Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Know thy self

I have been lingering far longer than normal for a book, over Doris Lessing's autobiography, Under My Skin. For a change I haven't rushed at it, but savoured the descriptions of a childhood in Rhodesia and furrowed my forehead untangling the communism of her young adulthood.
Last night Alan Yentob was allowed into her kitchen to make her tea, lots of tea, and we were reminded of a woman who has made the word indomitable her own descriptor.
Age presumably plays a part, or perhaps not after all, but I cannot remember ever hearing or reading someone so absolutely self aware, so understanding of her own nature, and with such a sharp and clear view of humanity. This does not make for a soft experience, for her (leaving her first two children to pursue the life she had to must have been beyond painful) or for us (people are interesting but hardly important). She is revealed as a woman full of drives; her love of the physical, the sexual, the political, the humanitarian, all without caveats, all without delusion.
The programme shows her in 1958, very beautiful and specific as ever, sponsor of the Aldermaston marches, putting an unequivocal case against nuclear weapons, coolly and unemotionally.
To be so clear in ones own mind on any issue, about oneself... how few of us have that rarest of abilities. And if we think we do know our own mind, we mostly struggle to express what we know.
Watch The Hostess and The Alien here.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Are reptiles taking over the farm?

What with Hard-hattie making an impromptu appearance, I thought that would be it on the reptile front, but no. Zigzagging through the culm, trying to avoid the clumps of regenerating purple moor grass, I froze.
Sliding swiftly away from me was a thick, scaled, chevroned, slithering length of snake. Shivering with more fear than excitement, I blinked and it was gone.
It's so hard, without seeing the head, to know if it was a grass snake or an adder, but those chevrons were so marked, that I think it might have been an adder. And I was wearing sandals and shorts. Oh my.
(And no, I didn't hang around long enough to take a photo; I whistled my way to the edge of the culm and took my leave).

Pencarrow House

After a solid Saturday of fencing, a gloomy forecast and tired muscles dictated a change of pace on Sunday, so it was off to Pencarrow House for the Cornish Guild of Smallholders Country Fayre and Farmers Market (by kind permission, so it says on the programme, of Lady Molesworth St Aubyn).
Avoiding Wadebridge, the scenic route was taken down and up and down and up a very narrow lane over weak bridges (do they put up those signs to give you a free adrenalin rush?) where every bend required a leap of faith. The mile long drive to the house takes you through fabulous redwoods and rhododendrons, and army chaps (or were they all just fond of camouflage?) point you towards a sensible parking spot. Beautiful views, soggy grass, a heap of dogs (not Mopsa or Fenn who stayed behind to guard the bananas) and a pair of fabulous shires in harness. I have never before seen a horse with a moustache, but one of the shires had this going on in the vicinity of its top lip.
The food on offer was luscious, and the boot filled with flap jack, orange drizzle cake, hog's pudding, veal escalopes, two types of cheese, asparagus and a bag of spuds (the potato bucket was empty). Oh, and chocolate mousse, sticky toffee pudding, a white flowering chive plant and a cone of bramley and cinnamon ice cream. No excuse for starving in these parts.
Back home to find a fox had got through the electric fence and killed the second duck this month. This time however, it couldn't pull it through the new stock fencing and had dragged it as close to the fence as possible, eaten its head and left the body behind. It's clearly time to put up some permanent fox-proof pens for when there's no-one home. On a chirpier note, the incubator has a number of new ducklings hatching, so there are just a few weeks to get the pens sorted before this lot progress to the outside world. The to do list keeps growing.

Friday, 23 May 2008

They're closing my post office

"The Government has decided that up to 2500 Post Office branches across the UK will close. This local consultation will not change the Government decision, but aims to help Post Office Limited identify if the appropriate branches in this area have been proposed for closure."
So says the leaflet I picked up in the post office today. Instead of having a village post office that is open for 16 hours, four days a week with a heap of handy parking for those of us who live out of the village, they are proposing a mobile service open for a total of five hours, two mornings a week, and that we should instead use another post office 4 miles away (8 mile round trip) that is on a fearfully dangerous bend on a main (well, main for round here) road, with parking for one car.
They say that we can also use online services, but the village has been refused broadband by BT.
I am appalled that a Labour government is overseeing the dismantling of rural community services and at their failure to ensure equal access to key services across the country. They are a suicidal government.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Slow food movement?

Ummm... look what I found.
I was checking for Southern Marsh Orchids. I found one, and a second plant not yet in flower. Not the great mass I was hoping for, but I got distracted before I could really peer among the green stuff to see if there were any more promising leaves.
The dogs were nosing at the edges of the field, so were lagging behind me when, well, there it was.
I started to chuckle, and then burst into laughter. The stuff I find on this farm never fails to amaze me.
Having googled and inspected, I think it is a female mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise. That's a phrase I never thought I'd use.
I've put her into the walled front garden where she is safe from the dogs, there is lots of tortoise favourite food growing naturally, and put down a dish of water. I've called her Hard-hat. She doesn't belong to any of my few neighbours. What do I do now?

Monday, 19 May 2008

This is the after shot, after the dangly barbed wire, faded baler twine and rotten posts have been wrenched gleefully from the river bank.
This is the shot of plans fulfilled and dreams realised. Where dogs and humans can reach the river and splash about. Where people can place beer bottles for chilling and dogs can lap water without wire draped about their ears. Where the river can flood its banks without depositing heaps of twigs and stuff in a sieve of unforgiving stock fencing.
The fence will be made anew fifty yards above the river, and I will find a good bum-shaped log to put near the water, so I can watch and think, and watch and not think.
It took one vigorous Sunday morning to do this, and I've been back twice since to admire, and it's only Monday.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Blowsy or delicate?

I spend so much of my walking time seeking out the delicate notes of wild flowers that it's a shock to see the horticultural brassiness of the cultivated varieties in my tiny front garden. But this week the bloodshot eyeball peony and the Dame Edna gladioli are visual tricks that are somehow trashy in their exuberance in comparison to the delicacy of the ragged robin, the stitchwort and the many varieties of the carrot family that Jackson Pollock and Miro the hedgerows.
If I was to determine which of these two opposites describes me, I would have to go for the blowsy, in the same way that I'm a Bernese dog person and would give nil house room to a chihuahua. But it's those wild fragile blooms that attract me; those banks awash with the froth of cow parsley, red campion and bluebells just steps from my door.
Oh, and before I forget the sensation, today I smelled coriander in the orchard. There are no cultivated herbs planted there, so I stopped and sniffed again. I just adore the scent and taste of coriander; along with thyme it is my favourite herb, but it was not supposed to be there. And then I pulled down to my nose the nearest branch of apple blossom and inhaled. Yes. A definite but subtle hint of coriander. I felt a Jilly Goolden moment come upon me as I checked that it was a cider apple, a Bulmers Norman in fact.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Paths and tracks

When I set out each morning to feed and check on the animals I don't concentrate on the path I take across a field or up a track, but when I retrace my steps, empty bucket in hand, pleased perhaps with the progress of lambs, weaners or goslings, then I notice the parallel lines in the wet grass stretching away from me, marking where my feet have scuffed through the sward. It's incredibly difficult not to repeat that first journey exactly.
Often as not I have followed a sheep track, one they have made from hay rack to gate, or gate to gate, often with an eccentric meander round a comfortable contour rather than the shortest route. Like a waterway, the sheep tracks have tributaries and forks, where they split and regroup in answer to some internal satnav.
As the grass lengthens the tracks become more confirmed, better defined, a helpful path. The dogs always follow these paths and only go off-roading if distracted by a keen scent.
Last week I walked with friends through their woodland bordering a stretch of river. "Do you walk through here a lot?" I asked, noting the clear narrow mud track that moved us forward between the swathes of bluebells, wild garlic and orchids. "No", they said, "about once a year". The place is left undisturbed to encourage the bountiful flora and fauna. The track was the work of deer, and in the damp undergrowth we could spot lots of sharp hoof prints.
Somehow the tracks made by tractors and digger just don't have the same romance, but even they follow the animal tracks; animal instinct directs across the firmest and driest ground, why wouldn't a driver take heed?

Friday, 9 May 2008

The boys are back in town

I have used my new found competency and brought home the rare breed bacon. Three Berkshires, my pig breed of choice, and a pair of Middle White/British Lop crosses to make up the numbers.
Middle White adults are the most ugly beast, with squashed wrinkled heads, reminiscent of a Sharpei, so I'm hoping for the sake of not scaring the local wildlife, that the British Lop element will temper their looks whilst maintaining their reputation for perfect pork.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Testing competence

Yesterday I proved my competence. Not something I'd normally be able to do, klutz that I often am. But I did do it. Twice. I am now legally certificated (certified?) to transport both pigs and sheep. Good thing too as this year's weaners are being brought home for their joyous outdoor fattening process today.
The computerised multiple choice exams contained a mix of pointless questions (the kind of thing you would expect to be able to check up in a handy notebook kept in your glovebox, as necessary) regarding lengths of journeys and associated paperwork, and things that are absolutely key to animal welfare. Would you haul a pig by its ears or deliberately create mayhem whilst loading your carefully raised livestock into a trailer full of sharp pointy dangerous bits? Not unless you were a sadist.
I can see the point of requiring professional hauliers to take part in a livestock handling course and provide actual evidence of their competence, NVQ style, where observing people in their work situation is key. But filling in a computer test when you may be unfamiliar with a pc, may not be a great reader, but are a responsible driver and have received good training as an animal handler seems a bizarre way of ensuring livestock is actually and not theoretically well treated before, during and after journeys.
As for farmers and smallholders, most of the answers are plain common sense (although the questions trying to elicit that sense can be strangely convoluted to catch out the unsuspecting), and I can't help feel that this process is oddly out of sync with need and reality. Meeting this legal requirement cost me £50 (after having hunted down a cheaper option than I was originally offered). And that was having eschewed the time and £ for the optional prior training course. But I made the best of it; I spent the afternoon with a friend lunching and lounging round Launceston as a pre-exam softener. We both passed.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Future promise

The orchard is blooming. After supper a wander with the dogs to check on the sheep and their lambs, the fencing, the drain repair, the sogginess or otherwise of the ground. And then back through the orchard, which has burst into flower, young trees and old in their May finery.
There was talk of last year's June frost and the poor fruiting season that resulted. But this all looks so burgeoning that it's hard to believe there will be anything other than barrels of apples, armfuls of plums and gages, baskets of cherries, crates of damson and sacks of pears.
Click on the pic to see those amazing pink veins on the petals.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Going the Reagan and Bush route

I know that we are told that folks in the UK like to tag along on the coat tails of the Americans, but I always thought that was a myth, that the British just enjoyed the parts of US culture that it fancied and left the rest (bible-belt belligerence, donuts for breakfast, domesticated Humvees etc) alone. But no, it appears that we are more umbilically linked than I thought.
London (that's our capital, apparently, for those of us who breathe the air hundreds of miles away) was given a choice and London has chosen to be represented by a lying political buffoon. It's like having Donald Duck as mayor. Or Ricky Gervais. I cringe with embarrassment at the image this presents of the UK on the international scene. My sympathy for those Americans gobsmacked by being represented by Bush (both) or Reagan has reached a new high.
In my conspiracy theory moments (of which I have few), I suspect the Tories have been incredibly clever: by putting up Boris for Mayor they have taunted the populace: "if you are prepared to elect this man for London, then you are prepared to vote in David Cameron and his tribe, just because you are so pissed off with Labour".
The fact that they are right shows just how appalling the state of government is. When government is taken over by show business, we are in serious trouble. Brown: get your finger out!
So I offer a flower or two from my walk in the woods yesterday, as a calming influence.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Eden - so near but yet... far. It's only a bit more than an hour from here, but I've never been to the Eden Project. As it's so close I expected a visit would just sort of happen some time without me having to actively arrange anything. Huh! I have friends that visit me from all over the country who are en route for Eden and I can't sort a 60 mile jaunt.
This week I had to attend a work related thing and it was at Eden. Wonderful; I can go round in the morning before doing my work thing in the afternoon. No chance. Too busy. Hung over the balcony of the visitor centre to take a photo, and that was it. It was like being given a sniff but not a taste of a truffle. Now I know what it's like to be a French pig.