Monday, 29 June 2009

Polytunnel toad

I do like a toad. Even when they come hopping into the house to watch the ten o'clock news, as they do. These summer evenings the doors are left open and as the toads emerge from behind the damp greenness left lazily and deliberately unweeded from round the doorway, they hop into the boot room or venture more daringly across the kitchen, drawn by the BBC news headlines.
The polytunnel is home to another batch of toads. They hunt beneath the crush of courgettes, the thicket of tomatoes, the panoply of peas, relishing the damp soil, the flies, slugs and other edibles.
This is a photo of the polytunnel-toad; not as large as the news-at-ten-toad, but a charmer, all the same.

The polytunnel is looking very green, apart from the sweet peas, that produce a big bunch of pink, lilac, purple and red for the table every evening. But I want it to look even more colourful, full of flowers, and that's just starting to happen. The courgette blooms are there but you have to dig deep under the huge raspy leaves to see them; the tomato flowers are also shy, and their fruits are completely green for now. The spherical yellow courgettes are only just starting to fruit and bulge.
There is one baby aubergine, already purple, and the mass of peas are, to be fair, dotted with white flowers. The french beans are thinking about flowering. Another week and I'll be rewarded.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

I was good!

This morning I heard a furious rustling and thumping coming from the kitchen. When I went to investigate, Fenn was looking most excited but she hadn't, as I'd feared, stolen any of the hot rolls I'd recently taken out of the oven. But something had taken advantage of the open door, and there were sweet pea petals scattered all over the floor.
A juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker had found its way in and was fluttering, terrified, in the window. I easily picked it up, its gorgeous black and white stripes and scarlet cap, long pointy beak, still in my hand but so very much alive.
I hesitated. Should I take a fabulous close-up picture for my album and the blog, or should I be kind and let it go immediately?
I opened the window, opened my hand and off it flew.

Photo courtesy of

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Too bucolic for words

First it was elderflower champagne, then it was strawberries, next tiny and delicious peas and baby courgettes. Then gooseberries for a crumble, wild strawberries as a snack and now more elderflowers, but this time for cordial.
I'm going to disappear up my own gingham pinny.
But to bring me back down to earth I removed a tapeworm segment from the cat's arse. And stuffed a worming tablet down its gob. Oh, and cleared up a regurgitated mouse (from the cat, the cat!). I did a heap of fairly stinky animal pooh related tasks too. Oh, and sat on some tar and made the seat of my pants sticky. It's an idyll.

Friday, 19 June 2009

When your world suddenly shrinks

Sheep shorn, they are moved into the orchard to graze down the long grass. The llama isn't allowed in as he can kill a fruit tree at twenty paces; not by spitting but by mercilessly peeling off the bark with his buck teeth. So he gets left in the field that now needs topping to remove the sharp tall growth unfit for haymaking, and that can cut the soft part between the toes of the sheep as they walk through it.
The tractor goes round and round as Humphrey mews in distrust. He sits right in the centre, watching his patch of long, semi-camouflaging grasses get smaller and smaller. He decides that the tractor is boss and then swiftly stands and steps sideways into the topped area, peering over the gate to check all his ovine friends are close by. Satisfied, he starts to nibble the cut stems.

Monday, 15 June 2009

A day for shearing

214 sheep sheared in the barn today, 41 of them mine.
Now the mums are shorn their lambs look nearly as big, and at just 10 weeks old.
The two rams have been penned into a small corral in the barn to get reacquainted, an annual post-shearing ritual, smelling different as they do without their hot oily fleece. I've just had fun disentangling one from the other, horns wrapped up like an executive puzzle.
The dams and lambs are chewing on the fresh succulent grass and herbs in the orchard, giving the geese a run for their money.
In this warm, wet weather it's a huge relief that none had maggots or any sign of them, and without their fleece they should now be fine until the autumn.
Shearing done, it's time to start thinking about haymaking. Again.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

My little poppy

Tissue thin and wildly coloured with sooty black nose, simple, evocative, in memoriam and seriously mind-altering...the poppy is a flower that sends thoughts darting in multiple directions from the profound to the commercially indulgent.
They emerge, singly, in the dry dust of the garden wall, flourish for a day or two and then seep back into the earth.
I was at a dinner with friends, the topic was massage, when a wonderfully erudite and knowledgeable woman in her ninth decade announced that she had once been massaged in a Chinese opium could have heard a poppy drop.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

My life as a brick

There are many, many advantages to working in the arts sector. Mostly, it's the pleasure of working with artists. And sometimes, just occasionally, a special piece of work will find its way into your hand, and nestle happily in the house to be stroked (the three dimensional tapestry of Mopsa), hung from a hook (a framed sketch from a performance I supported), or gawped at in admiration over many years (a seven foot wooden sculpture of a head in profile).
Yesterday I had a strange delivery, a small but heavy parcel with a note attached warning me not to drop it on my toe. In my hand was a brick, but no ordinary brick. It had been covered in handmade unique textiles, printed and stitched with words I wrote for an old friend over a year ago.
After a (continuing) lively career in theatre, Julia turned her talents to textiles and asked people she knew to contribute to her degree show by asking for stories concerning objects from the family home that were precious in some way, however mundane or inexpensive. I shared this memory:
“It’s funny how so many precious family objects are related to the kitchen, to food, to the pleasure of eating together. I have several things from my mother’s kitchen that I could never bear to throw away, and that give me a warm feeling as I use or touch them. There’s the small, thick chopping board, barely large enough to cut a grapefruit, an off-cut from some post-war packing case, scarred and shaped by use. Then there’s the Nutbrown sandwich toaster, two rounds of hinged tin with long handles and chipped red wooden grips that lock, keeping the slices of bread and filling pressed together whilst they perch over the gas ring, bubbling butter and cheesy fat. I haven’t used it since childhood but it hangs by my cooker, just in case.
"Then there‘s the ancient Kenwood mixer that my mother nagged me for years to take and use, to give her more space in her tiny kitchen. I use it for cakes, whizzing up Thai green curry paste and best of all for making sausages. I loved using the mincer as a child, watching the trails of meaty worms emerge. Now I raise pigs and make my own sausages using the mincer and sausage attachment.
"Last of all are my Mother’s recipe books; not the ones by Marguerite Patten or Florence Greenberg, although I have several of those, but her own notebooks, covered in scrawl and bulked out by clippings from the Evening Standard. I still make her Dutch Apple Cake, covered in a Demarara, cinnamon and mixed spice crust”.
The brick is covered in dyed and digitally printed linen, with folds stitched as neatly as hospital corners. There is another piece of linen stitched on as a carrying handle. Printed onto the fabric are images of Kenwood attachments and the manufacturer's numbers for each component. A metal mincer cutter is held on tight with button thread and some of my words are printed on and stitched into the material.
So, after being exhibited alongside a host of other bricks, it's made its way to me - how lovely is that?
A brick was never as much my brick as this brick.

Talking of sheep...

...who, exactly, voted for the BNP in the European elections? Sometimes it's really hard to believe in freedom of speech.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.

Off to the National Sheep South West show yesterday, just a heap of stones' throws away from here. Meet Big Boy (I have no idea if he has a name), a Blue Faced Leicester ram. He was the size of a donkey. I looked for a donkey to put alongside so you could see what I mean, but it was a sheep fair, not a donkey derby.
Although open to all, it was an event for sheep farmers, with serious conversation and debates about electronic identification, stalls of expensive sheep stuff to buy and for a lighthearted moment, shearing competitions and sheepdog demonstrations. I looked down microscopes at parasites and worms, fingered fleece, and took away a mouse mat in the shape of a sheep.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Mending wall

There are patches of vertically stoned walls across the farm, no mortar, just laid dry, clamped together with earth and hope. Gradually they get repaired, even though they are just dots and dashes in the lines of the earth banks. Round the corner from the house is a flowerbed, lying up against an old boarded cowpen. Full of weeds and foxgloves it was also full of old ash tree stump. The digger put paid to that with chains and the flick of a finger, which sent yet more of the retaining stone wall tumbling down.
So in-house expertise set to work and produced a work of beauty. It's planted up now with herbs, surplus tomato, courgette and cucumber plants.
Walls seem to be on people's minds at the moment. Click on the pics for more detail.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Monochrome idyll

There's Claude, posing in the gateway. Eustace was probably off catching shrews. A little earlier a squirrel was squawking at the cats. It was sitting on a branch of the oak on the left making angry squirrel noises and shaking its tail. I'm not sure I've knowingly heard a squirrel hiss and chatter before, but whatever he was saying it wasn't polite. Two dogs, two cats and two people didn't frighten him away. When he'd said his piece he swung off from tree to tree to do what squirrels do.
And it's amazing how monochrome can make a hot day cool.