Thursday, 27 March 2008

Surprise Surprise...Smallholdings a lorra lorra laffs!

A smallholders life is not a dull one, its full of surprises, in fact I would hypothesize that the more animals you get the more surprises you have.

Today is a good example, a typical day at paid work, the usual routine, reports to read, assessments to go through, coffee and biscuits to consume and the everyday dilemma of salad or chips for lunch. Now don’t get me wrong I love my job and the team I work with are second to none, but on a sunny spring day like today I only wanted to be at Rock HQ. It didn’t help that two of my colleagues who were working from home reminded me of this fact when they phoned, ostensibly to talk about work but, I suspect, really they wanted to tell me how sunny it was and that they were just going out for a walk with their dog in the woods or going out into their garden just to potter and enjoy the day.

So work time finished and we made our way back to Rock HQ to see what the animals were up to. Surprise number one was discovering a Mexican standoff in the kennels.

Due to lack of space and an expanding number of animals Maggie the mental goat has been evicted from kennel 6. She has now assumed the role of guard goat and sleeps on my coat, up against the door to the kennels and the goat house to ensure no nasty intruder types get in, or more often, that no dog gets out without running the gauntlet of a goat with attitude and the horns to back it up.

During the day our two Berners, Rocky and Reba spend the day with Faith the Gordon Setter, Poppy the Golden Retriever, Pip the mental Collie and two ancient Beagles Preston and Passion safe in the kennels. They all get along nicely and settle down very quickly in the morning and wait patiently until we return and they can have free run of the hill. When the car approaches they announce their appreciation by barking, baying or howling, it’s quite a welcome. Today however we were surprised to find no assault on the ears as we parked the car. As I approached the kennel block it was clear something was amiss.

Kennel 5 and 6 are currently occupied by Ryeland ewes either expecting lambs or having had lambs. So Rita is in 5, with Bonny, a very big bouncy 3 day old ewe lamb whilst 6 is playing host to Roxy and Rosie, two expectant ewes.

Or that’s how it was when we left this morning.

Sheep are very placid creatures, docile, domesticated, wooly non threatening vegetarians. Ours are very used to dogs, they have had to be given the number and size of some of them. Our dogs are very used to sheep, sharing a hill with around 300 of them belonging to various farmers. They bump along nicely, an entente cordial exists between the canine and sheep of Rock HQ. What the dogs haven’t encountered is a sheep protecting its new born. Today they did, up close and personal.

The reason the dogs were so quiet was obvious, Rita had pushed over the temporary barricade separating her from the pack and had intimidated the dogs into submission. All seven of them were crammed into kennel 1 at the far end with Poppy acting as negotiator trying to facilitate safe passage past the killer sheep who was viciously stamping her foot onto the concrete. This accompanied by a nasty tone of bleat had terrified the dogs so much that they had hidden at the back of the block. Rita saw me and immediately broke off hostilities figuring she had done her job of protecting Bonny and food was probably imminently available from yours truly. Rita, as meek as a sheep returned to bay 5 and waited for dinner. Still the pack refused to rush out and enjoy the evening sunshine. Poppy was now trembling in the doorway to the kennel, a few whimpers of terror confirmed that all was still not well in dog world.

Bonny, brimful with confidence was now asserting her authority over the hounds, strutting up and down the block daring the dogs to move. Order was restored when I picked up the recalcitrant lamb and placed her back with her Mum. Breathing huge sighs of relief the brave dogs ran out to run amok and steal eggs from the hens.

A bigger surprise waited in kennel 6, Rosie had given birth and there was an enormous lamb, now called Maude wandering around quite contentedly. Her arrival brings the tally to three from three; two more ewes have yet to deliver, Roxy and Easter.

There were more surprises to come.

We live in an idyllic setting, we call it the Rock, really it should be called The Cliff as we live under a cliff, which in pre historic times was a quarry, several monoliths on far away hills are thought to have originated from what is now our garden. So at the back of the cottage a cliff face looms, attracting all sorts of flora and fauna. As we sorted the sheep dog dispute we saw the cliff now had two new inhabitants. God knows how they got there but Brandy the Brecon Buff Gander and Blossom the Ebden Goose were on a ledge showing all the signs of taking up permanent residence and nesting.

This was not good from a variety of angles, particularly from the angle I was looking at them, some 30 feet below. Not wanting to have them become dinners for Mr. Fox we had to get them down. Not an easy task. Given that I used to be a pretty good climber I set off, deciding to approach them from above, driving them down the rock face to safety. As I closed in on them Brandy showed unique climbing skills and descended beak first, wings outstretched, not flying, but not exactly falling until he crashed into the stock fence at the base of the cliff. It was there he confirmed a long suspected rule of smallholding, that animals can and will get through holes in fences substantially less than half its body size.

He very noisily protested at having to leave a nest he had spent all day building. I was now sliding on my backside towards a very angry Blossom who was welding her backside to the tatty collection of twigs and moss that constituted her new home. Fearful that I might go the same way as Brandy, face first down the cliff I decided that what was needed to speedily conclude matters was a subtle blend of goose psychology and brute force. With a cry of “Comehereyou!” I grabbed her round the neck and launched her sideways over the fence where she flew (fell) through the trees and gently landed on her well feathered backside where she noisily soothed her ruffled feathers with Brandy’s devoted help.

I on the other hand was now balancing on a goose nest above the cottage pondering what the fire brigade might say if they had to save an overweight one armed climber from himself.

Eventually I scrambled back up the way I had slid down and vowed that should any further incursions be made onto the rock face by beasts they would be brought down to floor level with assistance from the gun. Risking life and my remaining useful limbs to save Christmas Dinners was no longer an option.

Lost in these thoughts I was now crossing Oak Bank, Crispy’s home, his patch. Crispy is our pedigree Ryeland Ram, a huge and friendly beast who has never caused any problems since he arrived. I gave him a friendly tickle between the ears and continued homeward.

It was then I discovered a completely new rule of smallholding, never , ever turn your back on your trusty Ryeland Ram, especially if you have been cuddling new born lambs, his offspring, some fifteen minutes earlier. The smell of them must have been all over my clothing and as the sap rises in springtime so does the libido and aspirations of a rampant Ram who could quite easily be called EverReady. He felt a need to assert himself and must have thought I was trying to be the new ram on the block.

I didn’t see him charge me but certainly felt it as he hit me head down in the centre of my back, I managed to deflect the second blow as I spun round by lifting my right leg and allowing him to batter my shin not my testicles. A swift right hook to the jaw stopped his challenge for supremacy of Oak Bank and he retired defeated to the water trough to bathe his wounded ego.

I returned to the cottage singing the theme tune to Rocky having defeated the upstart Ram, it will take a while for the bruising to my right hand to subside but if he wants a return match I’m ready.

There’s only one alpha male at the Rock and its not Crispy.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Strange Horse Play at Rock HQ

It’s been a great weekend, one which has confirmed all that we hoped for when we moved to Rock HQ. Four days off from our paid jobs allowed us to really get into some of the jobs that needed doing. It might have looked to the casual observer that I was just carrying around buckets of horse pooh but I was in smallholders heaven. The sun was shining on our hill, for it is our hill, it might be classed as common land on your ordnance survey map but it’s ours, the blue sky contrasting against the green of the gorse bushes and the browns of the dead bracken, countless birds were singing their hearts out and I was moving a ton of shit one bucket at a time from one end of the small holding to the other.

But I was happy.

It was the first time since September last year I had been able to do any sort of gardening, getting the vegetable beds ready for sowing.

The seeds have arrived, not from our usual supplier, a guy called Kevin who lives on the Orkney Islands, a thoroughly decent chap who sold great seeds for pennies. Unfortunately he found running a business got in the way of smallholding so he had to give it up. I can empathize with that, working gets in the way of doing what I want to do, being at Rock HQ and looking after our animals and garden. Luckily for me though, unlike Kevin, I have a business plan to enable me to give up full time paid work and stay on the ranch. I’m going to win the lottery, it might not be the soundest of business plans but it’s a start.

We have spent some quality time with the boys, William and Trevor. They are both in temporary accommodation in the pig sty and barn until their custom built stables are finished so they get a bit mucky and lonely down the far end of our plot. This coupled with the fact that they are shedding their winter coats they look a right shabby pair. So huge amounts of TLC and grooming turned the scruffy oiks into presentable ponies who could see from under well trimmed manes, they wouldn’t win prizes but they were certainly a smart pair as we turned them out in the field. This attempt to civilize the boys lasted around 37 seconds once they were free to roam Willow Rise. Trevor immediately rolled over and over in the moss, bracken, and horse dung returning to his original shabby state.

Once thoroughly coated in foliage and excrement he obviously fancied a shag and tried to mount William, who at 14.2 hands (Trevor is 33 inches high), and also being male took exception to the surprise rear attack from something that resembled a four legged compost heap. A sharp kick in the family jewels quelled the shitland’s ardor and allowed William to escape to the mud of the bottom paddock where he rolled; presumably thinking the mud would take away the perfume of the horse shampoo that had enticed his stable mate into trying to mate with him.

Trevor recovered from the death blow to the goolies and sought comfort from Rocky the Bernese Mountain Dog and I left them to it as they careered around the field happily trying to mount each other. Being both male and of different species I don’t anticipate any real complications from any accidental union, its spring and they are both frustrated. Funny as it was to watch I had to go as I had jobs to do, and I didnt want them to get any ideas and turn their attention to me. Trevor managed to take me by surprise a few days ago sneaking up on me as I was bent over cleaning out the water buckets. Luckily my Wranglers saved me from any serious violation and Trevor found there was a line between pony and owner which must never be crossed.

Victor the Muscovy Drake and one of his wives Victoria fell victim to the fox sometime during Sunday daytime. They never take unhealthy poultry, always the fit, fat tasty ones. Usually ones we have had our eyes on, or have plans for, such as crosses between Black Rocks and Sussex Whites, good layers crossed with good eaters. All these offspring were eaten by the fox before we got a chance to see if it was a successful match. As Boris the Bastard was coq au vin we couldn’t repeat the experiment. Or the time the fox killed all the ducks leaving us with seven drakes.

I was beginning to wonder if the SAS were taking our poultry one week when we lost seven members of the flock. We are on the edge of a training area so if they were on escape and evasion exercises it might have been a possibility. The snow last November put paid to that theory when we found the tracks of five different foxes patrolling our two acres.

Victor’s second wife was found later in the day highly traumatized in the field opposite the house. Field is a bit of a misnomer really, swamp is more accurate. So under the watchful eye my beautiful wife I was directed towards the post traumatically stressed duck. There are, I soon found out, a certain number of advantages to being a duck whilst negotiating a swamp, namely weight, webbed feet and an ability to fly. The secret of crossing boggy ground is never to put your entire weight on any footstep so I raced across the marshy ground wishing I had done my bootlaces up, wishing I was lighter and hoping against hope that the duck would just sit and wait until I caught up with her. As I got within arms length she took to the air and flew to the other end of the swamp. Cursing I loudly followed, she flew back. This continued until I exhausted my entire swearing vocabulary and she got bored and flew back to Rock HQ to a tasty bowl of mixed poultry grain held out for her by Tracey. Muttering I splashed back to the style observing that Tracey’s brains had triumphed over my brawn once again.

Whilst all this was going on Faith the Gordon Setter must have seen what I was doing and got the wrong end of the stick because as I climbed out from swampland I could see her playing with a new chewy toy. It had a peculiar squeak and was highly animated. We realized that none of her chewy toys are coated in feathers and squawk like they are being murdered. Faith was in fact trying to eat the Winniecot Hen, my shout sent her and all the other dogs running for cover, the poor hen saved only seconds from death was placed carefully in the recovery ward along with the traumatized Muscovy.

Both are doing well.

A quick update. The Rock four are still missing despite further attempts to find them. It looks likely that they will end up pie filling which is really annoying as I wanted to see what a Ryeland Suffolk cross looked like, and more importantly tasted like.

Egg thieves abound, Rocky was caught with one in his muzzle a day ago, Pip the collie was guilty of three thefts over the weekend and one of the Black Rock Hens was found up to her beak in yolk on Sunday so she was served up as dinner on Monday. She was delicious, the breast meat was excellent, the leg meat was as tender as my old boots but tasted fantastic.

We are suffering death by Berner at the moment, there being five Bernese Mountain Dogs in residence at the Rock. Not quite as bad as a friend of mine, JJ, who had 26 setters at one time, not all in the house at the same time though. So only five but a its lot of canine for a small cottage. Each dog weighs at least 45kg and dogs that size and power can sit pretty much where they want which is why there is not much room on the sofa at the moment.

We made some money selling the scrap metal from the caravan, after the cost of the skip was deducted from the total for the metal we made eighty eight pounds. Not bad for six hours work from three of us, that’s about four pound an hour. Perhaps not such a good return, maybe sticking to the original win the lottery plan is better.

Lambing is going well, we have two so far, Hercules and Bonny, three more ewes are waiting to pop. There is a lot to tell there but it will have to wait as I seem to have set the chimney on fire and anyway it seems the dogs want this chair back.

I know my place.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Great Escape!

A good morning, Springtime our pedigree Ryeland has given birth to Hercules, a little Ryeland Ram. Born at 8 am weighing 5 pound. He's a lucky boy, not only is he going to keep his tackle he is going to be allowed to live longer than 12 months as we are going to let him add to the gene pool.

So he is a pampered lamb.

Springtime is being a great mother, its amazing how they do it so instinctively. Easter, Springtime's sister, watched the whole process with ever widening eyes and when Hercules appeared she looked like she would feint. I suppose she does know that she is going to produce a cousin for him soon. Maggie the goat jumped into the pen for a few seconds thinking there was food on offer but soon scarpered once she realised what was happening.

So now Roxy, Rita and Rosie are housed in the kennels with the dogs. Faith our brave setter was cowering in her bed until the nasty vicious sheep were contained safely behind barricades, only then did she venture outside.

So as the Rock was all in order we ventured out into the world for a spot of lunch with some friends, Adrian and Ann. It was very pleasant and nice to get out amongst normal people for a change. Adrian provided a splendid lunch and offered a glass of chilled white to go with the smoked salmon. I so wanted a glass but had decided not to drink any alcohol for a while and have not had any since Jan 1st 2008. This must have planted a seed because after returning to Rock HQ and feeding and bedding down the animals Tracey and I decided that as it was holidays we would have a glass of the cider given to us by Paul on our surprise visit the day we fetched Rene.

After such a break from the falling down water a well chilled wine glass of cider really hit the spot. Particularly as we had been working quite hard, moving bales, mucking out and so on. Well Tracey had, I'm excused hard labour due to my poorly arm. But it is tiring watching your wife lug buckets around, or carrying a bale of hay under each arm, sometimes I have to sit and watch as its so taxing. Just as the warm glow of the apple beverage really began to rival the woodburners efforts Tracey remembered we had not put Trevor the pony away. Hes a miniature Shetland, about 33 inches high. Shetland is pronounced Shitland, in case you were wondering.

So we forced ourselves out into the cold and darkening evening armed with little torches that really are no use at all, not for finding dark brown miniature horses amongst the gorse and bushes of the common. Just as we were about to give up and return to Rock HQ to start a search up the hill and into the cauldron a very large gorse bush next to the track set off at high speed away from me. Trevor had broken cover! Tracey set off in pursuit but fell arse over elbow leaving me to head the little Shitland off at the pass. As he has a mane like an explosion in a mattress factory there was a lot to grab hold of and I held the struggling beast whilst Tracey extricated herself from the prickly fauna.

Suitably chastised he was frogmarched the half mile back to the house and returned to his stable. His running off confirmed the smallholder rule, theres never nothing to do.

We returned to the warm glow of the fire and topped up our glasses.


Thursday, 20 March 2008

This Goat needs Therapy

I love this time of year, springtime, its so full of promise. Our sheep are in the goat house ready to give birth to new dinners, I mean, to pretty little lambs that will soon frolic amongst the daffodils on Willow Rise (one of our fields) or charge amongst the primroses on Oak Bank, our other field, before being banished to the common to grow fat on free grass until its time for the long sleep in Mr Whirlpool the chest freezer in the workshop.

Our small flock of Ryelands, the ideal smallholders sheep are lovely sheep and the first livestock we bought when we moved in in October 2006. The breed is an old Herefordshire breed dating back to Roman times, smaller than the average ewe, stocky, hardy, slow to mature, good natured and known to grow fat on green concrete. In other words they eat anything green and seem to thrive.

Leominster, a local market town used to have a massive sheep and wool market and the wool from Ryelands was referred to as Leominster Ore due to the high prices the farmers got for the fleeces. Since we had them they have been the least problematic of all the stock and Rita, Roxy and Rosie produced our first lambs last April. We bought Easter and Springtime, both pedigree Ryelands off Mike (he of concreting fame) last summer and so this year we could have up to 10 lambs from the five ewes all sired by our pet Ryeland Ram Cherwell Crispen, or Crispy for short.

We did wonder if we were going to get lambs this year as Maggie the goat formed an unhealthy attachment on Crispy last year soon after her Mum died. Every time she came into season she tried to persuade Crispy to do the dirty deed, even though she was plainly not his type. Undeterred she persisted and drove Crispy’s harem away making sure they got the point with her horns. This went on for weeks with Crispy getting increasingly frustrated and Maggie increasingly desperate for love. Somehow Crispy managed to break free from the amorous advances of the deranged goat and did what a Ram has to do to ensure his bloodline reaches my dinner plate.

I was actually happy that she took up with Crispy as she had for weeks been bothering me, she’s definitely got a thing about men or males. She would wait on the windowsill until I went out to work and she would spend all day following me around until I returned to the house when she would take up post on the windowsill once more. If I took the dogs for a walk she would walk by my side. Quite often walkers coming the other way would remark what an unusual dog I had, I began to tell them she was a Radnorshire Terrier. Given the chance she would get in the house to find me. Once she was found hiding behind the TV. I was being stalked by a goat. It was unnerving taking a shower and turning round and finding a goat pressed against the window, watching. So when she dumped me and turned her lust on Crispy I was relieved.

Once it was obvious that he wasn’t interested in her Maggie took on a new role, that of sheep botherer. She would round them up in the morning and drive them out onto the common, whether they want to go or not, and in the evening she moved them to one of three sleeping areas until first light when she would lead the charge to the food trough for breakfast in the yard.

The only time she would deviate from this routine was when she got stuck. Now goats as you can gather are rather complex creatures, and Maggie is more complex than most. She’s a cross between and Anglo Nubian and Boer, she is an expert climber, able to get onto the house roof, car roof and cliff behind the house. Once she climbed high onto the cliff and looked for all the world like she was stuck. Pitiful bleating alerted us to potential problems and there on a ledge at the back of Rock HQ she was balanced precariously. Now, before gaining 60 odd pound of excess muscle around my waist I used to be a good climber so I clambered up to the ledge, ignoring the vertigo and potential for death to rescue the mongrel goat from its perch. As you have probably guessed already, as I got there she managed to extricate herself and with a hop skip and jump she was back to munching greenery whilst I contemplated goat murders and remembered that climbing down was much harder than climbing up.

But she does get stuck.


Her Achilles heel are her horns. As intelligent as she is she often forgets about these weapons on her head. She should have had them removed at birth but the people who sold her too us didn’t bother. Occasionally she does use them in aggression, once she got me accidentally, I was reaching into the feed bin and she pushed under my arm to get a free mouthful of goat mix. As I realised the potential danger and tried to stand she panicked and pulled her head out and in doing so her horns punctured my jacket and cut me across the chest. I still have a six inch scar.

So what happens is she sees a nice tasty morsel of green and pushes her head forward, through the wire fence. Then she tries to pull her head out but her horns now trap her and she has to stay there until rescue. I have lost count the number of times I have had to return to the workshop and get the bolt cutters to cut yet another hole in the fence. So often in fact that our cheap Chinese wire cutters broke and we have had to resort to hedge loppers, tin cutters, scissors, swearing and brute force to extricate the goat from the perimeter fence. It usually happens when we are in a hurry, just before work, that type of thing, you know, when you are dressed for dinner and want to stay clean. Always these events confirm the rules of smallholding, especially the one stating your tools are never where you left them or where you need them.

As the sheep are now shut away she has had to find a new interest. We introduced her to Geisha the new goat and she was seriously unimpressed so we are keeping them separate as Geisha is an unarmed version.

So guess what Maggie is now.

Currently she is a dog.

She has taken kennel number six next to Poppy, the Golden Retriever. She has not given up her sheep goat duties entirely though. As I type this she is on watch outside the goat house, Springtime is about to give birth, I better go and see what progress is being made before Maggie assumes the role of midwife.

I love living here.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Parting is such sweet sorrow

The morning that Karl left the Rock finally dawned. Along with the usual hurried routine with the animals we had to say goodbye to a good friend who had lived with us since 10-2-08.

He had done an extraordinary amount of work, we calculated that he has spent what would have been to us the equivalent of a whole 12 months worth of weekends on projects we had planned at the Rock.

Amongst other things he has cleared the ground, trees and fencing for a stable block, kennel block and goat house. Built the kennels, a huge building 12 foot by 24 foot, two 8 by 8 goat houses, demolished a static caravan, cleared the wreckage from the caravan to a skip, prevented a flood, put the dining room chairs together, cleared the workshop, put stairs in the workshop, cleaned out and polished a car, sold the car for us, built a retaining wall to stop a dirt bank falling, chopped wood, sawed wood, put the 8 metres of concrete down for all the out buildings, spread 40 tons of gravel around the place, cleared a car parking plot and turning space at the bottom of the lane and helped look for missing sheep in a hill fire.

He also fed the beasts when we were late back from work, tidied the house, did the washing up, sometimes he cooked us dinner and lit the fire. The gardens been dug and covered with a liberal helping of manure from Williams backside. Karl collected the eggs, was the principle goat minder for Geisha's trip to the Rock, helped in the slaughter of the lambs and was my left hand when we butchered the carcasses.

He did all this with good humour, never once losing his temper despite my provoking him often, usually my humour was at his expense. All this work has made our lives and the animals lives so much easier and definitely for the beasts more comfortable. Karl is one of those good sorts who gets on with everyone. He was good company and Tracey, Beth and I found him very easy to live with. We think he enjoyed living here even if we did give him back breaking tasks everyday for a pittance of money. The dogs loved having him here to play with and you could see he loved the dogs. It was quite odd returning to the Rock to find he had left, hes on a mission to Thailand to find true love. Hopefully not with a lady boy but hey, Karl, whatever floats your boat.

He has left his wellingtons so we hope he will return before the Bernese Mountain Dogs destroy another pair!

Thanks Karl, you are a star. Keep shining.

Here comes the flood!

Ever have one of those days where you really should have stayed in bed?

Since we have been Rock HQ we have only hidden from the onslaught of the weather on two occasions, the demands of hungry livestock and seven dogs crossing their paws for the toilet tends to spur you on and get you out of bed. The last time Tracey and I decided to have a lie in the roof started to leak over our bed, thanks to the goat, Maggie dislodging the roof tiles as she ran over the roof in search of fresh greenery to devour. Luckily Ben, our son, was home on leave from the Army at the time so it saved me having to clamber up onto the roof with my whole left arm encased in plaster, or worse still, me having to watch Tracey perform the hazardous trip to replace the tiles. Maggie watched the whole exercise from the safety of our car roof. It’s a good job she’s such a nice goat otherwise she might have been a curry a long time ago.

This morning was one of those mornings where I momentarily questioned living at the Rock. It had rained almost solidly for 24 hours, our highly accurate, no expense spared hi tech rain gauge, a coffee cup on the wall in front of the house, showed we had had two inches of rain.

Never mind it was clearing up now, so I walked up the track to the kennels and goat house in a happy frame of mind thinking of the progress we were making.


They were flooding.

We have a spring on the hill which from time to time dries up. Most of the time it’s a steady trickle which we catch in a small reservoir and pipe to water tanks strategically placed around the Rock where we store around 800 gallons for the garden and for animal use. It would be a 1000 gallons stored but when Ben and I moved the 500 gallon tank he panicked thinking it would squash him as it started rolling and so jumped out of the way allowing the huge round black plastic tank to pick up speed and roll down the hill unhindered until it crashed into Ivan our lightweight Land Rover on guard by the gate. Ivan sustained no damage but his bumper punctured the tank just above the 300 gallon mark, hence we now only store 800 gallons.

Anyway I digress.

The spring had sprung into life and a torrent of water gushed down the hill joined by many tributaries. These had collected just above the farm track and water now surged along the side of the kennel block and out onto the path in front of the goat houses. Geisha the new goat was safe and dry on a stack of hay bales but you could tell she wasn’t happy with the new water feature in front of her dry bed. The dogs had all gathered at the dry end of the kennel block and were contemplating using their dog beds as makeshift life rafts.

I grabbed a spade and went to the far end of the kennel block and began one armed digging, not very effectively, to try and divert this new stream away from the animals. After much struggling and cursing I succeeded in diverting the water course and flooded the dry half of the kennels. The dogs ran to the other end and formed a canine pyramid of panic against the wire in a frantic effort to stay dry. It was not good, I needed help. Luckily Karl had donned his super hero costume and joined me. Between us we managed to divert the water into the goose house which upset them mightily, quite surprisingly they don’t like rivers running through their beds either. I retrieved the floating eggs and carried on my one armed excavations. By now Karl had done the majority of the work and order was restored as the flood subsided. I had begun to wonder whether Karl would have been better employed to build us an Ark rather than out buildings, given the amount of timber I had ordered it was still and option.

We grabbed a hurried breakfast and set to the tasks ahead. An easy day as it was Karl’s last one at the Rock so it would be unfair to make him work too hard. We finished the second goat house and cleared the builders debris away so the building was serviceable, the sheep would have to go in it later in the day as they are due to lamb.

The major job of the day was to cut up the base to the static caravan that had been a blot on the landscape since we had moved into the Rock in 2006. I had already taken most of the top off, well I started it then Karl finished it for me and put all the scrap in a huge skip for re cycling. The base was going to be easy, with our metal cutter and new discs we should be able to grind the bolts off and put the small pieces into the skip quite quickly.

A new rule to smallholding was discovered while we set about our business. The one which states check your tools before you use them. I hadn’t, and so when it came to use the metal cutter we found we couldn’t use it because a) the beagles had chewed the electric cable to it and b) the beagles had buried the tool pouch to the cutter so once we fitted a new cable we couldn’t fit a disc because we didn’t have the right spanner. Bless them.

This was why Karl, Tracey and I could be found in the weak spring sunshine cutting up the metal frame of a 30foot long static caravan with a junior hacksaw. Four hours later we had managed to cut it into six sizable chunks that we could just about carry the 30 yards to the skip. Lifting the heavy metal pieces over the high sides of the skip I reverted to the techniques used by the ancient Egyptians when they moved impossibly heavy blocks of stone into place. Whips and shouting. Eventually we got it loaded, even the axle which was a solid metal bar two inch square fell victim to the junior hacksaw. We all staggered into the kitchen for a cuppa and looked forward to a relaxing evening.

But first we had to round up the sheep and install them in the new goat house. This was done remarkably quickly as they just happened to be walking through the yard. One by one they were tempted by a bucket of sheep nuts to enter the unfamiliar building. We then wormed them, wormed Maggie the goat and Crispy the Ryeland Ram.

Before we went back into the cottage we sawed up a few wheel barrows of wood so we could have a fire for the night. Only then did we pack everything up and retire from another day at the Rock. We were all exhausted, I felt as though I had participated in a marathon, my muscles burned from the days efforts. We had a fantastic roast dinner, Rock produced Berkshire Pork and no one minded it was 9pm before we could sit down to eat. Karl thought it was the best pork he had ever eaten and the crackling was to die for. We all had seconds or thirds trying to replace the lost calories from our labour. All of us had been on the go since 7 am with only one ten minute break. So much for Karl having an easy last day. Sometimes people say to me wouldn’t it be easier living in the three bed semi you were in before moving to the Rock. I suppose it would but then it wouldn’t be so interesting or so much fun.

If I’m found asleep at my desk tomorrow when I do my paid job just leave me, I’ve had a hard weekend.

Monday, 17 March 2008

The Goat House Rocks

Geisha the Anglo Nubian goat is now at the Rock.

After Herculean efforts from Tracey, Karl and myself we managed to get the goat house fully functional late Saturday afternoon.

But what a day!

The usual Rock Routine involving feeding the birds, the sheep and horses. Luckily the dogs are on a self exercise programme so as we work with the various beasts, ferrying buckets of feed and water to all points of the compass the pack career up and down the hill chasing rabbits, each other and their tails. Faith the Gordon setter only has two speed settings, flat out sprint and collapse. She is really busy in the mornings making sure no blackbirds ever land in the hedge, and if they do she is there to intercept. So she spends most of her free time running pointlessly up and down the lane, tongue out, and white foam flob all over her head as she harasses the birds of the hedgerow.

Once all the jobs were done we settled to a Rock special breakfast, this consists of a piece of toast with two pieces of bacon on top, a piece of eggy bread on top of that, then a fried egg and either a piece of bread or fried bread on top of that. Delicious and almost totally calorie free.

We took Karl over to see Steve, the nice man who is going to build our stables, and to see the two litters of Berkshire pigs. Beth our 19 year old daughter also joined us on this trip, we don’t usually get her out on countryside pursuits, particularly if they involve going outside and daylight, but the temptation of seeing piglets that were only six days old was too much even for her to resist. Luckily she didn’t find the experience too taxing and there were no serious side effects of being exposed to daylight. They were gorgeous, we committed ourselves to having four of them, and hopefully they will arrive at the Rock late April. By then we will have some spare capacity in the outbuildings, space in other words, this does depend on Steve finishing the stables and Tracey not rescuing more animals.

We had a quick tour of his stable block and showed Karl what can be achieved if you follow plans and measure wood before cutting it accurately. To call it a stable block is to do it a disservice, it’s more of an equine cathedral constructed of wood. It is an amazing building, built by a man who takes a genuine interest in his work and wants it to be as perfect as possible. This is in complete contrast to Karl who adopts a unique approach to carpentry, one that usually involves using a hand axe as a hammer and six inch nails bent over once they stick out the other side of the wood. Karl cannot pass a plank of wood without succumbing to the overwhelming desire to saw it in half. Steve was particularly interested in my reasoning for having a seven inch deep concrete pad on which he is to place the stables, tack room and dairy. He would have only put four inches down, in fact his monument to horses in only on four, apparently what I had put down you could build a house on. I refrained from the banter as Karl gleefully told him how I had miscalculated on the concrete block front having ordered 240 breeze blocks and finding we only needed 41 to build the retaining wall in front of the kennels. In fact, put the blocks with the over order of timber currently resting on the concrete pad there probably was enough material to put up a pretty decent bungalow.

After an hour at Steve’s we raced over to the builders merchants and spent another fortune on materials to house the goat in luxury. This time I had measured properly and didn’t over order on the just in just in case principle.

It rained the whole time we were outside, Torrential heavy rain that saturated our clothing and washed away our senses of humour. Tracey saw first hand Karl’s fantastic measure once cut twice technique as the over order of planks was cut down to size, sometimes the right size but more often not. We got the roof on, and in my effort to save cash and not have spare material found, to my acute embarrassment, that I had got it totally wrong and we were going to be one piece short. The builders merchants would be shut, the roof on the pens would not be finished and it was still raining. Heavily. The only bit of luck we had was that the nice man at the builder’s yard couldn’t count and had accidentally given us an extra sheet of corrugated roofing. Hurrah!

After hours of hard work we finished and trudged through the mud back to the cottage to put on dry clothes to get the goat. As we have no trailer and the van is unserviceable due to my having parked it under a tree whose branches could not bear the weight of the snow fall last November. It broke, fell on the van and smashed the windscreen. The only way of transporting the goat was to take two of the rear seats out of Rene the RX4 and have Karl hold her while Tracey drove us back. I was exempted goat holding and driving duties on account of my bad arm.

We got over to Maggie’s farm just as it was getting dark and foggy. Things obviously weren’t going to be hard enough so the weather decided to add to our difficulties.
Maggie was as usual an absolute star. We met her at the Three Counties show last year where she and her daughter Gabby were showing goats, winning as usual. She is the UK’s expert on the Anglo Nubian, written a book, prints the t shirts and so on. She is a goat goddess and totally friendly to amateurs like me. We were very lucky that she had decided to sell us one of her precious charges as her herd is renowned for its prize winning bloodline.

As she and Gabby showed us around the goat house I got quite emotional at seeing such lovely animals. I was reminded how sad it was when our lovely Anglo Nubian died last summer, she went from a healthy goat to corpse in 24 hours.

If I thought piglets were cute they were nothing compared to week old goat kids! They oozed cuteness as they bounced around the pen. Karl spotted the Billy, for a split second I thought about not warning him that you shouldn’t stroke Billy goats as the smell will kill you. As Karl would have to travel in the same car as the rest of us I warned him just in time and Karl managed to avoid being irresistible to female goats and the need for a shower.

It all went very well. Geisha was calm and well behaved and seemed to enjoy the car trip. She lay in the back, occasionally bleating along to the prog rock from the car stereo and happily sneezing goat bogies over Karl’s last clean pair of trousers.

Back at the Rock she was installed in the new goat house and settled down for a quiet night. I was happy that by autumn we would be thinking of having goat kids of our own, and then goat milk. The goat was happy eating fresh hay and singing Marillion songs to itself in its new home. Tracey was happy to finally being allowed to sit down after a hard days work, relaxing with a copy of goat news and a coffee. Karl was happy, he was one day closer to escaping his forced labour at the Rock, even more so when he got himself a kebab. Well, you can overdo the organic stuff!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Drowning in paperwork

Help I am drowning in paperwork!

We moved to the Rock with thoughts of being more productive foodwise. Not self sufficient, that's a bit of a high ambition, but more self supporting as it were. Our aim is to produce as much of our own food as possible and luckily for us we were able to find this haven in the hills complete with fruit trees, fruit bushes, a couple of fields, various ramshackle outbuildings and a fantastic garden with fourteen raised vegetable beds.

The plan is sort of working, given the difficulties caused by Mother Nature, having to work to pay the mortgage, accidents, goats and bureaucrats.

Its the paperwork that's a complete night mare. Forget plagues of slugs eating your seedlings, or forty ton rock falls that bring trees down obliterating part of the garden. You can forgive goats who frolic amongst your brasicas. Sheep that eat the entire apple harvest can be let of with a caution. But the bureaucracy that surrounds the smallholding is getting beyond a joke.

To be able to run a smallholding you have to have a smallholding number.

Not a problem, we had one as we moved in.

When it came to registering our livestock we then found that actually we didn't have a smallholding number because the rules had changed and the number was now attached to the person who lived there and our number went with the previous owners.


We apply to the Welsh Assembly for another.

Do we want, or will we want to claim grants, if we do this will make getting a number difficult and it will mean filling out different forms.


We don't want to claim any money for anything, we just want to be able to keep a few animals for food.


Can we have our number?

Yes we can but its not the number you need to keep animals.

That's from a different office.

Contact is duly made, can we have a herd number for our pigs, a flock number for our sheep and goats, what, we have to contact a different office for the cow, OK, we don't want a cow just yet, fanastic, the numbers are issued.

We also inform Defra that we have over 30 birds, as required, we keep a medicine log for all animal treatments, a flock book to record births and deaths amongst the sheep, the horses have passports, as will the cow, movement orders have to be filled in every time we move the sheep, pigs and goats. We had to apply for an exemption to the movement order rules to be able to let our animals wander onto the common that surrounds the house, otherwise every morning I would have had to fill out an order as they wandered away from the food trough, their bellies bursting with sheep nuts, to lie under the trees on the common to ponder life the universe and everything that matters to sheep whilst chewing the cud.

Now we have to tag our sheep in both ears, once with the flock number once with the individual identity number, if they lose a tag we have to replace it with a red one. New rules are coming in for the movement of birds, so taking a couple of hens to give as a gift to some friends in Somerset might now entail more paperwork and and adhering to yet another welfare checklist.

We also complied with the annula survey to establish how many animals we had. The annual survey to establish to what use the land was being put and the annual survey to establish if we were full or part time farmers.

Why am I having this rant?

Well, we are as you might have gathered having some buildings put up to house our animals.

A fantastic kennel block has been completed by Karl, he has also done a couple of animal shelters for the sheep to lamb in. Steve is coming over in a week or so to put up a block of stables, a goat house and a dairy. We only have one particularly mental goat called Maggie at present, our milk goat caught a fatal dose of endotoximia last year. We have put off getting another until the housing is complete as goats like nice warm dry houses to live in wheres sheep are all weather animals.

This Saturday we have been told we have to collect the goat from the breeder as Defra have decreed that you cannot move animals from a blue tongue area into a non blue tongue area.

We live on the border of Herefordshire and Powys, about 200 metres into Powys.

We are collecting the goat from Herefordshire a blue tongue area and moving it to Powys a non blue tongue area.

The goat also lives 200 metres inside the county line. To be able to move it we have had to have it blood tested to make sure there are no nasty thingies swimming in its system so its blue tongue free, we also have to fill out the movement order and comply with a welfare checklist while transporting the beast.

And it all has to be done Saturday.

Before midnight.


Well that's because Defra have decided that Sunday the 16-3-08 is the day the blue tongue midge will start to fly again. Saturdays fine, they wont be flying so you can move blood tested animals. So the goat will have to move to a building site on Saturday or it might not be able to come at all.

Its a good job the midges recognise county borders though otherwise we would be in trouble. Its also good that they have announced they are only going to start flying Sunday.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The egg thief is discovered!

I have been on the trail of an egg thief for a while now.

You might have read in a previous piece that now the chickens have started laying eggs again we are getting around 8 eggs a day. This might seem like a good return until you discover that there are about fifty birds here at the Rock, so amongst the flock there are a fair number of hangers on or dinners as they are more properly known.

Tracey has a thing about ducks, so there are various webbed feet dinners wandering around. Victor the Muscovy drake and his two wives whose names escape me. Tracey also names all the animals here, I think in the hope that we wont eat a named beast. If you look in our freezer its easy to see its a ruse that doesn't work. Then there is Daffy, another Muscovy drake who was an egg about 8 months ago. He and four other ducklings were found under their mum one rainy day last year. He in fact had been abandoned and was at deaths door when I found him on the compost heap by the back gate. An hour in the incubator and he was fine and now has two female ducks of his own to look after. The two spare Muscovy drakes were put in the freezer last Sunday.

There is Brandy, a huge Brecon Buff gander and his two mates Bella and Blossom. Bella is a new addition to the Rock and Brandy has effectively dumped Blossom for the much larger Bella. We hope to have eggs that we can hatch for Christmas Geese.

Almost as noisy as this trio area pair of Chinese Geese Sid and Sally. Sid replaced Harry who unexpectedly died.

Then there is an Indian Runner duck, Flo Jo, her mate was fox fodder a while back, three Pekin ducks, Baby, Mindy and Apple (Three others also fell to the fox) three more rescue ducks, Rouen types ( 9 others were on the fox shopping list)

God knows how many bantams there are, they have a habit of sneaking off for a month, sitting on a dozen or so eggs and before you know it you have a plague of chicks. We also have three Winnicots, a cock and two hens, the cock Walter replaced Humphrey who was eaten by the beagles when he was accidentally shut in their kennel, and Humphrey had replaced Boris who was eaten by me two hours after he attacked me nearly taking off my kneecap. Unfortunately for him it was the second time he had done it and I was carrying my trusty machete as he closed in for the kill. Beak and talons were no match for Brazilian razor sharp steel and I sat down to a very nice coq au vin courtesy of Boris the bastard.

We have as our stock hens Black Rocks, a very hardy, good laying good eating bird. Of the ten we bought when we moved in we still have all ten, so they must have a strong survival instinct having avoided the fox and the pot. They are our main layers. There are numerous cross breeds and one white hen, Henrietta, we bought her as a meat bird but shes a top layer and will hopefully produce some good crossbreeds with Budge the Jersey Giant Cock. Hes called budge as he was the only egg out of 24 we bought from ebay that hatched. He then sang like a budgie for about a month while in a cage in the kitchen.

So with this many birds the egg to egg hole ratio is not good, neither is the cost of food cost per egg ratio in our favour. The ducks are a complete pain and do nothing except eat, shag and make mud. In fact they have turned a sizable piece of grassland into a slimy, muddy scale model of the Somme Battlefield. They can often be seen running from their trenches to play in newly created muddy pools in no mans land.

So the loss of eggs to thieves is not to be taken lightly.

The dogs were prime suspects, and have in the past been guilty of the misdemeanour. New nesting boxes, better security on the door led to them giving up trying.
Magpies were blamed, guns were purchased, hides were manned and yes occasionally they did take one but they soon sussed that they were in severe danger of death so stayed away.
The chickens themselves were blamed, in fact one day I found a hen with yolk down its front and a wet beak. I was on the point of sending it to meet Boris's friend, Mr Machete but I was merciful. Actually the thought of plucking the thing stayed its execution, that and the fact I couldn't be 100% sure it was the culprit. Its one of the rules of smallholding, it takes longer to pluck the bird than it does to cook it. These rules we are discovering as we go along, rules like do it now before it rains, tools are never where you left them and any job you finish causes two more jobs to be done.

Anyway, I digress, the egg thief.

Well the egg thief can now be revealed having been caught in the act. There was no denying it, he was caught actually eating two eggs out of the nesting box. Karl saw him doing it.

The thief.

It is Trevor.


He is a miniature shetland pony.

Did I tell you our animals are mental?

Sunday, 9 March 2008


It is with great sadness that the following members of our community on the Rock are now posted as missing in action.

Bill, Meg, April and Molly, all Suffolk Sheep were last seen heading towards the common at 08.15 hrs on 21-2-08. They were on a grazing mission, they knew the dangers, they accepted the risks but felt their sacrifice was a price worth paying to boldly go where no Rock sheep had gone to graze before.

They were well trained, able to jump fences twice their height, highly skilled, able to strip a tree of its bark in seconds, well equipped with the latest state of the art fleece all weather protection system, but in the end it seems the odds were against them.

I counted them all out, but when the grazing party returned there were four missing.

Despite extensive searching of the perimeter, the common and patrols along the road no sight or sign has been seen of the Rock four. As they missed their final emergency rendezvous yesterday it has been officially decided to call off all further searches and post them as missing in action. They are not presumed dead, but if they do not find their own way back before the spring round up, if they are still on the hill they will become cheap pie filling along with any other stragglers.

Our thoughts are with the rest of the flock who maintain a silent vigil in the yard in the vain hope their companions will return unscathed and that someone will fill the feed trough.

A quick week!

Sunday, Mothering Sunday, so we had Tracey's Mum and Dad over for lunch, Rock Ryeland Lamb and Rock Berkshire Pig was on the menu. We had spent a fruitless two and a half hours searching for the missing sheep in the morning so by lunchtime were very hungry. It was a gathering at the table, Ben and Gemma and Beth and Tom were also with us so the emergency chairs came out as did the emergency cutlery. We have for some reason lost all the forks. Knives and spoons a plenty, but forks, only five so Gemma, Ben and Beth had to make do with spoons.

Monday, took Reba to the vet, our bitch Bernese mountain dog. She seems OK now, hopefully will be able to have puppies when shes older. Also went to see a dog trainer to talk about ring classes as we might show the Berner's. Well we haven't got much to do so might as well take up a new challenge!

Tuesday we had to go to do some real work which took us to Telford so Tracey called in on her Mum and Dad for a quick visit. This left Karl in charge of the farm, and he coped very well. He likes the animals and has fitted in with the routine at the Rock. Its good to have him around, hes done so many of the jobs that were just stacking up.

Wednesday was a busy day for all and for some reason Karl wanted takeaway so insisted on buying us kebabs. Perhaps hes low on e numbers, all this healthy organic food. The hens have started to lay again, hooray, we had 8 eggs today, which mean that the cost per egg has probably dropped to £5 given the current cost of the feed. We also candled the eggs in the incubator and Victor the large Muscovy duck drake took one very large step towards the dinner menu as all 12 were infertile. He will be given one more chance, but seriously, the cost per bag of grain has almost doubled over the last 18 months, we cannot afford any freeloaders! Unless they are goats, horses, dogs, rabbits and cats. I will not be bankrupted by having an unproductive duck!

Thursday, no real work today, so a chance to help Karl with the big jobs. Soon found I was more of a hindrance than a help but we got a fair bit done. The biggest job was laying the last of the concrete base. We also took the opportunity to bury a load of scrap metal like the broken 5 bar gate, 6 old saws, a bed head, wire and some pipe. I couldn't resist half burying a false plastic hand so it sticks out of the edge of the concrete. We shall have to see how long it takes before some well meaning rambler calls the Police suspecting a body is under the stables.
William our horse decided to show off because we had visitors and jumped a stream as Tracey was leading him to the field, as he jumped he kicked back and caught her on the right forearm. For the next few minutes there was chaos as William and Trevor both galloped off into the cauldron and round the back of the house towards the cliff. A quick check and Tracey hadn't broken her arm but it was going to be badly bruised and painful. I set off to head the ponies off at the pass, they had other ideas, I heard the warning shout just in time and turned round in the lane to find a huge horse bearing down on me at full speed. Under normal circumstances I would have leapt out of the way, nimbly climbing the fence and watched him career past. However, due to only having one arm that works properly at the moment nimble climbing movements are off the agenda. I was trapped in the lane with the fifth horse of the apocalypse. I made myself look as large and impressive as possible and barked at him. He stopped. I don't know who was more surprised, him or me but he stood and looked at me wondering what the hell I was up to. I put his lead rope on and led him past our visitors who were just a little bit disappointed that the horse hadn't left hoof prints all over me. One of them pointed out a little too enthusiastically that he had been looking forward to seeing the air ambulance land on our hill.
I ordered the roof for the kennels, Karl's was stood next to me as I was on the phone talking to the builders merchants. For some obscure reason I confused the number 6 with 18 and ordered a bit too much wood. Never mind I am sure we will find a use for it.

Friday, another day at the Rock, Tracey had gone to Crufts with Jill her mum leaving Karl and I to roof the stables.
We put the horses out in the field, today without incident and returned to the yard to find the builders lorry dropping enough material to build a small bungalow. The stairs for the workshop were also on the truck and thankfully they were in one piece meaning Karl the bodger didn't have to measure and saw anything. He admitted yesterday not being able to read the tape measure, I thought he was winding me up until I saw him in action. Still by guesswork, a sharp saw and a box of band aids he's done a good job of the kennels.
The roof, corrugated metal sheets, brand new, never seen this before! I've only encountered the old stuff, three times used, full of holes and bent. It cost a fortune, I wasn't worried as the bodger moved in for the kill with a hammer and sharp nails intent on making holes in it, but I had had nightmares about him messing it up the night before.
As it was the roof went on perfectly, with no extra holes, it fitted to the millimetre, or bit of an inch as Karl doesn't do metric, sloped properly so the water ran off and all in all looked bloody brilliant.
I then ruined everything by starting to dismantle the static caravan next to the kennels. The yard went from looking like a tidy well managed farm with a new building to looking like a Gypsies yard. Ah well, a few bonfires and a visit from the scrap man and all will be well again.
We also put the stairs up in the workshop. Watching Karl trying to work out angles and where to cut the stairs as they were 3 too high turned dozens more hairs grey, but he did it and they fit and for the first time since my accident I was able to go up onto the gallery in the workshop and look down from where I had fallen last September. Yes it did give me flashbacks and yes I soon came down again. A lot slower and less painfully than the last time I cam down I am happy to report!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Allo Allo....Wheres Rene?

So, after a nightmare journey back to Rock HQ I wasn't particularly enamoured with the idea of traveling down to Newton Abbot to fetch a car back. I cannot drive at the moment, only having one arm that's serviceable severely restricts your ability to drive as the highway code instructs.

We currently have a small fleet of cars, none of which are capable of daily trips up and down the half mile long dirt track to the cottage. The slightest hint of snow means the poor cars cannot get up the hill and the torrential rain has made deep ruts and some potholes big enough to be visable from space.

A four by four was required, and as we also work to live here it had to be a car type suitable for fairly lengthy road trips. After much deliberation Tracey and I decided to go for the Renault Megane Rx4. Eventually we found one on ebay and after much haggling got a good 'un for a fair price. Trouble was it was in Torquay, hence me having to endure more trains the day after the London nightmare.

But this time I was travelling with my beautiful wife as a travelling companion so all was well with the world. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and we set off on our adventure.

It went very smoothly, we had reserved seats so were comfortable for the whole journey in the quiet carriage. Two french toddlers demonstrated their appreciation for the peace and quiet of the carriage by singing their national anthem at every stop.

We arrived in Newton Abbot, unsure where to go or who we were meeting. Good job we had mobile phones, a text message told us they were at the front of the station and soon we were looking at our new motor. It was just as they said it was, a peculiar greypurpleblue colour with an amazing stereo which for me is a key selling point. Two years ago I based my entire decision on the selection a a brand new car on the quality of the stereo. The Ford Focus's doors and windows nearly blew off when I played Jane's Addictions "Just Because" at full volume in the showroom. Sold!!

Anyway we set off for the Rock in the car, now named Rene the Renault, listening to every new squeak, groan or clatter praying the strange noises were not signals that the car was about to fall apart.

We decided to pay a surprise visit on Anne and Paul who live in a lovely village in Somerset. As he opened his front door and said "Hello, what a nice surprise!" I really couldn't help myself and heard my self say "Sorry we're late mate the traffic was awful" and pushed past him to get inside.
His smile wavered slightly, as he would be one of the first to admit he is prone to forgetting things "Its good to see you" he continued the welcome speech as I shouted "Trace, leave the bags I'll get them later"

Now he definitely looked worried, I heaped it on, "You've forgotten we were coming haven't you, Trace we have got the right weekend, Paul it was this weekend wasn't it?"

He looked distinctly perplexed "Er... Anne's out the back" and pointed weakly to the backdoor as Tracey joined us. "Shes with the chickens" (We gave her some hens for her birthday, well chicks really)

We went through, and Anne was as surprised as Paul to see us. Paul shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably as Anne asked him if he knew we were visiting. We let him off the hook, much to his relief. My tendancy to tease friends will get me into trouble one day, like the time my cousin phoned and asked how my Dad was. Before I could stop myself I said "He died yesterday" and so followed a lengthy conversation where at each point I was going to say only joking, but found myself locked into arranging funerals and composing the order of the service and so on. As I put the phone down a distinctly unimpressed Tracey insisted I phone him straight back. He listened in silence as I apologised, he took it well but he's still not talking to me.

As Anne cooked us lunch I asked Paul if I could have my shoes back. He had taken them last time he had stayed at the Rock, brand new they were, unworn in fact. He insisted they were his. Anne suddenly stopped the food preparations, "Shoes? Paul were those bloody shoes your were tripping round in all last weekend not yours?" she asked.

It transpired that Paul had been wearing my shoes, a size 10, his feet are an 8, and as he walked he stumbled and tripped so many times in my shoes that were clearly too big for him his family were concerned he had the onset of Parkinson's as he shuffled to stay upright, they were very relieved to hear that Paul's nervous system was not failing and his clumsiness could be rectified by returning the shoes to their rightful owner. You might wonder why Paul hadn't realised they were not his shoes, that they were in fact two sizes too big and perhaps the final clue was the new size 10 sticker he had torn from the sole of each shoe. But Paul doesn't think like that, hes a chemist you see.

We said our goodbyes and left Paul plotting revenge and Anne plotting to have him sectioned and we made our weary way back to the Rock.

Back home we fed the livestock, exercised the dogs, put the birds away and did our usual jobs before settling down for the evening. The house was empty, Ben and Gemma had gone to town, Beth was working, Karl had gone over to stay at another friends house so Ben could have his room back for the weekend, so we did what any married couple deeply in love would do when they found they had the house to themselves for the night.

We fell asleep.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Livid in London!

Its been a few days since I have been able to update this blog and so much has happened! As I don't have the time to go into great detail this evening I shall just bring you up to speed with my trip to London.

What an amazing place, full of such friendly, warm and welcoming people who always give you the time of day, a cheery smile, a nod of encouragement, hold open doors for you or most surprisingly of all make room for you as you try to get on the train. The streets are totally devoid of rubbish, in fact they were so clean you could see clearly that they were in fact paved with gold, of such shiny quality that you hardly had to look skyward to see the squadrons of flying pigs returning from their bombing of a parallel universe as their reflection was so clear. The skies were so blue and the larks sang sonnets from the well tended trees and shrubs that lined the streets of the Nations Capitol.

OK, I lie.

Its a hole. The people there were so set on whatever their day held for them that they panicked when you smiled at them. They all looked so miserable, most had headphones so as to avoid any possibility of socially interacting with fellow commuters. Those that were talking invariably were yelling into mobile phones, other appeared to be talking to themselves as they were hands free. There was a time you locked up for wandering around waving your arms and shouting to yourself. Rubbish covered the pavements, traffic moved either at snails pace or at lethal speeds millimetres from pedestrians who seemed intent at times on pushing this hick from the sticks into the path of taxis or buses moving at light speed. The only greenery I saw was the moss on the roof of the train station at the back of the hotel and a twisted weedy Elderflower bush gripping tenaciously to life by a fire escape of a nightclub.

I couldn't wait to leave. No amount of money could persuade me to live there.

Why livid?

That was thanks to my travelling companion.

There is a oft used phrase, you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family, or similar. This should be extended to include you can't choose your work colleagues who travel with you.

Had I been able to I might have chosen a travelling companion who would think to bring some cash on a three day sojourn to the bright lights of the city rather than rely on me for taxi's, breakfast, luch and dinner.

Or one who didn't cause a fifteen minute delay on the train just outside Oxford on the way down as they tried to find out who it was that had been smoking on the train.

Similarly I might have chosen someone who didn't set the alarm off in the hotel smoking in his room.

I would definitely have chosen someone with more sense of direction than a box of pissed frogs, who after three days in the same hotel still set off down the corridor in the opposite direction of the lifts.

And I certainly wouldn't have chosen a travelling companion who made me miss my train home because he had forgotten his suitcase causing us to make a u turn in a very expensive taxi to return to the hotel to fetch it.

Likewise I would have thought twice about taking someone along who, after making us miss the first train with his suitcase antics, made us miss the second train by disputing with the train operator which platform the second train departed from.

I had asked directions from the officious guard, "Platform 11 mate, you got 2 minutes!"
I looked up, I was at platform 1, platform 11 lay some considerable distance away.

I set off at a fast pace, I had my going home head on which was driving my tired legs, I was confident I would get there.

What I hadn't counted on was the antics of my travelling companion, who I had lost after getting out of the taxi. As I made for the train I heard "TONY!!" Head down I continued, trying to block out the distraction. I was going to make the train.

"Tony where you going man!!" He appeared from no where and intercepted my route to the train. "Platform 11, we got a minute lets go" I yelled.

"Its platform 4"

"Its 11"

"I swear man its 4, there look" he pointed at a huge train.

I began to doubt myself. I should have held the line but a fresh assault caused me to veer to a guard at platform 4. "Thats our train man lets get on it"

"Is this ticket for that train?" I urgently enquired.

The huge guard looked down at me."No mate, you want platform 11, over there"

I turned to my companion, "Lets go"

He started to argue with the guard so I swiftly manoeuvred him away before he is banned from train travel and I now run towards platform 11 with him following shouting "I'm sure its 4 mate"


The trains still there.

I can see it.

The doors close as I get within 20 feet of it.

I stand next to the train and press the door button.

Nothing happens.

I press again, harder.

Nothing except the panting of my travelling companion coughing up his last lung from exertion and lack of nicotine, it being at least five minutes since he had a roll up.

I press again whilst looking longingly at the empty seats. The clean empty seats pass by, getting faster as the train pulls away.

I turn to my erstwhile colleague, me fighting for self control as he continues to fight for air, hes slightly doubled over clutching his chest.

Eventually I say "You see where ten extra seconds would have got me", he looks up and waves apologetically.

"I would have been on that train, for just ten seconds. Where did they go I wonder?"

He struggles upright using his suitcase for support. I momentarily consider kicking it from under him. Violence wont solve anything but it might make me feel better.

"Don't go on man, I'm sorry, it looked like our train." He starts to roll another fag.

I looked at the trains arranged around us, all GW, all the same livery.

"I think its best we don't sit together" I said quietly and left him sat on his bag.

Somehow I managed to lose him again. This time I didn't try and find him.

Eventually I got home to the sanctuary of the Rock. For all I know or care hes still sat there on platform 11.