Monday, 25 February 2008

Murph and the missing sheep

There are times when I really should listen to my wife more, I keep telling myself this and today is no exception. Had I listened to her advice I might perhaps have avoided my, what the surgeon described a tad too cheerily for my liking, my "life changing accident". But I shall bore you with the details of that at a later date, when I have more time and less to talk about.

As you know we are missing four sheep, lost on the common that surrounds our cottage. So straight after work I decided there was just enough daylight left to complete the two mile circuit of the hill that we are perched on and try to entice the Suffolks back with some nice crunchy sheep nuts.

Tracey advised against this as if I fell there would be no one to find me as she would be too busy with the horses. Pah!!

I set out armed with one of the walkie talkies, the yellow bucket and four very large and very mental dogs. What could possibly go wrong?

Almost immediately I got a warning that perhaps I should pay heed to my wife and not my male bravado. As I and the pack entered the cauldron, a huge natural bowl shape formed by the hillside I watched Faith the Gordon Setter charge off over the skyline closely followed by Poppy the Golden Retriever barking with a ferocity never exhibited before. Rocky and Reba the Bernese Mountain Dogs felt compelled to join the chase and within seconds I was alone walking up the hill towards the Troll's Cave. In looking for said Troll I omitted to look where my feet were going and was very surprised to find I was instantly eye level with an anthill. Luckily the yellow bucket broke my fall and my injured arm, the one the surgeon is very worried about, well not that worried as its not my arm but if I was you mate I'd be crying (as I said he's a cheerful bloke) flopped limply to the floor without causing major complications. I pushed myself up with my good arm and carefully checked for any exposed metal work in my left arm. All intact. I looked at the horizon and to where the dogs had disappeared and for a moment thought about returning to the sanctuary of the cottage. The radio bleeped and Tracey asked me where I was, and if I was OK, this spurred me on, as did the pack of dogs who returned baying at full volume, maybe they had found the sheep!

I'm fine I shouted into the radio, obviously lying as I was still spitting out moss and grass from kissing the anthill.

Undeterred I pressed on. The dogs hadn't found anything they were just barking at the wind, and the rain, and the grass, and the dirt, in fact they were just barking insanely at everything.

I rounded the hill, feebly shaking the bucket and yelling "Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrmon!!!" the universally recognised call to summon sheep. Non were summonsed but in the failing light a few sheep looked worried. None were the right ones. We use different colours to identify the flocks on the hill, yes my fourteen sheep count as a flock thank you very much!! Ours are green, well in places they are, usually the tail and a large T along the left flank. Unless its an eater, when we omit the T as it makes the fleece unusable. Luckily for me the sheep hadn't worked out this coding, the last thing you need is fourteen angry sheep. As the Suffolk's were all eaters apart from Bill I was beginning to suspect they had worked out the code and made a bid for freedom on the hills.

I reached the halfway point, still sheepless but now reunited with the pack, who bored with chasing rabbits had loyally returned to their owners side and were now taking it in turns to trip him up. In the gathering darkness decided there was no hope of finding the sheep and set off down the track that would bring me back to my front door. This would mean walking past mad Keith's, a hermit who decided over 45 years ago that the hill was the place to be, and who doesn't stalk the hill at night with a box of cat bones tied to his ancient bicycle, and past Murph's place. Keith I could handle, and anyway as hes over 70 I can run faster than him. Murph on the other hand, he is a living nightmare.

Murph is a kindly soul who lives for the sound of his own voice. He is not happy unless the dull droning monotone Irish brogue is being received by his auditory senses. I had been warned about him. The first time I met him was one of those exceptionally busy moments where the last thing you want to hear is someone saying, I can see your busy so I wont stop you, but....


But you still spoke to me for over an hour Murph!

We had just taken delivery of a fridge, the super duper food centre type. The bells and whistles type that makes ice for your drinks. The type that takes eleven weeks to be delivered and only then after daily phone calls trying to trace your order. The fridge that you take two days off work for waiting for its delivery only to find its not been sent because some moron drove into it with a forklift, or the order was cancelled because the driver decided not to drop it off as they couldn't get the lorry up the drive to the cottage. The same lorry that the week before had delivered a washing machine from the same company, by the same driver and the same lorry that now couldn't make it up the lane. That type of fridge becomes very important to the recipient, and when he discovered the lorry in the lane he insisted on it being left right there mate, don't even think about taking it away and bringing it back in a smaller lorry.

That's how I found myself in the lane with a huge fridge. I did think I would drag it back to the cottage, but the drive is just under half a mile long and all uphill. The fridge weighs over 100kg. A new plan was needed. Luckily Ben, our son was home and with what I thought was inspirational thinking I got him to reverse the Ford Focus up to the fridge, and with the tailgate open we lodged the top corner of the huge cardboard box surrounding its precious contents onto the bumper of the car. Slowly, at walking pace we took it in turns to edge the car forward whilst the other bore the weight of the fridge. The plan was working. To the point we were Murphed. He appeared from nowhere and delivered a welcome to the hill monologue (we had not long moved in) that lasted longer than some communist leaders annual party address. I took it as long as my arms and more vitally my ears could stand. As my tendons were being ripped apart I prayed for salvation, a comet to kill Murph, anything to end the torment. Luckily for him his wife who must be deaf or immune appeared and dragged him away before I had a chance to physically harm him.

Confident that Murph was not going to be in I continued past Keith's hovel and amazingly found the sheep. There in a clearing all scoffing grass. Hah!! Success. They saw me and didn't bolt, Bill came over and ate from the bucket and all was right with the world. I was going to return home a hero!

We all filed into the lane that runs alongside Murphs house and I saw to my horror lights were on. Worse, the outside light was on and I could see the gangily silhouette of Murph, poised by the gate like a six foot six Irish preying mantis waiting for prey to bore. There was no escape. he could see I was busy, but...

And so I heard about the car trouble he had been having, the journey down (his is a holiday cottage) the courtesy car, the pros and cons of Nissan Micras as opposed to his Volvo, his new year, his walk around the hill and how nice the sheep are, they're very friendly are they mine and on and on until I wanted to stab him. Repeatedly.

In the glare of the outside lights I couldn't keep track of the four dogs, the four sheep and the goat, Maggie, who had also appeared. I felt the life being sucked out of me as Murph droned on giving me his whole life story. I was vaguely aware of the presence of animals, the dogs crashing around, sometimes barking at Murph, once the goat put her front hooves on my shoulder and looked me in the eye, probably to tell me the bucket was now empty, and the sheep were milling around. As I wished for a swifter death I really did wish I had listened to Tracey and not set off on the mission to round up the flock. Eventually Murph's wife appeared in the doorway and ordered him back inside. I was saved. I returned to the task in hand, bringing the sheep safely home.


What sheep?

I was alone in the dark. The dogs, bored with waiting had set off for home. The sheep having emptied the bucket took to the hill once more, having tasted freedom they were keen to keep their liberty. Defeated I returned sheepless to the cottage.

Cheers Murph.

Still a warm welcome awaited and Karl had even cooked me dinner. I think he did this for two reasons, one to say sorry for booking his return flight home for the 17th of March, the other to demonstrate that you can cook without using every work surface, pot and pan, just to make one meal, like what I do.

His leaving on the 17th means we have three weeks to complete the kennels, the stables, the garden digging, the fencing, the goat house, the stairs in the workshop and the utility kitchen at the back of the workshop where we can butcher our own meat and other such jobs. I also want him to decorate, fix the leaking toilet, put the alternator belt on the Peugeot, clean it and sell it. In his spare time he can chop enough wood for the winter. He's going to be busy!

Me, well mines a supervisory role, and as I am in London for the next three days I wont be able to do much of that either. Tomorrow he has the joys of Mike and Johnathan to help with the concrete.

Poor Tracey will have to sort out any fights on her own!!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Red Kites and missing sheep

Good news as it seems that even a Luddite like me can operate this web page. This is the second post as I was thinking it wasn't working so would have to wait for Sarah to return from Kilimanjaro to show me how to work it all.

Since last time a lot of progress has been made, mainly with the help of Karl and a Bobcat digger. The 40 tons of gravel is now something resembling a level surface to walk on. Key point here is remember that a level surface on a Welsh hill is an extraordinary achievement. The concrete for the stables is down and it wouldn't be a tale from the Rock if we hadn't have had problems there too.

In desperation to finish the shuttering and leveling job before the concrete arrived I phoned Mike to come and help. Given that Karl was leveling the site with no scientific aids, such as a spirit level or string, and I can only use on arm at the moment so my assistance was minimal, we didn't think we had done too bad a job of clearing the site.

Tracey my wonderful and ever so patient wife watched with amused interest as we struggled to assemble the shuttering into a box shape to accommodate the ready mix arriving in less than 14 hours. It was obvious we were not going to get it done hence the distress call to Mike. He duly arrived and happily told us that there was probably another two days work to do before the concrete could be laid, and anyway why didn't we put the stables in line with the rest of the house and have we ordered fibre in the concrete and had we got wintermix. Tracey mediated and prevented a piece of 2 by 4 being inserted into Mike where a surgeon would have had difficulty removing it. I told Mike that I thought we were ordering concrete not bloody breakfast cereals and why hadn't he said at the outset get all the added bits. Mike looked at me the way you would at a naughty child whilst Tracey took notes on exactly what was needed.

I managed to sulk for the rest of the evening and my demeanour was not helped by having to have a dodgy curry from the takeaway as we had been too busy to cook the Ryeland Lamb joint we had set aside for lunch. This curry gave all three of us the trots and confirmed our view that food produced by the outside world is indeed poisonous.

The next morning I managed to cancel the delivery of concrete and Mike turned up with Johnathan to assist in the final site layout. As I met Johnathan I got his name wrong and shook his hand and said, "Pleased to meet you Justin"

He looked at me and his eyes rolled skywards and it was at that point I remembered Mike saying that the thing about Johnathan was that he had the most extraordinary stutter. Johnathan now demonstrated this by stamping his foot, dancing round in a circle before finally falling to his knees and blurting out his name. In asking him if he wanted a tea or coffee you could make both before he finally picked himself off the floor spluttering tea milk one!

Finally the concrete was down and we put a six strand horse strength electric fence around it to keep our seven dogs and four cats off it. This worked very well, until it was dark.

I went out just before midnight to find to my horror that several cats had decided to walk the length of the concrete pad. Even worse, it seems the whole area which now resembled a floodlight boxing ring had been used by two sparring badgers who had decided to settle their differences by wrestling in the newly laid grey stuff. It was no longer the lovely smooth surface that Mike had spent ages achieving, it was more like a scale model of the moons surface, complete with craters and mountains. As I leaned over in the using torch light to establish exactly what type of animal had desecrated the sacred concrete I momentarily forgot about the fence and as I prodded the wet concrete I earthed and received a shock designed to stun a shire horse and added to the animal artwork by dropping the torch and fell forward sinking to my wrist the ice cold grey mush.

I hastily covered my any trace of my involvement and retired to the cottage cursing badgers, cats and fences and thinking that perhaps it was sometimes easier to be living in the cosy three bed modern terrace we left just over a year ago to live the self sufficiency dream on the Rock.

This morning I am happier, the concrete is set, we can take the fence down and set it up around the site for the pad for the kennels which should be complete tomorrow, and providing the badgers don't return for round two this one should be smoother.

Why Red Kites and missing sheep? Well as I type this I can see two Red Kites through the window circling just in front of the house, probably checking out our chickens to see if any are worth taking for lunch. Somehow losing a bird to a bird of prey is more acceptable than losing one to a fox. Missing sheep, well our surprise Suffolks ( a long story) have jumped the three fences designed to keep them from bothering the rest of the world and are out on the common, somewhere, and this morning we all set out to find them. We failed, so somewhere on the 200 plus acres of the ridge are our four errant sheep. Finding them is my next challenge. Anyone got a gun?

Friday, 15 February 2008

First Post

Its here, we've started, Tales From The Rock.

Theres no time to introduce all the characters. At the moment I am sat at the PC (obviously) typing by candlelight awaiting a delivery that will include light bulbs.

Outside is a mess.

40 tons of gravel are piled up outside, God knows how many planks of wood, a huge pile of animal feed in various sacks, a lovely bright green trolley to move it around tomorrow.

Beggining to feel that the idea to build kennels and stables was a bit ambitious.

More to follow.