Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Making hay whilst the sun shines

It's 9.30pm (which is why the photo is rather dark) and I have just got back from a working afternoon in Truro to find that Long Lands has finally been mowed into incredibly neat strips of incredibly long grass. You can see how the tractor tyres have marked the soft ground. Haymaking has never been this late - usually it's the last week in June or thereabouts - and the extra month of growth, more than lush with all that rain, means that the amount of the stuff is likely to be Dutch barn bursting. The tricky art of turning and twizzling now starts, to get it ripe for baling. The chance of avoiding a wetting is minimal, but hopefully it will be a short shower rather than a drowning, and the hay will be of reasonable quality to keep the sheep in health over the winter. Long Lands is the main small bale hay field for the home flock, the other 20 plus fields to be rolled into big round bales as hay and haylage and taken off the farm. But this year the species rich Lower Quarry Heads will also be made into meadow hay, and it should provide a more varied forage for the ungulates. Time to hoik out the gloves and talk nicely to the arm and thigh muscles in preparation for the big hay hauling.

Stealing great big chunks of your heart

Taking a little piece of your heart; that's what some folks specialise in. They develop a career to ensure daily unhappiness, grief and upset. There is nothing of the saving grace of Robin Hood about them. They raid a home, remove any and every item associated with love, friendship and years of toil and then scatter them to the four winds in their greed and vileness.
There are burglars in the area. They have temporarily destroyed the happiness of my neighbour. They have done over another neighbour and no doubt they are on the prowl planning grief to the next in line, possibly me. I worry most for my two big beautiful dogs. They have deep growls and are wonderfully alert to strange noises and people. Although this is a serious bad man deterrent it also makes them targets for destruction and even the prospect of this makes me gulp with anger and fear and turns me into an adrenalin fuelled Mother tiger.
The police appear to be taking the burglaries seriously, but I'm not sure what they can do without a big piece of luck in being at the right place at the right time; no easy feat in such a sparsely populated part of the world. Let's hope the bastard burglars are clumsy and have left a heap of forensic evidence.
But I do roll my eyes when one of the local towns, with perhaps the lowest crime rate in the country, wants to install people stalking kit. The mayor for West Devon is quoted as saying "there are one or two people who are against CCTV, but there are equal numbers for it, as well as a silent majority who we presume have no problem with it." I will refrain from much comment, but he really does presume, doesn't he?
If and when they catch the bastard burglars, I suggest we resurrect the
stocks and pelt them with rotten cabbages. A cruel and unusual punishment fitting, I feel, to the crime.

Thanks to The Policeman's Blog for the police dog video.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Reasons to be cheerful - part 6

Something for the weekend

Penicillin anybody? Down here in Devon we grow our own, just in case we can't get to a local doctor or chemist. I find that the best host is unpasteurised ewes milk cheese. After a while it takes on the look of a Russian hat circa Dr Zhivago. You carefully remove it from the fridge and scrape it at arms length directly into the bin.

The last time I grew something like this it was on a piece of beef - a whole joint roasted and cooled and then put into a cold oven for an hour as the fridge was bulging. It was forgotten for a week and grew the most tremendous green fringe.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

In the grumps

Very tired today - it has been a crazy week and it is only halfway through. Just sometimes you wonder if you will ever reach the more physical but less mentally demanding weekend. There seem to have been too many of the really big questions in need of resolution. I think I have had a month's worth in three days. My brain has turned from grey to white; all colour leached out.

So I wasn't in the mood for criticism. I was bound to take it out on someone. So I took it out on a piece of A4 instead. The papers for the car insurance arrived and changed my career. It downsized me when what I needed was puffing up. I rebelled. I took my pen in my balled-up fist and made a stand. I am no longer a smallholder/arts consultant. I AM A FARMER /ARTS CONSULTANT. Is that alright with you?
I'm off to feed the pigs and see what they have to say about it. Heads down, tails up. Not a care in the world.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Food glorious food

To be tagged by a Flowerpot is not a daily occurrence, and she has offered me the chance to write about food, one of my very favourite topics. I cannot decline. I must find a way to subvert the requirement to describe my five tastiest restaurants and instead recount five memorable meals. Ok. Sorted. I am the boss of my blog.

My most expensive meal to date was also a delightful one. Four of us descended on Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow to celebrate two birthdays. We ate the most sublime of fish dishes, a series of tasters that celebrated the ingredients rather than smothered them. It was posh, it was supremely delicious, and we licked our lips from beginning to end, grinning like the cats that got the fish.

Also incredibly posh was the Castellon de la Plana Yacht Club dinner. I had flown to Barcelona, was whisked miles down the coast by taxi to meet the others and after a quick recce at the hotel walked across the road, past the fish market at the edge of the harbour, to share a massive crushed iced platter loaded with shellfish from tiny shrimps to major lobsters and everything imaginable in between. Once the hands had been soaked in finger bowls and dried on hot flannels, the most heavenly saffron scented paella was placed reverently in the middle of the table. It was mountainous. It was a paeon to earth and sea and sky, of shellfish and birds and mammals. We talked, we laughed, we slurped. We didn't notice that the waiter was waiting for a "gracias" to stem the flood of cognac being poured into huge balloons. We staggered back to the hotel. We knew the meaning of replete.

Less fancy was the superfresh ficelle slathered with unsalted butter carved from a huge hunk of the stuff and shaped by butter pats, topped with slices of dried salami and ripest beefsteak tomatoes. This was all bought from the market in Yssingeaux and eaten sat on a rock by the Loire, feet dangling in the water with the bottles of beer to keep both cool.

My first ever dinner party, held whilst I was still at school, was also memorable. Mostly for the lasagne. Never one for underusing ingredients, I employed so much mozzarella that strings of cheese connected each plate around the table for twelve in a continuous circle. I was sure that dinner was a metaphor for friendship.

And something that continues to give me deep pleasure are those meals I produce for friends that contain entirely home/farm produced ingredients. It might be a tomato and basil salad followed by roast pork, freshly picked veg and apple sauce, followed by pear tart. It could be marinaded lamb on skewers, sausages and other barbecue nosh with strawberries for pud. Roast goose or duckling, with celeriac mash and peas perhaps. Whatever it is, I reared it, planted it and probably plucked it.

There was my friend's mother's fortieth birthday with lobster for all and the most exquisite puds. The chicken supper served with tales of massages in Cambodian opium dens. The huge Cornish pasties baked for the curious in ovens on a kibbutz in Israel. The fishmonger's hamper from which friends produced a continual supply of sea seasoned delights. The Tenerife squids turned inside out with a clingfilmed cucumber causing mass hilarity. I could go on. I probably will. But now it's time for supper.

Oh, and consider yourself tagged, any reader who likes their grub. Will yours include quite so much fish?

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Emerging from the Deathly Hallows

Like millions of children, I have been spending some of my weekend with my nose poked firmly in the final Harry Potter outing. Having loved the first couple (yup, I'm a sucker for summer simplicity in the book stakes), I plodded somewhat through the next batch, and wailed that someone at Bloomsbury should have the wit and the nerve to tackle the job of editor, and not be frit of tarnishing the golden egg by irritating the goose. The wailing was loudest at the 5th book, the longest and most repetitive of the lot. But you know what it's like...you still want to know how it all comes out in the wash. And either the editor has hopped off the pot, or JK has learned how to self edit. In any case, I romped through The Deathly Hallows at a gallop, quite breathless in places to know what happens next. It probably ties up loose ends for those who have the memory or an interest that can be sustained in detail over a decade of book releases, but for me, it was a fun way to spend chunks of the weekend.
Other things happened too though. A thatcher came to assess the size of the roundhouse roof attached to the threshing barn. There is very little to see apart from heaps of stone rubble and monstrous rotten timbers, but with the drawings in hand, he said that there didn't seem to be any measurements. When it was explained that the drawings were to a scale as shown, he didn't look much enlightened, and took out his measuring stick. Whatever keeps him happy. And then the wool receipt arrived for 2007; 53 kilos of fleece have now been received by the British Wool Marketing Board. When the cheque arrives it may or may not pay for a drink at the pub. Last year a cheque for £0.00 had been solemnly produced and sent.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Couldn't resist - Dormouse life in Devon

OK, not the best lighting in the world, but just gorgeous. This was filmed (not by me) in Paignton Zoo. But there are dormice on the farm....lucky, lucky me. Update: if you are amused by rodents, this is a guaranteed laugh out loud moment - again, I just couldn't resist.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Grand designs

Once or twice I've hinted at the dereliction of the farm buildings surrounding the farmyard. That the decay is the first thing I see as I fling open the curtains. That the sound of crashing timbers and slates wakes you up on a stormy night. That the cob melts after the rain as surely as if it were gingerbread.
The process of restoration is more than slow; it creeps unwillingly in some kind of direction, often backwards. Two years on and we are still at the planning stages. Listed building permission is being sought and there are just a few days left before builders have to put in their tenders. They have swarmed over the site, detailed work specifications in hand, gingerly poking at the realities, hard hatted and serious. They all love the site - it's peaceful, it has adequate access, and there are large dogs to play with. It's a proper job too. There will have to be a site hut, a shipping container for equipment, a new electrical circuit to feed their whizzy bits and a portaloo or two. Big machinery and scaffolding en masse will sit heavily on the ground and change my morning view. There will be brickies (making cob blocks), sparks, thatchers, roofers, chippies, plumbers. There will be all kinds of folks doing all kinds of noisy things.
None of this is for B&B or holiday homes or new houses. The barns are to be restored back to agricultural use: a proper farm workshop; somewhere to keep convalescing livestock; a place to rear poultry; somewhere enclosed to keep feedstuffs and more; a stable for a big, slow horse; a cow pen for milking the dreamed of Dexters and a farrowing pen for a Berkshire sow and a litter of piglets.
When the quotes come in I will close my eyes and be as nervous as a teenager with A-level results in hand.

The photo is of the west side of the courtyard, one of the two larger barns....I truly hope this is a "before" shot that will have a future "after" shot for comparison.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Reading the meter

Vanity requires one to check how the few but cherished people visiting and reading actually find this blog, and the fascinating site meter has a tale of its own to tell. There are the lovely old faithfuls who keep you snugly in their sidebar (for which, much thanks) and so signpost new readers to Mopsa's offerings. But I really enjoy unearthing the info that folks have found me via some totally personal and possibly bonkers Google search.

If you google “soaking filthy feet”, as one hopeful clean soul (sole?) had, Ramblings is currently first in line. Then there was “Chagford & tango”, “the magic faraway tree” (thrice), “mariana lambing”, “Mrs Malaprop”(twice), “funday fairies daisy meadows order online”, “drop em blossom”, “chim chiminey”, “location of sloes, Warwickshire”, "abscess on gordon ramsay turkeys foot", "guinea pig runny bum", "langan family theatre royal stratford east" and “wet wellies”.
I doubt that I have provided either relief or information on any of these topics, but it's good to know that if you have concerns about pet rodent diarrhoea or how to dry your wellingtons, that an utterly useless piece of Mopsa whimsy or whingeing can distract you momentarily from your research.

But back to the old faithfuls. I hadn't dared contemplate that this blog contains "nature meets art"; The Thinker is a generous soul. The Thinker, she of various articulate and thoughtful blogs (and also blogging from Devon) has shipped a Blogging Community Involvement Award my way, which sounds highly do-gooderish until you realise it is an award for being a schmoozer. Schmooze I can do - sometimes I think that's what I'm paid for. I grew up with words like schmooze, many of them less than polite. And how many people do you know who can speak Yiddish? As a language that no-one round my way is familiar with, it could be said to encourage dissembling, but these days I have to rack my brain to remember just a handful of words. Kvetch, chutzpah, mensch, messhuganer, nebbish, schlemiel, schlong, schmutter, schnoz, shtick, tush, yenta.....what fabulously expressive words - a whole phrase and intention in each.

And now I must nominate 5 awards of my own:

  1. Chip Dale, the master thonglateer
  2. Yorkshire Pudding, in exchange for his mature blogger award
  3. Kaz, the busy idler
  4. Drunk Mummy - just as it says on the tin
  5. Mountainear, for schmoozing from great heights and to great effect.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Old lady award

The hearty Yorkshire Pudding (delicious with your Sunday roast) has handed me a mature blogger.
Apparently, this new and by definition currently rare award goes to those "who have blogged with mature dignity, saying wise and mature things" Worryingly, the associated traits are drinking in moderation, praying each night and beginning every other sentence with either "When I was young..." or "In my day...".
This award is therefore causing me concern me on numerous counts:
  1. I am not ready to grasp the baton of middle age, no matter what it says on my passport
  2. Neither am I ready to relinquish the inner child
  3. Mr Pudding called me Mr Mopsa...he thinks I'm a man. Do I sound like a man? Should I worry that I sound like a man? I'm not a man. Honest. Didn't you read my blog on bras? I think I've written two of them. Don't they count for anything??
  4. My drinking is in such moderation that the Bloody Mary I had on Friday night was the first bit of alcohol to pass my lips since I chomped on a chocolate cherry brandy liqueur some months back, but that doesn't make me mature, does it? Just sad.
  5. What's praying?
  6. But yes, I must admit to penning phrases such as "aeons ago" or similar when relating past experiences, and have shared the actuality of my grey streaked hair, so I probably only have myself to blame.

I will try and write like a youthful snippet, a flibberty gibbet with no cares in the world, an ageless soul. And then perhaps someone will, in all innocence, send me an award for blogging juvenilia. I can only hope.

Pulling the pernicious

Something unexpected has happened in the wake of last winter's banking and fencing. Diggers danced along the hedgelines recreating the medieval Devon banks, and tractors followed behind erecting livestock proof fencing to ensure the beautifully laid hedges and ramparts were not trampled into oblivion by the sheep and cattle. The work left a surprisingly gentle scar on the earth, and I hoped that docks and nettles wouldn't rush in to colonise what was an inviting seedbed.
What wasn't expected was that wildflowers would spring up along the hedges, cheekily grabbing survival from the insidious grasp of the nettle. Yes, there are some stinging nettle patches, but mostly there is a riot of colour. Mauve self-heal seems to have come from nowhere. Vetch is so abundant it rampages with its curly pea-like tendrils and purple flowers over anything that stands still long enough. Yellow meadow-vetchling has made a welcome appearance, and there is yarrow, buttercup, sneezewort and more.
But among the newcomers is something more pernicious. Ragwort, previously a rarity on the farm, has marched onto the land not so much as an invasion, but certainly creating a little local difficulty. Armed with thick gloves and empty feed sacks, the intruders have been pulled and safely removed. Having spent time with horses in the past, the dangers of ragwort have been fair dinned into the brain, but there are other natural nasties that are less familiar, and there will be a second trip around the hedges shortly to double check if that pretty pink thing that looks oh so innocent, also requires urgent action.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The Green Room

Chugging up the A30 in the dark, back from another working trip to London, and having spent the day thinking and talking about theatre, I had a sudden flashback. Aeons ago I worked for a year or so in the Green Room at the RSC in Stratford upon Avon. It was an exciting time. The Swan Theatre had its Royal opening - I was there to see the surprisingly titchy Queen sweep to her seat - with the magical performance of The Fair Maid of the West, and I have been a mega fan of Imelda Staunton ever since.
There are dozens of stories to tell about that era in my life, making and serving breakfast, lunch and supper to the cast, crew and staff while truly extraordinary plays were being made and delivered simultaneously in three auditoria. Gossip flowed with the cans of lager and the mugs of tea. Young, beautiful faces, many of them now middle aged stage, television and film stars and stalwarts, flirted with the already famous and the older backbone of skilled performers and directors.
You couldn't afford to be star-struck; pouring hot tea over Roman sandal clad feet, or burning the longed-for toast after a trying rehearsal would not have been popular, and Jeremy Irons was very particular about his poached eggs. But one day a mother came to see her daughter and they chatted and snacked before curtain up. I cannot even begin to tell you how nervous I was saying my lines: "your cauliflower cheese is ready, Vanessa".

Monday, 9 July 2007

If you offer peanuts, you get monkeys

And if you give chocolate, what do you get then? Recruitment; it's a difficult task and I used to think that interviewing was a two way process, with the candidate sussing out what is on offer every bit as much as the prospective employer. Was I wrong? Are employers struggling so hard to find good staff that they feel the need to give away goody bags, or are they actively seeking out endorphin chasing post-adolescents as task-focussed automatons, manipulated through sweet cravings rather than managed to achieve job satisfaction?
Master Drage caused me to chortle - I thought he was joking about the appeal of the company website and the chocs as a real incentive to join the company, but I'm not so sure. Perhaps I'm just a killjoy and miffed that I was never offered a literal sweetener by a prospective employer. Perhaps that's where Sir Alan goes wrong; he offers such a sugar rush (sorry!) what with his name, the media attention and instant TV notoriety that he gets planks rather than people to choose from.
Very shortly I will be chairing an interview panel to fill the most senior post in a third sector organisation. They will need to lead a great team, achieve a complex set of objectives and give all stakeholders more than a warm, fuzzy, post-choc feeling. Am I bonkers to take it all so seriously or should I be offering a year's supply of jelly beans and give the job to the person who successfully negotiates the addition of Smarties?

(The Beatles insert is entirely gratuitous; any excuse for a good tune and a giggle).

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Reasons to be cheerful - part 5

I could put my hand out and touch them - but I won't. I think there are six of them, but can't be sure. When the parent swallow goes off to find food they all rest their chins (do birds have chins?) on the rim of the nest. When mum arrives back they open wide their yellow maws. She goes off to seek further refreshment and the wide-mouths shut, Zippy fashion.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Bogged down

The basics of life can be quite demanding at times. The very helpful Mr Cream Teas (aka the Environmental Health Officer) tells me that what is required are three women's loos, one unisex loo and a urinal. This clutch of temporary smelly habitats will satisfy the council for the charity (&) sheep shearing marathon and fun day I am helping to plan. What with the cream teas, hog and lamb roasts and alcohol on offer, plus the physical jiggling created by the pony rides, bucking bronco and bouncy castle, adequate facilities will be required.
Discussing bogs can be a bit of a downer when folks want to concentrate on how donations and fun quotient can be maximised. Then there is the formality of the Temporary Event Notice and contacting the police, getting insurance and all that jazz.
There will be lots of helpers. The local Young Farmers will be clearing out our friend's huge sheep shed so that all jollities will continue whether it continues to pour with rain or not; a local rugger team will be putting their muscular thighs and other bits to good use in one way or another; local companies are being asked to donate items for auction, and people will be flogging entry tickets and asking for sponsorship over the next few weeks leading up to The Big Day. There is a clay pigeon shoot to be coordinated and a marquee to be erected. The shearer is busy shearing across Devon and will be well warmed up by then. He is not in the first flush of youth, and has two artificial hips and a metal plate holding his thigh together. He aims to de-fleece 500 sheep in 24 hours, whilst all around him merriment and good humoured daftness urge him on.
Even with allowed breaks I suspect he will have a posture like Prince Charles at the stroke of midnight.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

What a big lot of about

Alan Bennett encapsulated it beautifully when he described his mother referring to the vista as "a big lot of about". The phrase has entered my life and gets used often. I think of myself as articulate but (and this is not something that has developed over the years - it has always been with me) frequently struggle to wrap my tongue around the word I want. Is this premature senility, a sign that I am headed for Alzheimer's, or do some brains just have odd synaptic arrangements? Flowerpot brought this tussling with words to mind, but it is a daily dance and probably as infuriating for others as it is for me. I don't even know if many people have noticed it, and if they have, I'm not at all sure I want verification.
It has, as most things, a positive side. I conjure nicknames and phrases for people and things easily, many of them bordering on the absurd. The words sit fatly in the air for a few moments of enjoyment and then burst into temporary oblivion until the object or place or person comes back to mind complete with new tag. It's like having a compendium of word games inside my head; I never know which rules will apply at any given moment, but at least I'm the gamemaster.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Beasties of the culm

Today was culm survey day, and we also surveyed the wood and the four most interesting fields on the farm. Interesting from a species point of view rather than because they might contain a leprechaun, a pot of gold or the missing hammer. It has been a very wet day. Wellies up to the armpits would have been a boon. As it is, my knees are wet, having been exposed between cagoule hem and wellington boot top. The knees were not naked, but might as well have been for all the good my trousers did.
I say "we" but actually I just trailed the professional, asking daft questions and trying not to squash anything rarer than a rarebit. For today (but possibly not by next week) I know the difference between Meadowsweet and Common marsh-bedstraw, and that having a flock of ewes barge their way unasked into the woodland even for an hour or two means that the 24 orchids previously counted will dwindle for this season at least to about half a dozen, even though there is no permanent damage. It is possible that some of the areas will become County Wildlife Sites, but I don't think a visit from Bill Oddie is implied in this designation.
Next job of the day is to measure the pigs to see if they are ready for the butcher. You use a piece of twine to measure them from neck to tail and round the chest and then do some magic formula thingy. Wrapping string round a pig is not easy at any time. It is very difficult when the ground is liquid chocolate. I may report back. On the other hand I might just need a bath.

P.S. For those who liked my woodpecker post, you'll be pleased to know that three red-capped juveniles have been raised and are now fully fledged, pecking each other in their eagerness to dominate the peanuts. The cats are on notice.

The photo is of a Six-spot Burnet Moth.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Killing me softly

I was going to let it pass without mention, but I find that I can't. I am just so pleased that the smoking ban has finally come into force.
I spent my life until my late teenage years living in a house with a father who smoked almost incessantly. It was before the grave warnings on the side of fag packets and the messages of ill health and worse were only starting to be heard and believed by most folk. Smokers were in the majority, or so it seemed.
I always hated smoking. Not in a mild fashion, but with a searing vengeance. I hated that the smoke made me choke, that it stank out the whole house, that the ceiling in the sitting room was yellow and that my father had chronic bronchitis. I would avoid spending time downstairs in a room that when you entered, your head would be above the swirling clouds of smoke, and your neck below. I couldn't understand the addiction to something so unpleasant, or that the father I loved dearly was causing himself and our home to be in thrall to the fag.
I never thought kids at school who smoked surreptitiously behind the bike sheds or the gym were cool - they had breath that stank, yellow fingernails and ash on their clothes - what was cool about that? Pubs and parties were great until the fug got overwhelming, and I shuddered at the way my clothes reeked when I got home, particularly as we didn't have a washing machine and I'd have to lug them to the laundry or splosh them about in the sink.
I don't think I ever kissed anyone who smoked, and when I finally did, it was on the understanding that the ciggies were history.
At work for a local authority I was agog when an idiotic councillor with a love for the weed, insisted on rearranging the already inadequate office space to allow staff to have a smoking room. I don't recall her asking for a room where drug addicts could shoot up, or for a row of optics to hang from the wall in case an alcoholic needed a fix between their liquid lunch and the end of the working day.
I have an over sensitive snout and throat; it was part of the imprint created by my father's ultimately deadly habit. I find it difficult to walk behind someone smoking on the street if the wind blows the smoke my way. I can't wait at a bus stop with smokers, or be near anyone desperate to light up as they step from a train. I don't despise them for their habit, I just can't stand the physical assault it makes unknowingly or not, directly on me. And I hope for all our sakes that the ban will help more people give up the noxious weed.