave Peaceful in charge of their calves when they want to drink, graze, hang out. And then the old gals nudge her OFF the calves and tell her where to go. It's pretty much in line with bullying the au pair and still knowing she'll not pack her bags and leave you in the lurch.
We bought them at auction at a very local farm, from an acquaintance who needed to get rid of her herd, so they came here with their auction stickers slapped high on their rumps. Bollie still has hers and looks like she's wearing a new summer outfit with the labels still attached.
The auction was not that nailbiting; after having been to several sales recently and either not bid because of the quality of the stock or bid and been trampled over by gobsmackingly high prices, this was a pretty calm affair. We liked what we saw, a more knowledgeable pal gave a helpful opinion, we set a price and that was it. Out of more than a hundred people present I think only half a dozen were bidding, and none were prepared to get carried away. Lucky auction number 99 took me through to winning the 3 lots we wanted. And then the nailbiting started.
Everybody has said to me that after sheep, cows would be a walk in the park, but blimey, I can turn over a sheep and take physical control. Those cows must weigh nearly a tonne. And they are naturally protective of their young. And we've never done this before. And and and.
But we have great big pigs, and that's fine. And we'll take it slowly, and today Peaceful came up to me to be patted, and Willow looked thoughtful about the prospect. Bollie, with her first calf, is entirely suspicious, looking strict and superior, keeping her distance. Winning her over will take time.
This afternoon I watched her calf lick at an itch, but Bollie couldn't resist and rasped her tongue all over her calf, showing him how it was done. I also watched the cows engage in synchronised grazing, shitting, calf suckling, pissing and drinking. It was a well directed opera of activity with all basics covered.
This is the start of a big adventure. It reminds me how the people on our smallholding courses feel when they take their first tentative livestock steps. It reminds me how much we've learned over decades of keeping sheep, pigs, poultry and more. It reminds me how little I know about cattle, no matter what I've read, no matter what I've heard. Ultimately you have to do something to know something. And now, I'm doing it.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Child size cellos

It's been a long while since I blogged, but tonight I had the urge to tell you about my Pilgrim geese.
They are a rather rare breed of sex-linked geese, with the ganders white and the females grey. When they hatch the fluff on the females is olive greeny grey, the males yellow with some paler grey on their backs. You can look for hours at a collection of baby ganders wondering if perhaps there is one, please just one, female in the group.
Although nearly all the eggs my trio produced were fertile, the successful hatching rate of the Pilgrim is low - no wonder they're a rare breed - and I managed to hatch just ten through artificial incubation, although the batch I left under the goose came to naught.
There are still four fluffy goslings in a cage run, keeping them safe from predators - cats, dogs, foxes, buzzards and the like, but after a week of letting the adults roam round the run with the older goslings, they are now happily integrated as a flock.
They belong in the orchard really, but I can't bear to put them up there as they are a quiet breed and may not make enough noise to alert me to a possible fox presence. To be honest, an inevitable fox presence - we are overrun with them on the farm and at least one new litter of cubs was born this year. So they are living in the farmyard, with a spacious stable to house them at night, and during the day I can stand and stare as they stretch out a leg, a wing, and do their flamingo impersonations. Or dabble in puddles, or tease the dogs, or carry bits of stray wood around, or nibble at the mudguards of my car, or the headlamps of visitor's cars, or sift the corn, or sit and stand and sit again.
The six goslings in the flock are like child sized cellos - identical in every way to their parents, just slightly miniaturised. They are long past the gawky fluffy stage, the strangely ugly time that every goose goes through, a sort of adolescent, pubescent gangly phase when only a mother could love them.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Most precious objects 2

Who knows how long this will go on for or when I run out of ideas, but let's take a punt and do a few posts on the things I have that are for whatever daft reason, rather precious.
Remember Michael Landy, the artist who put all his possessions into a crusher? I'm not into things for things' sake but some stuff is so useful, or adorable, or part of one that I'd find it pretty impossible to let everything go like that. I'm not a hoarder, I do chuck stuff, but there are certain things I keep for far longer than would appear to be average.
I wear shoes that are ten, twenty, thirty years old (or more), and won't buy new ones very often as they don't speak to me. And shoes should, shouldn't they?
The photo is of my Mary Poppins boots. I don't know how old they are, but they were my Mother's, and recollection would suggest they are at least as old as I am. So that's more than 47 years old then. I've been wearing them since I was a student, so they've been in my wardrobe for nearly thirty years.
They are beyond shabby but I wear them every autumn. They make me feel good. They make me feel elegant, which is bizarre considering how wrecked and utilitarian they are and how inelegant I feel 99% of the time. A farm is not the place for elegance. I love the chunky kitten heel, the strange shape of the cuff, the astrakhan trim, the arrow shaped strap with its poppable popper, the round toes, the wool lining. If I knew a shoemaker who could make me a duplicate pair I'd get some made.
But who's to say what it is that weaves magic into our mood, our temperament? I'd feel a complete pillock in towering Louboutin's and dainty French fancies of the shoe variety would be as appropriate to my life as Kirsty Allsopp's massive ring. I admire these from a distance, chortling at the prospect of me mucking out a pig pen in four inch heels with scarlet soles and a sapphire so large that the full host of angels could simultaneously dance the tango on it with room to spare.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Most precious objects

I was at a conference this week, in the role of report writer, listening to some of the most extraordinary people working in performing arts training in the world today. Everywhere my ears settled there was wisdom, passion, and talent beyond measure. It is to these people that we owe our most loved theatre, films, television programmes, radio plays, ballet, contemporary dance, human circus skills and more. These are the people who train the most outstanding talent, who bring the skill, technique and understanding that shapes our cultural world. I won't even start to share what they have to say about The X Factor and similar instant fame nonsense.
There was some reflection on the brilliant A History of the World in 100 objects and that made me think about my personal precious things. No doubt because I was so heavily immersed in things theatrical that day, the first thing that came to mind was my copy of Antony Sher's Year of the King.
As an Eng Lit graduate I was familiar with and in awe of Shakespeare (of course), but not particularly enamoured. I craved new writing, contemporary work, novelty. What did I know? And then I went to see Antony Sher in Richard III and stumbled out of the theatre exhausted and mesmerised. Although I had seen a lot of theatre, there were only a very few performances that stunned me (Warren Mitchell at the National in Death of a Salesman was one of these). I didn't know that Shakespeare could be like that. I didn't know that ACTING could be like that. The performance swung round and round in my mind for months. Then Sher wrote a book about the experience and I devoured every word, reliving that night again and again.
Shortly after, I started working at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, feeding the actors, the stage crew, the wardrobe department, the musicians, the staff, and there was Antony Sher, now playing Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. His dresser, the terrifying Black Mac, saw me with my copy of the book and asked me if I'd like Antony to sign it. Oh yes please!
A few days later Black Mac, also known as Black Mac the Bastard, and vividly sketched in the book complete with Mike TV glasses, handed it back, sort of nonchalantly. The frontispiece was signed "To Debbie, with thanks and fondest wishes, Antony Sher, Stratford 25/6/87". Precious indeed, but that wasn't all. Black Mac had gone to every member of staff and cast who had been recorded in the book either by name or by sketch (often both) and who were in Stratford for the current season. As I flicked through I realised I held in my hand a theatrical gem: Brian Cox, Bill Alexander, John Carlisle, Black Mac the Bastard himself, and more.
Sometimes you feel entirely in the moment, of the moment. Seeing the play, reading the book and then having my book returned to me so joyfully enhanced were three of those times.
As light hearted contrast, I offer my micro anecdote of cooking for Vanessa Redgrave. My hopelessly inadequate "Vanessa, your cauliflower cheese is ready", haunts me still.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

A month on

It's been a month since we buried Mopsa in the orchard and I can't believe how much I miss her.
I'm a pretty hard-hearted character, unsentimental on the whole, dealing plainly with life and death as you do, on a farm.
But oh, she's left such a huge hole in my heart.
Not being nose-nudged by her as I slump in the armchair, hand dangling pointlessly for her wet touch leaves my palm wanting. The threshing barn, her "big kennel" has a yawning doorway unfilled by her hearthrug body, no head propped up on the stone step to watch me move across the yard as I carry out my chores.
Everything reminds me of her, because she did everything with me, or so it feels now. She walked with me, sat with me, snoozed with me, ate with me, loved, I'm sure, with me.
Last night in the pub, steak fat trimmings on the plate, I no longer needed to wrap them into a napkin to bring home her favourite treat. In a moment my mood shifted as I realised, again.
And where are those wonderful wriggling chestnut eyebrows, communicating this and that? And the determined pat of the paw on my leg to say that, no, I hadn't yet hugged her enough and more was required? And there's just too much space on the carpet; there should be two large dogs to step round, not one. I miss the particular quality of her fur, softer and silkier than Fenn's rough coat. I miss the shape of her head, the feel of her ears, even the cheesiness of her breath and the uneven crook of her teeth that meant she was not to be bred from.
Yesterday I collected windfall apples from the orchard, just a few of the thousand still left after mammoth juicing and cider making sessions. And there is the place where she is buried, unmarked as yet, but Fenn lying down directly on top, as she unfailingly has these past weeks - two acres of orchard to choose from and somehow she knows. I talked to the pair of them, Mopsa so very much there and not there. I see her moving through the grass, led by the scent of fox and sheep, making her own trail through the trees, always independent, whilst Fenn walks in my tracks. I take them up to Mopsa's Meadow, named for her five years past and we sniff the breeze, the three of us.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Deaths in the family

September will never be the same again. Just as my oldest friend's birthday has been forever besmirched by 9/11, September is now also the month that my Mother died, and that I lost my beautiful companion, Mopsa. There in the photo are the two of them together, ten years ago; Mopsa a young and pint sized puppy, and my Mother, the most youthful of 82 year olds.
Seven years after a stroke, and for at least three of those having had enough of life, my Mother finally got her wish on the 2nd of this month. At 92, her life had been long and in many ways troubled. Naturally vivacious and social, she had a bitterness and anger that soured a number of long term relationships, but she also inspired great admiration; she was never boring, always lively, impeccably elegant, the best company.
The bitterness is easily and devastatingly accounted for. A Polish Jew, she and her elder brother were sent by their father from Poland to England to stay with his brother, just before the outbreak of WW2. Her parents and much loved younger brother, for whom I'm named, were to join them later. They never made it. Murdered by the Nazis, memories and a very few photographs were all that remained. And an anger and hate that weaved through her life for more than seventy years. Holocaust was never an historical or distant word in our family; it was the reality, an evil that had robbed us directly, palpably. Just one step removed, I can still hardly imagine what it was really like for my Mother, although the anger that was so deep in her, has now, via the blood of the womb, transmuted into another, less understandable, innate fury in me.
My Mother had requested the sparest of funerals, wanting no fuss at all, and certainly no partying. She asked that my sister, her neighbour of more than 30 years, my husband and myself were the only mourners. Accompanied by Rabbi Melinda, Elgar and Bach, we said our goodbyes. The overwhelming emotion was of guiltless relief; she had had enough.

And then, there's Mopsa. Mopsa has been part of my life for more than ten years, an almost constant companion, and my love for her is simple and real. It will always be so. As soon as I started working from home, I was planning to have my first dog, and I learned all things canine from her. She taught me the wonder of holding her head in my lap as we sat on the floor together, sharing secret looks like naughty twins; the terror of kennel cough caught at puppy classes as her brown eyes looked at me fearfully and trustingly; the excitement of walking through woods and fields as new scents drew us on; the feeling of never being alone when she was with me. Oh, and so, so much more. So big, so beautiful, so warm, so individual, so loving and gentle mouthed. I can never thank her enough for the wonderful pleasures she has given me; everything has been so much more fun with Mopsa there to share it. A walk on the beach, sitting in heaps of drying hay, evenings at home (so very many evenings) when I could drop my hand and stroke her lovely head. I'd tell her she was a beautiful dog every day, because she was, and to have that much beauty in your home and your life is a privilege.
Mopsa did not have a troubled life; she had a perfect doggy existence with people to love, her half sister for company and a farm to play in. She had cats to box and cox with, all kinds of livestock to stalk and eye up, people to lean on and pat with her paw, hands to thrust her nose into and lots to interest her.
But a Bernese does not have a long life, and Mopsa was nearly ten and a half, a veteran. The last few months have been quiet ones for her; no long walks, but days sitting in the farmyard watching all our comings and goings, a few strolls through the orchard, one last trip to the river, and another to the beach. And suddenly a more fastidious appetite, deciding that only steak or roast chicken would do, where absolutely anything was fine before. I was happy to indulge her. And then, two weeks ago, she could no longer walk and I knew that we wouldn't have her with us much longer. We carried her about, came running if she called, spent hours sitting with her. I had to work in London for a few days and phone calls home were decreed as Mopsa-free conversations; I knew I wouldn't be able to work if there was bad news. I drove back from the station late in the evening and there in the doorway, lit up and tail wagging, was Mopsa, welcoming me home. I finally let out the breath I'd been holding in for hours, days.
I wanted, so much, for her to go quietly and in her own time, but yesterday I knew that she had finally had enough, so the vet came, and in my office, where we'd spent so much of our time together, I held her head and crooned to her, telling her how wonderful she was, as she gave her last breath, puffed into my hands for safekeeping.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Rampant Roger and pal Romeo

Today has been one of those days. Lots of things going right, lots of things going wrong.
Last night, Roger, he of the escapee tendencies, decided even earlier than before that it was high time he be let at the girls. He was thrumming with testosterone, even if the ewes weren't yet in heat. The musty pong at the gate of his field was overpowering and I could smell potent ram on my hands even though I hadn't touched him.
So I wasn't entirely surprised when I opened the front door for some long forgotten reason or other and blinked as Roger tippytoed in excitement across the yard. How the hell had he got out of his field? The gate is practically deer-proof height. He headed for his old ram's paddock, now inhabited by Dahlia and her piglets and stamped in confusion as the sow grunted deeply and then ignored him.
We got him back into his field and he appeared to settle, but by morning he'd gone and joined the mule ewes a couple of fields away, having grown wings or something overnight. Pegasus should have been his name by rights. Four of us herded the flock together, he was caught and stuffed into a trailer and taken up to the barn. There we shoved him into a pen and using hurdles vertically, created a holding area more like a lion's circus cage than anything else. With the pig's weigh crate acting as ballast he was imprisoned for sure.
Behind the barn in the small paddock used to quarantine incoming livestock, is Romeo, the dashing new black Torwen ram, bought from the National Ram Sales in Builth Wells on Monday. Quarantined, and also kept separate from Roger to make sure they don't injure or kill each other just before they become essential to our livelihood. Sorted, I thought.
A couple of hours later I can hear banging from the barn; one or other of the rams is belting seven bells out of the metal gate, so I go up to check. There in the paddock is Roger, where once was Romeo. And safe inside the barn in the lion's cage is Romeo, where once was Roger. Either they have swapped skins or magic has been at work.
I'm stunned. It takes me five minutes to work out what has happened. Roger had pushed the weigh crate and hurdles til he could get at the gate, buggered the tin and skipped through what is a pretty small gap for a rather large ram. And then the new black chap had done the reverse. I go and get the OH to discuss what to do next, and when we get back up there, both rams are now outside munching grass. Next thing, Roger sees us, bounds towards us through the hole in the gate and goes back into the lion’s cage. We strengthen the pen, fix the gate, and they are, for the moment, back in the right places.
In the morning we'll pen them in tightly together whilst we bring in all the ewes and decide who's staying for breeding and what's off to market, but I really don't want to put the rams with the ewes for another three weeks or we'll be lambing in bloody February! No spring grass, freezing nights, snow more than likely and all together a crappy idea. If Roger's still in his lion's cage in the morning I'll try and take a snap, but for now here's a not very good image of what is a rather handsome Romeo.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The dream bread oven

SO exciting. After years of wishing and thinking and reading, it was determined that this week would be the week to build a clay bread oven. No fancy schmancy purchased stuff, but all built from stone and clay from the farm. It's not finished quite yet - the door needs to be carved, the sand former scooped out and the lime render clarted on, but the majority of the work has been done. It's a huge clay tit. It's monstrous. It's wonderful. And I must be patient and let it dry out before we fire it up and stick in some pizza and bread and cake and lamb and.....
I had absolutely nothing to do with this, by the way, other than offering my gleeful mud-pie lovin' husband many positive comments and cups of tea. I've been busy preserving stuff from the veg patch to take us through the winter, not that you'd notice any diminution of the produce in the garden.
I will try to get rid of that irritating advert across the slideshow - bear with me - bear, not bare...


Sunday, 22 August 2010

Harvest

It's started. That madness that eventually follows the scouring of seed catalogues and the planning of the hedging rotation. The fruits and veg, both wild and domestic are indefatigably, exhaustingly, here.
Today I have pulled and laid out to dry all the onions and shallots - enough for a great wodge of the year if drying advances more quickly than rotting. I have beheaded the globe artichokes and produced jars of artichoke bums in olive oil. I've picked cultivated raspberries and tripwire hazard blackberries and the first crumble of the season is in the oven right now. The runner bean chutney glints at me, the colour of tawny cat's eyes. Yellow courgette soup is in the fridge. Field mushrooms sit fatly in a pudding basin in the scullery for tomorrow's breakfast.
It's the start of the wild-eyed frenzy of grey rabbit activity. The hording and stockpiling, the harvesting and salting, the preserving and sweetening. Puddings are back on the menu. Vinegars are to be made. The orchard has to be checked regularly to make sure the damsons, gages and plums are caught before wasps, squirrels and birds ravage the lot. The apple crop is going to be huge, but the bottles and the crushing and pressing gear are all waiting.
We turn from bemoaning the empty shelves to wondering how we can find room for just one more jar. I don't wander anywhere without trug, colander or plastic bag. And the ducks I've been rearing for meat have started to reach the age of freezerhood.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Aga paranoia

I have delved the depths of irrelevant middle class angst. I rant against The Big Society (doublespeak for amateurs doing the work of professionals, mostly badly, in the spare minute between the job, the volunteering, the living, the sleeping and the kid's ballet classes), but in my more selfish moments I am in a rant with self.
It's to do with comfort zones, laziness, habits dying hard, practicalities and complete disinterest in shiny and pristine if it means work that I find unnecessary. I've talked about my sluttish ways before. But now, there is a new daily challenge. We have had the top and lids of the Aga re-enamelled.
It looks shiny and new and virtuous and strokeable. But before it was hammered and friendly and easy to live with. Now I can't drop a splotch of tomato sauce or dribble of chicken juices without heading for a j-cloth. Now, I can't balance casseroles, pots or pans on the lids without fishing out a tea towel (is it clean?) to soften the blow. Before I was quick and efficient, sliding heavy pans full of roasted summat out of the oven and onto the top. No jiggery pokery required to lift the joint onto a plate keeping nice and hot before shoving the pan straight onto the hot plate to conjure up gravy. Now I am in a ferment of confusion and fear. I MUST NOT SCRATCH THE NEW TOP. I must keep cork mats and tea towels close at hand. I must learn how to hold heavy pans full of hot things in one hand whilst the other fannies about finding the equivalent of a coaster for big things. And I know I'm going to fail this test of competence.
My mind is on the cooking, not the cleaning, on the ingredients and the process, not the niceties of housekeeping. I HATE housekeeping. I will never fret on my deathbed, no sudden conversion to cleanliness and godliness, wishing I'd been a religious scrubber rather than an atheist slut.
But that altar of the kitchen that was so welcoming and full of promise has turned on me. It has expectations. It has needs. It has had money spent on it. And now I'm not as in love as once I was.
It took seventy years to get to the state where we thought it deserved a facelift. And now the bloody thing will see me out and will shinily reflect my ageing face as it beams back, younger than ever.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Tumble weed, bindweed

I can't keep up with myself. My desk has 8 heaps all requiring attention, which they are getting, it's true, but other things are falling by the wayside.
I know this, but I'm not sure I like having it rubbed in my face. So when I went into the polytunnel this evening to pick shallots, courgettes, french beans and corn cobs to go with the supper of salmon fishcakes, I did a comedy doubletake when the rakes and hoes caught my eye.
Spiralling round them in a romp of green is a bindweed that should be nicknamed Prefect or Jobsworth, perhaps Tattletale or Longbacon. So I've been told, proper. Nature is turning against me; I've had a yellow card wagged under my nose.
I stuffed my colander with the vegetable goodies and ran into the house. If the triffids invade, I'll only have myself to blame.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

A golden thing

Those holy hand grenades of Antioch, as our golden globe courgettes are known, have attracted something extraordinary. It might be bog standard to those who know, but I don't know so it seems all the more mystical and otherworldly. This gilded thing, this glowing preciously metalled, wrapped in gold leaf insectish creature was sucking goodness from its host veg. What happens now? Is it a butterfly in the making?
What is it? Click on the photo to enlarge.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

BBC Radio 4 Farming Today

Yesterday, Anna Varle, producer for Farming Today came to the farm to talk about smallholding for a colour piece (huh! There I am using Beeb lingo as if I knew what it was the day before yesterday!).
Farmers have concerns about small scale backyard keepers slipping under the net of legislation and regulation and causing health and welfare problems so Anna came to find out about the kind of things we cover on our smallholder training courses.
I have now uploaded the MP3 sound file to Blogger but the quality is very poor and boomy, so the BBC link is here even though it only lasts 7 days. Our section is 3 mins 20 seconds in and runs til 8 minutes. The ducks are the stars. And all our sheep have a leg at each corner.


video

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Gardener's bog

It's more than a year ago since the outdoor cupboardy thing in the garden with a hole in the ground became a bona fide gardener's bog. Not for the gardener (don't have a butler or housekeeper either) but for us when we are in wellies and really shouldn't traipse through the house even though the floors are hard, and even more importantly for participants joining us on our smallholding courses.
But since the weather has turned phenomenal I have been misbehaving. If I need a pee (ok, TMI) whilst tending to the ducks, which is a regular thing on hot days what with all that refilling of water buckets, I'll head straight for the GB. And the misbehaviour? I leave the door wide, wide open so I can enjoy the - it has to be said - rather wonderful Devon view. I know that nine times out of ten no-one will be able to see me, but I also know that local farmers have beady peepers and that there is a gap in the hedge so that anyone trundling their tractor up the road might, if they glance to the right and up a bit, see me with my shorts caressing my ankles, gazing out on the perfect blue skies and wrapped away fields. The act doesn't give me a frisson of naughtiness or pleasure, I've just gone beyond caring what anyone thinks and hope if they catch me at it that it'll cause a grin and a wink as they go on their merry way.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A thing of beauty

Remember what we found in the derelict shed? Well, I hope Snakey Sid stays away and sticks to the compost heap from now on.
Here is the finished shedy article, with some of the widest oak boards imaginable - so I don't want any of you city types nipping down here to wrench them off for your luxury loft flooring. They are for my turkeys, and the rest of the time for me to contemplate and enjoy.
That just leaves one derelict cow shed to sort and some sad ruined piggeries. Cow shed thinking starts this winter, action next summer.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Piglet update

Here, to make you smile, are some of the piglets born a couple of weeks ago, on the day they were taken from the farrowing pen into the great outdoors. The grass is so long I have to hunt for all of them; it's a porcine jungle out there.
Utterly gorgeous, utterly toasty to the touch, the most beautiful of the livestock on the farm, to my eyes, anyway.
Today the shearing has been done and the sheep are so relieved to be rid of their sweaty coats.
It's the usual pain-in-the-bum rigmarole for the rams, now penned in tightly for the next few days whilst they get reacquainted, not that they ever left each other's side, but without their fleece they are apparently strangers. I'm sure I'd know a pal if they grew a beard or went bald but that isn't so for sheep.
Off to freshen all the water buckets - on a hot day it's interminable.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Snake alert

There's a derelict chicken shed that borders two fields, close to the house. I suspect it was perfectly placed to allow poultry to wander and peck first here and then there. The corrugated tin has seen better days and the uprights are completely rotted through at ground level, but some of the old elm boards are as iron.
I need somewhere to stick the part-time turkeys, and it was a really good excuse to refurbish another of the sorry huts on the farm. Whilst I write it on the to do list the farm worker rolls his eyes and then sets to with digger, saws and angle grinder.
I go and inspect progress and bring the dogs. Fenn immediately rushes in and sits alert. She knows something's there. Of course, it's full of rat runs, so I keep well back and ignore the possibility of furry critters emerging from the earth floor. But then we all see it at the same time and there is a shared squeak/roar/shout. At waist height, along one of the timbers, a snake slides into view and then slips down to the floor (how does it do that, precisely, and how did it get up there in the first place?) and across to a corner of the shed. It's seriously fat and about four feet long.
It's a grass snake, so not poisonous but as it flickers its tongue and hisses, we squeak/roar/shout again and fail to take a better photo, just in case it's an adder (which I'm sure it's not, but still...). It's all of three metres from our copious compost heap so at some point this month or next it'll lay 40 or so eggs there.
This happened at 5pm this afternoon and every since my scalp keeps wrinkling and my skin shivering - I'm so pleased we have snakes, but must it really live quite so close to the house?

Friday, 28 May 2010

Aunt Agatha does it again

My girl is SO clever. And here as a reminder is last year's lot.

Invasion of the bloggy snatchers

Apologies to my lovely regular readers and the occasional visitors, but I have been invaded by racist tossers charading as commercial tossers.
First I get splattergun spammed by dweebs littering the blog with their nonsensical comments containing multiple links purporting to sell stuff (I think - I didn't follow any of the links to check). I then delete a few of the comments (there were MASSES of them) and set up comment moderation (sorry, sorry to all you visitors who shouldn't have to go through more hoops to post a much enjoyed and appreciated comment) to find my email box full of comments awaiting moderation from the tossers who were now impregnating their comments with racist innuendo. Vile, idiotic, selfish, outrageous gits. Get a life.
So, comment moderation remains until such time as these comments stop, and at the first sign of a return it goes on permanently. And I have tried to remove every one of the comments originally posted by the vile, idiotic, selfish, outrageous gits.
Gits.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Is it Ok to be Closer?

What's wrong with us? Where have our brains and our discernment gone? Is it too much work to create a life of our own instead of dwelling on the foibles of others? Isn't your own life more interesting, more satisfying, more challenging than that of some TV this or magazine that? And if life is a serious challenge (it is, of course), then mental and physical health allowing, isn't it preferable to deal with our stuff, try and make things better in our own way than wishing we were a wag or a bag or a lag?
I picked up a discarded copy of Closer & OK! on the train and flicked through. I hadn't realised (how naive) the extent to which it's all material that soils the soul, the heart and the mind. Utter detritus, utterly boring, utterly malignant, utterly dismal, depressing. A vile slur on the positivity of human nature and self realisation (and now I sound like some psycho-pseud).
I want to shout - "Girls! Women! Get a life! Pull those nifty socks up! Create your own future. It's hard, but it can be fun and it's all YOURS. Don't watch it happening from the outside. Think of yourself at seventy - how do you want to feel about yourself then? What do you want out of life? Dying with a flash bag and some designer label shoes by your bedside and a head full of others' dreams will not be adequate reward".
Did feminism die whilst I looked the other way?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Quality Hotel?

Could one sue for misuse of the word "quality"? Having just spent a night in the Quality Hotel in Birmingham I'm beginning to wonder.
I'm often having to spend the odd night in a hotel. I don't do posh, but I do do clean, efficient, comfy bed. Holiday Inn Express is the benchmark; it'll do nicely, and is the least I expect when away. If I'm lucky it might be somewhere with room service - a steak and a salad munched in my nightie, surrounded by papers and prep for the next day. If I'm really lucky it'll be somewhere like this with free wifi, a snug bathrobe and sleek lines from the headboard to the iMac. And a double bed is a pre-requisite - otherwise all the paperwork falls to the floor, and anyway, why should I revert to ten years old just because I'm away from home?
So, when some bloomin' conference was on in Brum and there was practically no room to be had, I shrugged and went with what was left: Quality.
First up: entrance like building site...not a good feeling of what's to come
Second: great queue of blokes in grey suits all looking forward to a night away. Lots of male bonding, loudness and flash gold jewellery, bickering over the Executive Suite. Gawd.
Third: shouting out of my name and room number, not just once but thrice. Give over, guys - for years hotels have been quietly sliding a scrap of folded cardboard across the counter with your room number discreetly written inside and simply tell you which floor you need to go to and how. Haven't you heard about the need for looking after single women? OK, I'm hardly in the most vulnerable category, but really.
Fourth: when was this place last decorated? My room is gloomy, drab, not dirty exactly but not clean either. The doors are bashed and look like something retrieved from a school that's about to be demolished.
Five: stains on the "clean" towels.
Six: It does room service but there is bugger all information about anything in the room. I have to trog back to reception for them to tell me that they haven't had the menus printed yet. After telling them that no, I won't be heading for the bar to place my order as I have work to do, they get me a faded photocopy which I can take back to my room.
Seven: it's a twin room - urghh - and one of the beds is broken. I nick its duvet and pile two on the ok bed. It has VINYL HEADBOARDS. It's sticky. I'm about to be sick.
Eight: the TV is so low down I can't see it from the bed. I have to move the bed til it's at a diagonal so I can watch the box whilst I eat my prawn curry. 5/10 for supper.
Nine: in the morning I head for the shower to find it's a plastic shower from Boots kinda thing and held to the wall by a rubber band. Grohe's what you need boys.
Ten: I'm so relieved to be leaving that I hardly credit them for having organised a taxi for me that arrives on the dot of 9am.
Eleven: back home my own bed is paradisical.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Blogging from my bed

Pure laziness you understand - not poorly or anything, unless you can count a leg that needs scratching and hands so rough they catch on the sheets like sandpaper on silk.
I'm trying out my very first notebook, all wireless, light in the lap, and intended to keep me working whilst travelling on the train to see clients. It is not only my first notebook, it's my first ever new laptop, For years I've put up with other people's cast-off junk - slow, imperfect, broken bits of dross. But as I hate to drive long distance and take the train whenever possible, it was time to put up the moolah and stop my own meanness from keeping me a second rate iCitizen.
I'd have adored an iPad, but what I need is summat that allows me to work on large word docs and powerpoint so that was that dream gone.
And here I am, in bed, listening to the rain fall as OH does the morning livestock duties. I can hear feedbin lids clang, pigs grunt, flapping of undeveloped duckling wings waiting to be let out of their hut, cocks crowing, and all the usual post-dawn chorus.
This weekend we're running one of our intro to smallholding courses, so although much is in readiness, the last delights have to be put in place: soup and scones to make, gammon joint and apple juice out the freezer, all kinds of kit to be put on display, removal of trip hazards, and most importantly, looking about with a strangers eye. I am used to living surrounded by cheerful mayhem and I'm never sure if innate sluttishness is something positive to pass on to others alongside the more practical smallholding skills.
So, enough, outa bed, into shower, get rolling. Time to move from the cozy virtual to the raw real.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Mums and babes

Presenting some of the flock, mums and ever-growing lambs, in Higher Down, safely contained by the hedge laid this past winter.
A month passes and the lambs go from fragile babes to delinquent, robust adolescents. Gang games erupt, grass is already supplementing their mothers' milk. They are now too large to roll unwittingly underneath a gate, standing up to find themselves jailed from the rest. I'm no longer met by franting bleating to be let back in because the grass is definitely not greener on the other side.
Bank holiday Monday was spent MOTing the whole flock, weighing and worming lambs, running the ewes through the footbath and removing any shitty-arse bits that might attract the multiplying flies.
For the first time we've not castrated the ram lambs so they will reach meat weight earlier and not suffer the indignity and discomfort of eunuch-hood. As a result, their testosterone-induced horns are starting to develop, and there are no furry scrotums littering the field. By the time they are four months old they will have to be separated from the ewe lambs and their mothers to avoid carefree incest and teenage pregnancy. It's like running a mixed sex school.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Boxes and baggages

I never have enough cardboard boxes - they are key fodder for starting bonfires and we have rather a lot of those. So, when people are coming to the farm to pick up the ducklings they ordered, weeks or possibly months previously, I remind them to please bring a box to take their young home.
This has created something of an ongoing joke. I wait, all anticipation, to see what unlikely and unsuitable container is hoiked out of the car boot. Twelve month-old ducklings - oh, a shoe box will do (no, not even for one, even if you asked it to lie down). Just four ducklings at a week old - one of those biscuit tins left over from Christmas will be perfect (no, it's far too tiny and even if it was big enough they'd suffocate). A neat little carboard box from the supermarket will be made to measure for two full grown geese (no, no, no).
And on it goes.
Ducklings grow like stink. Every day, every moment, they chomp and drink and shit and grow. They may have come out of an egg, but they'll never fit back in one, no matter how hard you try. So, for the lovely first-time duck owners, do as your more experienced pals do and bring a cat carrier; it's perfect, and hoseable. If you don't have one, bring a BIG cardboard box with good solid sides, bottom and top, perforated with ventilation holes and some string or tape to keep the box closed and the ducks secure during transit (cruising the motorway with loose ducklings in the car is so NOT advisable, and I don't think the insurance would pay to get the seats cleaned).
But if you are VERY classy, you'll do what the couple who came today did. Vintage wicker pigeon carrier basket. Gorgeous. Filled with straw, neat looky-outy holes for pink bills to peep through without any danger of getting out.
And rest assured, no matter what you arrive with, and you and I gasp in amusement at the underestimated capacity of the birds to box ratio, I'll do my best to set you on your way with something suitable, no matter how Heath Robinson.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Running on empty

No, not another post on the knackering nature of lambing. In fact my head is desperate for thoughts that are entirely unrelated to sheep. Having done the 5am shift, I finally got back to the house for a ten o'clock shower and contemplated the shampoo and shower gel bottles, as you do.
They were getting close to being empty. They frequently are. How I manage to get through so much of the stuff, I don't know.
As a child I remember wondering about the never empty shampoo bottle (no shower gel in those days, we were a strictly Camay family). The bottle was enormous (but then, I was a lot smaller) and full of thick amber liquid. I'd sit by the bath and play with the bottle, tilting it this way and that, as the soapy treacly stuff inside slid up and down. It had vertical ridges and I could run my fingernails round it to make a grating sound, using the bottle as a Guiro. But like the amazing porridge pot that gave and gave, the same bottle, with the same shampoo, just kept on giving. I never dealt with the dregs of the shampoo or found an unfamiliar bottle sitting on the corner of the bath.
Knowing my Mother's war-time habits I now realise that she must have bought many great tubs of the stuff and simply refilled the bottle when I wasn't around. The label was curled in the same place, even when the level of shampoo had gone up. It took me decades though, to get used to the fact that shampoo bottles were not bottomless, that shower gel did get used up, that toiletries had to be bought, not just once, but again and again.
Sometimes I'd rather not have the gauzy veil of childhood lifted - the reality of having to put such stuff on the shopping list has no charm whatsoever. And being greedy, I always did love the tale of the little porridge pot.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

I'm tired and I wanna go to bed...

It's true, I did have a little drink several hours ago (a glass of cherry brandy to keep out the cold, medicinal you know) but I don't think that's the reason I'm crying out for sleep. Yes, lambing is very tiring and it's been more than two weeks of 5a.m. starts and doing all the animal feeds so that OH can do the late shift, and the usual workload has been unremitting. So that puts a distinct edge on things. But waking up at 2.45a.m. to find there is no electricity has just about done me in.
No turning over and snoring, oh no. There are ducklings to keep warm, incubators to sort, ewes to peer at with poxy torches, setting up the generator, turning everything off, playing tag with the fuse box which just won't cooperate and then, finally convinced it ain't at our end, ringing the leccy board who rush someone out for 6am who pokes about and says yes, their wires are shorting on the electricity pole outside the house and he'll have to call in back-up from Barnstaple as they are not allowed to deal with live wires solo. As he waits I attend to a ewe who has twins, but is anxious NOT to be put in a lambing pen. It tries the patience and in the gloom I get it sorted eventually and leave them to bond.
An hour later, having shinned up the pole like a ferret up a drainpipe, the chap has it all pinging with life. So, generator off, everything turned on, ducklings taken from warm box on top of the Aga and put back under their heatlamp, everything shuffled about.
Then time to feed the pigs, the sheep, the ducks and geese, the dogs and cats, to walk across the fields to check on the outdoor lambs. Then to trim sheep toes, mark and sort the new mothers with lambs ready to go outside, put in the stock box and bounce with them over the fields and release them to their first sniff of grass.
Somewhere along the way was a bowl of something hot that was meant to create a nuclear glow round my body but just made me burp as I sat in the tractor cab doinging over ridge and furrow. But now I'm sitting here, eyes glazed, getting ready to go and check the ewes, again, and again and again. What joy.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Live and learn

First timer ewes can be a major pain in the bum. They have good muscle tone and squirt out their lambs without noticing. They think they've had an almighty painful poo and just walk off.
Half an hour ago I went out to check the ewes and found one first-timer had just that second lambed. She was nervous but licking her newborn as all good mums should, but she went for the arse end, not the head and I had to clear a lot of mucus out of its mouth - a particularly slimy lamb, this. I let the mum lick and bit by bit I picked up the lamb and brought it closer to the barn and out of the cold, mum following agitatedly behind. Older ewes just trot obediently behind (unless they are box of frogs). With the pair safely bonded in the pen, I ushered all the other ewes into the barn for the night.
As I shut the door I hear the most earsplitting bellow. Lying on the floor, legs all outstretched in a weird approximation of ewe-giving-birth, was another first-timer, with a lamb head poking out of her back end. So, I need to kneel on her and help out the lamb, as it'll get stuck with a head only presentation. The ewe has other ideas. She leaps to her feet, mid-bellow and chases around the barn. She then throws herself back on the floor, squeezes out the lamb which shoots out like a cork from a bottle, the ewe gets back up and starts a stampede with the rest of the flock, leaving the lamb vulnerable to trampling. I dive in, pick up the lamb, clear its mouth and nose, check it's fine - and it is, bleating for England - and put it in a pen.
Now, can I tell which ewe has just produced her first offspring? Not without help. We pen them all, and I check under every tail of all the first-timers. The very last one I check has afterbirth emerging, so she is reunited with the lamb, and after a short panicky trample, gets sniffing and licking and bonding.
Me, I'm knackered. I only offered to do the 8pm check as a favour before going to bed to be ready for the 5am shift, and I get more excitement than is good for me or the flock. With all that stirring around I wouldn't be surprised if all the lambing pens are full by morning. Good night.