Sunday, 4 September 2011

Cows, cows, cows, cows, cows, cows, cows, cows...

You get the idea? We have COWS! The glorious, wondrous, huge, beautiful, desirable, brilliant, scarily large, extraordinary tasting Devon Red Rubies. A small pedigree suckler herd, which we hope to add to before the winter kicks in.
There's matriarch Willow with her new bull calf; Bollie, a year younger also with her calf; and Peaceful, a heifer with some growing to do before she has a calf of her own.
For now, Bollie and Willow leave Peaceful in charge of their calves when they want to drink, graze, hang out. And then the old gals nudge her OFF the calves and tell her where to go. It's pretty much in line with bullying the au pair and still knowing she'll not pack her bags and leave you in the lurch.
We bought them at auction at a very local farm, from an acquaintance who needed to get rid of her herd, so they came here with their auction stickers slapped high on their rumps. Bollie still has hers and looks like she's wearing a new summer outfit with the labels still attached.
The auction was not that nailbiting; after having been to several sales recently and either not bid because of the quality of the stock or bid and been trampled over by gobsmackingly high prices, this was a pretty calm affair. We liked what we saw, a more knowledgeable pal gave a helpful opinion, we set a price and that was it. Out of more than a hundred people present I think only half a dozen were bidding, and none were prepared to get carried away. Lucky auction number 99 took me through to winning the 3 lots we wanted. And then the nailbiting started.
Everybody has said to me that after sheep, cows would be a walk in the park, but blimey, I can turn over a sheep and take physical control. Those cows must weigh nearly a tonne. And they are naturally protective of their young. And we've never done this before. And and and.
But we have great big pigs, and that's fine. And we'll take it slowly, and today Peaceful came up to me to be patted, and Willow looked thoughtful about the prospect. Bollie, with her first calf, is entirely suspicious, looking strict and superior, keeping her distance. Winning her over will take time.
This afternoon I watched her calf lick at an itch, but Bollie couldn't resist and rasped her tongue all over her calf, showing him how it was done. I also watched the cows engage in synchronised grazing, shitting, calf suckling, pissing and drinking. It was a well directed opera of activity with all basics covered.
This is the start of a big adventure. It reminds me how the people on our smallholding courses feel when they take their first tentative livestock steps. It reminds me how much we've learned over decades of keeping sheep, pigs, poultry and more. It reminds me how little I know about cattle, no matter what I've read, no matter what I've heard. Ultimately you have to do something to know something. And now, I'm doing it.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Child size cellos

It's been a long while since I blogged, but tonight I had the urge to tell you about my Pilgrim geese.
They are a rather rare breed of sex-linked geese, with the ganders white and the females grey. When they hatch the fluff on the females is olive greeny grey, the males yellow with some paler grey on their backs. You can look for hours at a collection of baby ganders wondering if perhaps there is one, please just one, female in the group.
Although nearly all the eggs my trio produced were fertile, the successful hatching rate of the Pilgrim is low - no wonder they're a rare breed - and I managed to hatch just ten through artificial incubation, although the batch I left under the goose came to naught.
There are still four fluffy goslings in a cage run, keeping them safe from predators - cats, dogs, foxes, buzzards and the like, but after a week of letting the adults roam round the run with the older goslings, they are now happily integrated as a flock.
They belong in the orchard really, but I can't bear to put them up there as they are a quiet breed and may not make enough noise to alert me to a possible fox presence. To be honest, an inevitable fox presence - we are overrun with them on the farm and at least one new litter of cubs was born this year. So they are living in the farmyard, with a spacious stable to house them at night, and during the day I can stand and stare as they stretch out a leg, a wing, and do their flamingo impersonations. Or dabble in puddles, or tease the dogs, or carry bits of stray wood around, or nibble at the mudguards of my car, or the headlamps of visitor's cars, or sift the corn, or sit and stand and sit again.
The six goslings in the flock are like child sized cellos - identical in every way to their parents, just slightly miniaturised. They are long past the gawky fluffy stage, the strangely ugly time that every goose goes through, a sort of adolescent, pubescent gangly phase when only a mother could love them.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Most precious objects 2

Who knows how long this will go on for or when I run out of ideas, but let's take a punt and do a few posts on the things I have that are for whatever daft reason, rather precious.
Remember Michael Landy, the artist who put all his possessions into a crusher? I'm not into things for things' sake but some stuff is so useful, or adorable, or part of one that I'd find it pretty impossible to let everything go like that. I'm not a hoarder, I do chuck stuff, but there are certain things I keep for far longer than would appear to be average.
I wear shoes that are ten, twenty, thirty years old (or more), and won't buy new ones very often as they don't speak to me. And shoes should, shouldn't they?
The photo is of my Mary Poppins boots. I don't know how old they are, but they were my Mother's, and recollection would suggest they are at least as old as I am. So that's more than 47 years old then. I've been wearing them since I was a student, so they've been in my wardrobe for nearly thirty years.
They are beyond shabby but I wear them every autumn. They make me feel good. They make me feel elegant, which is bizarre considering how wrecked and utilitarian they are and how inelegant I feel 99% of the time. A farm is not the place for elegance. I love the chunky kitten heel, the strange shape of the cuff, the astrakhan trim, the arrow shaped strap with its poppable popper, the round toes, the wool lining. If I knew a shoemaker who could make me a duplicate pair I'd get some made.
But who's to say what it is that weaves magic into our mood, our temperament? I'd feel a complete pillock in towering Louboutin's and dainty French fancies of the shoe variety would be as appropriate to my life as Kirsty Allsopp's massive ring. I admire these from a distance, chortling at the prospect of me mucking out a pig pen in four inch heels with scarlet soles and a sapphire so large that the full host of angels could simultaneously dance the tango on it with room to spare.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Most precious objects

I was at a conference this week, in the role of report writer, listening to some of the most extraordinary people working in performing arts training in the world today. Everywhere my ears settled there was wisdom, passion, and talent beyond measure. It is to these people that we owe our most loved theatre, films, television programmes, radio plays, ballet, contemporary dance, human circus skills and more. These are the people who train the most outstanding talent, who bring the skill, technique and understanding that shapes our cultural world. I won't even start to share what they have to say about The X Factor and similar instant fame nonsense.
There was some reflection on the brilliant A History of the World in 100 objects and that made me think about my personal precious things. No doubt because I was so heavily immersed in things theatrical that day, the first thing that came to mind was my copy of Antony Sher's Year of the King.
As an Eng Lit graduate I was familiar with and in awe of Shakespeare (of course), but not particularly enamoured. I craved new writing, contemporary work, novelty. What did I know? And then I went to see Antony Sher in Richard III and stumbled out of the theatre exhausted and mesmerised. Although I had seen a lot of theatre, there were only a very few performances that stunned me (Warren Mitchell at the National in Death of a Salesman was one of these). I didn't know that Shakespeare could be like that. I didn't know that ACTING could be like that. The performance swung round and round in my mind for months. Then Sher wrote a book about the experience and I devoured every word, reliving that night again and again.
Shortly after, I started working at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, feeding the actors, the stage crew, the wardrobe department, the musicians, the staff, and there was Antony Sher, now playing Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. His dresser, the terrifying Black Mac, saw me with my copy of the book and asked me if I'd like Antony to sign it. Oh yes please!
A few days later Black Mac, also known as Black Mac the Bastard, and vividly sketched in the book complete with Mike TV glasses, handed it back, sort of nonchalantly. The frontispiece was signed "To Debbie, with thanks and fondest wishes, Antony Sher, Stratford 25/6/87". Precious indeed, but that wasn't all. Black Mac had gone to every member of staff and cast who had been recorded in the book either by name or by sketch (often both) and who were in Stratford for the current season. As I flicked through I realised I held in my hand a theatrical gem: Brian Cox, Bill Alexander, John Carlisle, Black Mac the Bastard himself, and more.
Sometimes you feel entirely in the moment, of the moment. Seeing the play, reading the book and then having my book returned to me so joyfully enhanced were three of those times.
As light hearted contrast, I offer my micro anecdote of cooking for Vanessa Redgrave. My hopelessly inadequate "Vanessa, your cauliflower cheese is ready", haunts me still.