Sunday, 30 November 2008

Time out

It's been over a week since I've had time to play blogger rather than farmer, trainer, or consultant. I've been shooting about like a mad ferret and the lead up to Christmas looks as if nothing's gonna change soon. I'm already planning a New Year's resolution; do more of the stuff I love, less of the stuff I don't, and tighten my belt.
So, although wearing slatey grey eyebags that would only lighten with copious applications of sleep, I kept an appointment made months ago to get up and go fairly early this morning with a friend off to the Devon and Cornwall Waterfowl Show at the Royal Cornwall Showground.
I had my eye on getting some more Black Indian Runner ducks to join Beany and co, so slid along the for sale section, clocked a nice young pair, shoved over to the Treasurer's desk, paid over my beer vouchers and clicked a sold label onto the cage so that I could go and admire the show birds at leisure.
Many shows auction their birds, so you have to wait hours if the pens you are keen on have high numbers, and you have no idea how optimistic the bidding will be. I much preferred this civilised approach - each pen had a clear price tag, and if there was no sold label, you sauntered apparently casually, but actually at top speed, to put down your dosh and the deal is done. No argy bargy, no haggling, no competition. Lovely.
The long lines of runner ducks of every colour on show had me enthralled (only the white runners are on show in this photo). Unlike the other ducks of a more squat stature in square cages, runners are given tall pens to accommodate their naturally vertical stance. They stand in lines like soldiers on parade. It's a good thing they weren't all for sale or I'd have come home with armfuls of the beauties.
I iffed and butted over two pens of Silver Appleyard ducks for a friend, but closer inspection revealed imperfections that I wouldn't have been happy with, so I resisted. I chortled over the Sebastopol geese - a lovely example in the photo above - with their crazy ringleted feathers, the Shirley Temple of the waterfowl world.
The only problem was that the huge cattle barn the event was held in was freezing. It was colder inside than out - we shivered as we walked into the shed and my feet were numb in ten minutes. There were very few people there; much more body heat was needed to create a comforting guff. But I'm back in the warm now, and my two new black beauties are on straw, with feed and water, and getting over the trauma of the journey and their new home.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

La la land and my reality

For my birthday earlier this month I received a very welcome clutch of Persephone books. On top was The Country Housewife's Book by Lucy H Yates.
I'm sure that Persephone have reproduced part of the Introductory Note on the jacket with a significant part of tongue jammed in cheek, suggesting perhaps that this book is first and foremost a curiosity and of social historical interest, but it made perfect sense to me. I quote:

" often it is the unexpected that happens. There may... occur a glut of Milk, and it must be used to some good purpose or have to go down the drain; or a crop of fruit or vegetable may reach the stage when it must be gathered or it will utterly spoil, yet the materials for preserving are not ready; or some well-meaning friend drops a bag of game or half a dozen rabbits at the door; and everything else must be put aside."

It might be odd to some, but this is a reasonable précis of chunks of my life. Look at that array of preserves, a small sample of a range of stuff all of which were produced in a fingers crossed there's enough sugar/vinegar/jars or bottles mood. Unlike Lucy Yates, I always have to peel off the old labels and scoop the spiders out of my jars before I get rolling, and have in the past begged a handful of carrots destined to feed water voles from a neighbour to finish the chutney. And the freezer is fair jammed with rabbit casserole and dressed pheasants awaiting a future pot roasting thanks to my very own well-meaning friends.
What did crack me up was not the expectation that a country housewife would grow and minister to her own veg and fruit plots, spend her evenings hanging jelly bags filled with soft fruits from chair legs, or making Mangel Wurzel wine (yuk - alcoholic swede beverage anyone?) but would bizarrely cater for Tennis Parties (oh yes, definitely upper case), and offer a Scheherazade special, otherwise known as Strawberry Sherbet.
No doubt the CH would knit the tennis net out of runner bean climbers, and shove the pigs out of their patch to create a court with one hand, whilst simultaneously scattering Arsenate of Lead in all the outhouses to kill off any wood lice with the other. Perhaps one's cheek is, after all, the best place for a CH's tongue.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Round and round we go!

I go away for the day and stuff happens. As I drove off in the morning I passed the scaffolder's lorry and crossed my fingers that they were on the way to the farm. I got back at 10pm and it was too dark to see anything, but this morning I kept the ducks, geese and sheep waiting as I rushed about in curious glee, poking at this and that, finally able to feel all about and inside the roundhouse without having to bend double beneath scaffold planks or get poked in the eye by the poles.
I am completely charmed by it, and want to set up house with a dainty tea set and teddy bears. Or hang a white sheet against the wall and have panoramic cinematic splendour with friends, handing popcorn through the windows (salted through one and sweet sticky toffee through the other). Most of all I want to be entirely naff and hang a huge glitter ball from the roof and bop to Queen and the Stones as the mirrored lights twinkle and spark off the stone. My party palace.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A year in and we're nearly done

Just before my birthday last year the builders arrived. I was psyched up for an 18 month flurry of demolition and rebuild, but I've just had another birthday and the chaps are nearly finished, months ahead of schedule. Just a few days of activity remain. I'm so excited I can hardly believe that the barns are nearly back to where they were decades ago, and looking beautiful.
The last of the scaffolding will disappear this week and then I can post photos of the thatched roundhouse which is tucked behind the threshing barn shown here.
For my birthday, the barns were floodlit so that party guests could ooh and aah as they came down the track, and they did; it was most heart warming. Best of all the nine dovecotes in the cob barn had tealights popped in them, and deep in the cob they were safe from the dramatic winds that howled round and the flames twinkled for five hours. Any birds taking shelter in there will be able to bring up cosy young.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Western world preoccupations

I know that you can get terribly maudlin about the state of humanity, and spend a lifetime weeping pointlessly into your beer or beard about things you intend to do nothing much about - infant mortality, torture, abuse of human rights and so on. But there are times when media preoccupations are downright obscene considering what is truly important, and when the ability to value what's significant is appallingly flawed.
This whole week's nonsensical fixation on two light entertainment figures having made a daft balls-up made me want to chuck the whole media industry into a large blender and flick the switch. I wasn't madly bothered about the Russian oligarchy losing its roubles, although I had a moment of unsurprised horror when I read that $70 billion of the $700 billion coughed up by the ailing US government to prop up the financial sector would be going to pay bonuses to those workers who still somehow thought they had reached their performance targets.
But what really pulled me up short was a story so utterly horrific that I couldn't understand why it wasn't front page news and the leader for every TV bulletin.

Somalian rape victim, 13, stoned to death.

There aren't many stories in the press that can make me cry with shame and horror. This did.

Saturday, 1 November 2008


I was as eager as the rams to get them in with the ewes this morning, so I rushed my animal feeding and bedding chores and then did my little shepherdess act and moved the lambs through the yard into an empty field to ensure no underage distractions.
Yes, I should have waited for help but Toyboy is so single minded that I didn't expect any problems. I opened his gate, waved a scoop of nuts under his nose, and trotted off quick smart expecting him to follow. He did, and at a cracking pace. I had to hare across the intervening field to open the gate to the harem before he had time to consider bashing through and claim droit de seigneur. Gate open, chap in, girls eager and much mutual circling and greeting. With 19 ewes to serve he hardly knew where to start.
Moving Samson was definitely a two person job. He has spent the past month pacing in anticipation, fairly wearing himself to a frazzle of sexual frustration and snatches half-heartedly at grass and hay between the real business of leering at unreachable totty. With a bit of ushering and the use of a thick rope as a halter he was encouraged through gates and fields until he saw his goal. He was off like a shot, a series of frenzied hellos, and two ewes served within the minute. I left him to it.