Monday, 30 April 2007

An adoration of the lime

I remember 1993. It was the time of Delia pontificating on summer, in print and on TV. It was all limes. How I chortled at her dedication to the wee green fruit; it was verging on the obsessional. There was fried Halloumi cheese with lime and caper vinaigrette; squirted lime in the Caesar salad; zested and juiced citrus in the fresh crab salad; added to the fish cakes, crab cakes, hot and sour pickled prawns, fried skate wings, thai curry paste, the salmon filo parcels, the grilled fish, the coriander and lime tartare sauce, the relishes, chutneys and the salsas, Debbie Owen's iced tea, cous cous salad, frijolemole (what you might ask is that - it's a chickpea purée - ain't that houmous?), the terrine of summer fruits (I thought that was sooo beautiful), coconut lime cake, ad nauseam, ad nauseam. But you know (as does Delia and all good grocers) how repetition can browbeat a girl into submission. So you swap the odd lime where you'd usually put lemon. You squeeze the juice into mayonnaise, sprinkle it with lime zest and serve with cold salmon. You put a slice with ice into your drink. It looks better than its yellow cousin cuddled up with the fresh mint and cucumber garnishing the Pimm's. It brings verve to the fruit bowl and somehow connives through autosuggestion in ensuring a healthier meal than was perhaps planned. A fry-up of sausage, black pudding and beans with lime just doesn't do it somehow.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Murder and retribution

I am the Snow Queen. Or perhaps the Snow Goose. My hair and clothes are covered in flecks of white down, a mark of Cain. For I have done murder and the youngest goose is now plucked and swinging by its feet, from a beam in the workshop. It was due to be dispatched for Easter, but somehow busy-ness prevailed and it continued its reign of terror in the orchard, charging the dogs, nipping the sheep and cadging the odd ride. It was the most feisty gosling I've ever raised, often scorning the protection of the flock to venture alone to seek new mischief and create noisy mayhem. But as it reached maturity, and started to fulfil its Oedipal destiny, with mother and sister having their head feathers aggressively plucked off during incestuous encounters, the pot called ever louder. A spare two hours (it takes me that long to pluck a goose, not having any fancy waxing, boiling or other medieval sounding kit) meant his time was nigh. I caught him by the neck, he was tucked under an arm and taken away to be swiftly dealt with, but as I turned my back his father pecked me by the knee, hard and sharp. The nip broke the skin through my jeans and has left a dark blood-blister and a mark the size of a ten pence piece. It seems only fair.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Girly undies

In a week of global despair, murder, grief and bloody madness, the fripperies of life can save you from entering a permanent gloom. When the weather is as gorgeous as this you can feel guilty for not being part of the Virginian mourning, but I refuse. Some love their thongs, but I love my bras and it's time to renew the stock. I will browse at length through my Bravissimo and Rigby and Peller catalogues and pick something perky, something lacey and something pink so that it's spring on the inside as well as the outside. It may all be covered up by my best holey farm clobber, but underneath I'm a paeon to womanhood and girly self-indulgence. The pigs can't see it, but they'll know from the (nattily controlled) bounce in my step that things are fine for the time being. It might even take their minds off the state of my feet.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Feet in the sink

Yes! It may only be April but it's bound about in sandals time (no socks - the British do know this, notwithstanding examples on the tube suggesting otherwise). When I say sandals I don't mean high heeled Louboutin beauties, but sturdy made for trekking over rough terrain jobs that work well on the farm once wellies are no longer required and the toes are asking for an airing. The sandals mean that when your feet start to tan, they have a permanent wide white band across the arch - not madly attractive, but there you are. Worse, the heels of my feet turn into evil before-shots for cracked skin treatments; they aspire to elephant's kneecaps. The sandal wearing means a new evening ritual kicks in. The feet get truly filthy - mud, sheep shit, grass stains, you name it, all find their determined way onto the feet and get pretty well ingrained by the end of the day. So it's into the bathroom, fill the basin with warm soapy water, find your coarsest and most hardy nail brush and one foot at a time, get scrubbing. There is something intrinsically comic about standing on one leg with a foot in the sink; plenty of potential for painful slapstick type accidents. Nothing worth repeating has happened yet, but summer stretches before us.

Monday, 16 April 2007

The inner costermonger

Lambing is finally over. All mums and offspring are out in the orchard and no longer require two-hourly visits to check on well-being: no small heads stuck in low branches/fencing/gorse; nothing in trouble whilst lambing; no problems with suckling; no ewes nicking another's lambs etc). So now the attention has turned to vegetables - lamb needs an accompaniment after all - and my inner costermonger is being fed by sprinkling seeds onto trays of compost, weeding the polytunnel, splooshing the water around and generally thinking of the glut to come. A decade of ambition has been realised by the planting of the first asparagus bed (Pacific Purple) and I want to pat the bed, sit by it and share encouraging words. Perhaps a song or two might help? But after what was three weeks of frantic sheep-centred activity, the peace and quiet of the veg patch is very welcome, so silent contemplation may be best after all.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Journalistic pomposity

Blimey. I didn't expect to be having a whinge about journalists twice in two weeks (I really don't make a habit of it you know) but my Spiked email just arrived and the mini editorial has made me growl. Brendan O'Neill says:
"blogs aren’t the place to go if you want erudite debate; they’re the online equivalent of a loud’n’rowdy student bar... Bloggers often don’t have much to say of note, but I’ll defend to the death their right to say it to their three readers."
I would never suggest that this blog is either erudite or has much of note to offer the world. I wouldn't even propose that the majority of blogs are other than an opportunity for 21st century folks to keep a diary or write a regular letter to friends. Some are clearly a creative outlet, others a virtual space to park technological geekery. Nothing wrong with any of that. But there are blogs that have much to say, and say it both wisely and well. And some of them find a significant readership. Brendan O'Neill can go fight some other cause on his own blog. I doubt bloggers need his approbation.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Drop'em blossom

Bored now! Lambing has been going on for 19 days and I need to get back to normal sleeping patterns soon before everyone I know and love deserts me due to (my) irritation and shortness of temper. Can't say I've got the sweetest of tempers at any time but alarm clocks set at unseemly times of the night and early hours don't exactly sooth the jagged soul. It's true that once you are up and feeding the sheep, the lambs now old enough to leave mum and congregate in gangs, you get to see their wild toddler antics which in another week will become decidedly adolescent; lots of riding each other like wheelbarrows. With lovely long evenings I should be out there being vigorous in the polytunnel, wrestling with veg, spades and trowels, but I'm too tired to have more than a token poke in the soil.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Daisee, Daisee....

Waxing rhapsodic over a weed may be a bit much for some, but I really do adore the daisy. Not the posh developed specially for gardeners daisy but the common old lawn invader. What child hasn't draped themselves with daisy chains and crowns, dreaming of playing with the fairies at the bottom of the garden? For me they are as eggy as the poached egg flower, and don't have any of the yucky milky sap of the dandelion, even though there are no clocks to puff at. The cobbles in front of the house collect just enough dirt and earth to trap seeds and they are now sprouting daisies with a vengeance. Daisies tell me that I will soon be able to sit on the grass without getting soaked knickers. They remind me to look down and see what else is growing amongst the grass. They are potently cheerful and the fields will soon be full of them. They go as well with the lambs now as mint sauce will later. And for the boys of my era, Daisy will always mean the joys of the Dukes of Hazzard - you just can't go wrong with a daisy.

Monday, 9 April 2007

I'm a fire starter

Twisted or otherwise, I'm a fire starter. Huge piles of willow, oak and blackthorn branches and twigs too small to save for winter use have been torched before the grass has had a chance to grow through and turn yellow from lack of light. The size of the piles were worthy of a public fireworks display (minus the guy), although these days with livestock and one wussy dog, noisy fireworks no longer turn me on. I'm a sparkler fan though, and love playing with a bundle of them fizzing in a mittened hand. When the flames leap as high as these did you really have to treat them with respect - no turning your back or being distracted. The mounds of ash are whopping too and will still be hot for a couple of days. Scoopy the digger comes into his own and moves each benign heap of timber to its neighbouring shimmering circle of lava; it catches instantaneously and the volcanic action continues. There's nothing like being elemental on a bank holiday. And it gave me an excuse to hunt down Prodigy on You Tube - that video stopped me in my blase tracks when it came out more than ten years ago - it still has the woweeeee factor. And how do you get the accent on the e in blase anyway??

Sunday, 8 April 2007

I feel bad

I just knew that James Brown feeling couldn't last. When you feel good you should keep it to yourself and not tell all and sundry that they should be feeling jealous. Pride comes before a fall and all that. Perhaps today it's a man's world; it sure ain't mine. My best friend is a bucket. And I feel bad.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

I feel good

In the luscious lead-up to a four day weekend, it's amazing to sit outside and feel the hot sun do its worst on the crow's feet. The dogs lie on the cobbles avoiding the sharp loose stones, chins on their paws and eyes closed in pleasure. So much of the to-do list has to go on hold until lambing is finished; I plan to take a book and a straw bale into the orchard and do my shepherding in comfort. A leisurely kip might be nice; perhaps a divan of bales would be better? M&M can provide horsehair mattress stuffing for added luxury. I could doze, iodine a few navels and trim a few feet, and avoid the great brashings burn-up taking place elsewhere on the farm. I could take the dogs down when the fires are mellowing at the end of the day and they can chase around where piles of hedge-laying detritus had blocked our path. I doubt I can avoid loading logs onto the trailer for next year's firewood, the first of multiple handlings (field to trailer, trailer to woodpile, chopped and moved to second woodpile, chucked in wheelbarrow and brought into the house, stacked by fire, into fire....combustion) before it gets to the woodburner. But it's a t-shirt task and it's going to be t-shirt weather, and I feel good.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

How do you feel?

Of all the inanities loved by the lazy reporter, the question "how do you feel?" must rank at the top. Your brother is held hostage in Iran - how does that make you feel? Your baby is dying from some appalling disease - how does THAT make you feel? Your employer has moved its manufacturing base to China - so, how do you feel? Your friends have just been in a major car crash - tell me, how does that feel?

The art of intelligent interviewing is far from dead - it goes on every day in all parts of the media - but regional TV continues to be of a lower order, stuffing cameras and microphones in the faces of people clearly feeling bereft, dazed, at their lowest ebb. It's amazing that folks laid low by circumstance don't turn viciously on their interviewer with a blue-blasted version of "how do you think I feel?". If someone agrees to be on camera at a difficult time, at least give them the courtesy of framing a question that can bring an answer that offers some enlightenment to the viewers.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Parallel existences

Shall I share the message from the charming, helpful but clearly affected by strain, civil servant sorting out the farm's environmental stewardship grant, or would you prefer to hear about the part of my life that recognises (even Devon gets - non-digital - TV) a household name comedian at the next table at the restaurant in Islington? Perhaps we can find a way to segueway from one to t'other. And perhaps we can't.

Word for word, verbatim and exactly as given (can't have you thinking I made this up), I emailed one of the growing number of friendly civil servants that I have begun to know quite well since dealing with the plethora of TLA organisations that are simultaneously the bane and helpmeet of the farmer. "You said get in touch", I said, "if the payment wasn't here by Friday, and it's not". At an hour that you expect only the freelance and homeworker to be at their computer, I received the following: "I am in the process of chasing anyone that phone me at the moment I am servely disappointed with the state of play and apologise."

This poor geezer has to deal with the horrendous fallout at the Rural Payments Agency presided over by the now promoted Margaret Beckett and is, quite possibly, going mad under the strain. I'm tempted to call his boss and suggest they send the chap to the seaside for a few days for a break, but if I do it might be taken the wrong way and selfishly, there will be no-one to fight my corner. Perhaps he could go to a swank eatery instead and eavesdrop on folks apparently more in control of their own destiny, discussing their latest project or planning their outfit for the weekend. He could take a very pretty girl and gaze into her eyes; a true distraction from the horrors of his daily grind. I hope he has an interest that lights his lamp and oils his wheels. I hope he has a talent for something he finds rewarding, from which he can earn a living in future days. But I hope he doesn't resign and leave me in the lurch quite yet.